You never know what you'll find when you visit a pollinator garden.
Take the case of our visit Nov. 12 to the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, to see the pollinator garden of Kate Frey, an ardent pollinator advocate, world-class garden designer, and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn.
The flower-filled Frey garden is a people/pollinator favorite at the Sonoma Cornerstone, and no wonder.
We spotted a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Salvia Indigo spires. Normally, you don't see bumble bees this time of year, but this one came out of hibernation temporarily to eat. She appeared famished!
Bombus vosnesenskii is among the bees featured in the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). It's the work of entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville and plant expert Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors call attention to this iconic Bombus species: the yellow hairs on the face and top of head, and the yellow stripe on the abdomen.
Hibernating queen bumble bees are a joy to photograph as they forage for food, buzzing from blossom to blossom to sip nectar. This one seemed to be braking during a winter break.
Remember that line in Gertrude Stein's 1913 poem, Sacred Emily: "A rose is a rose is a rose"?
Well, to paraphrase Stein: "A bee is a bee is a bee...except when it's not a bee."
In a recent interactive feature in the New York Times, writer Joanna Klein wondered how we can save the bees if we don't recognize them. She asked "Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?" and posted an image of bees and wanna-be bees.
All entomologists, we're sure, passed. Many others--those who think every floral visitor is a honey bee--probably not.
Bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, passed it with flying colors--colors that included that gorgeous photo of a metallic green sweat bee. "Photo editors for news articles need to take this test judging by all the images of faux bees that accompany a variety of articles on bees, especially articles designed to educate the public about bees," commented Thorp, who, by the way, is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) and California's Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). "I suspect that this is what Joe Wilson had in mind when he created the plate of bees and faux bees."
Joseph S. Wilson, as you may recall, co-authored The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America's Bees (Princeton University Press) with Olivia J. Messenger Carrill. Wilson is also featured in a fantastic TED talk on "Save the Bees! Wait, Was That a Bee?"
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, gets that a lot--"Is this a bee? Is that a bee?" She recently wrote a piece in the Bohart Museum newsletter about flies masquerading as bees.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
A bee is a bee is a bee...except when it's not a bee. Take the New York Times' quiz.
At the end, you'll be asked the number of bee species in the United States. Get ready...
The news is disturbing but not unexpected.
Scientists are linking global climate change to one reason why the worldwide population of bumble bees is declining.
An article published Sept. 28 in the journal Ecology Letters by Florida State University (FSU) researchers showed that bumble bees just aren't getting enough floral resources.
For the study, lead researcher and postdoctoral fellow Jane Ogilivie and six colleagues examined three subalpine bumble bee species in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, and found that the changing climate means fewer flowers.
"Knowing whether climate variation most affects bumble bees directly or indirectly will allow us to better predict how bumble bee populations will cope with continued climate change," Ogilivie told the FSU News Service in a press release. "We found that the abundances of all three bumble bee species were mostly affected by indirect effects of climate on flower distribution through a season."
The FSU News Service aptly headlined the research a "Stinging Report."
"When researchers think about flower effects on bees, they typically consider floral abundance to be the most important factor, but we found that the distribution of flowers throughout a season was most important for bumble bees,” Ogilivie said. “The more days with good flower availability, the more bees can forage and colonies can grow, and the bigger their populations become. We now have longer flowering seasons because of earlier snowmelt, but floral abundance has not changed overall. This means we have more days in a season with poor flower availability.”
The researchers wrote in their abstract: "Climate change can influence consumer populations both directly, by affecting survival and reproduction, and indirectly, by altering resources. However, little is known about the relative importance of direct and indirect effects, particularly for species important to ecosystem functioning, like pollinators. We used structural equation modelling to test the importance of direct and indirect (via floral resources) climate effects on the interannual abundance of three subalpine bumble bee species. In addition, we used long-term data to examine how climate and floral resources have changed over time. Over 8 years, bee abundances were driven primarily by the indirect effects of climate on the temporal distribution of floral resources. Over 43 years, aspects of floral phenology changed in ways that indicate species-specific effects on bees. Our study suggests that climate-driven alterations in floral resource phenology can play a critical role in governing bee population responses to global change."
Bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, long ago sounded the alarm that bumble bees are in trouble. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
The last bumble bee we saw--the last of the season--was on Sept. 23 at Kate Frey's pollinator garden at the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma. It was a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia ‘Indigo Spires' (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). The queen had apparently emerged from hibernation to find food on that warm summerlike day.
I knelt to capture some images.
"Oh, it's just a bumble bee," scoffed one tourist, casually sipping a glass of wine. "They're everywhere."
Sadly, they're not.
It's a shame we all can't clone ourselves and be in two places at the same time! The 40th annual Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of California, Davis, just concluded and now several more items appear on the University of California calendar.
California Center for Urban Horticulture's 'Bee-ing a Better Bee Gardener'
The California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Davis, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are co-sponsoring a workshop," Bee-ing a Better Bee Gardener, focusing on pollinators in the garden, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 in Room 2 of Kleiber Hall, UC Davis campus. It's a fundraiser for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.
Following the program at Kleiber Hall, participants will visit the haven and are invited to purchase plants at a pollinator plant sale.
Organizers said that "you should plan to attend only if you are a Master Gardener, 'keen' gardener, or have an introductory background knowledge to one of the following: entomology, botany, horticulture, or plant/insect morphology or taxonomy.
The registration fee of $50 includes a continental breakfast and lunch. For more information, contact program manager Eileen Hollett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530)-752 6642.
UC Hopland Research and Extension Center's "Native Bees in Your Backyard"
The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center has scheduled a four-hour program, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 on "Native Bees in Your Backyard" at two sites in Hopland. UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie and entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville, co-authors of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, will discuss native bees. They will be joined by Kate Frey, award-winning gardener and co-author of “The Bee-Friendly Garden" who will provide a guided tour of her gardens and explain what plants attract pollinators. Her gardens are renowned for their floristic diversity, color and the habitats they provide for wildlife.
Participants will meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Kate Frey Gardens and from 11:30 to 2 p.m. at the UC Hopland and Research Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, from 11:30 to 2 p.m. A locally sourced, honey-themed lunch, catered by Beth Keiffer, will be served at noon.
Hannah Bird, community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, says attendees will "learn about some of the 1600 native bee species found in California--from the leafcutting bee to the cuckoo bee, the sweat bee to the mining bee!" They will learn how to identify them and how to accommodate their needs. For more information and directions, Bird can be contacted at email@example.com or (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105.
If you haven't purchased your copy of California Bees and Blooms, it's a treasure. It's the work of Gordon Frankie and photographer Rollin Coville (as mentioned above); Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis; and Barbara Ertter, UC Berkeley botanist. It's been described as a landmark book.
And now, one more!
Ready for one more? This one, however, is free, and no reservations are required. The Bohart Museum of Entomology of UC Davis will host an open house, "Insects and U," on Sunday, Sept. 24, 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. The open house, a family friendly event, is free and open to the public of all ages.
"This purposely coincides with UC Davis dorm move-in weekend," says Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. "Our target audience is new students and their families, but everyone is welcome. The focus is how to study insects at home and in school--any age."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the moth and butterfly collection, will show attendees how to pin and spread butterflies during the three-hour open house. Smith, a resident of Rocklin, curates the 400,000-specimen (and growing) collection. The entomologist has spread the wings of more than 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year, since 1988. “I do most of the work at my home, where I spread and identify specimens and add them to the museum collection,” he said.
“My life is dedicated to this passion of entomology,” said Smith, an associate of the Bohart Museum and a member of the Bohart Museum Society and the Lepidopterists' Society. He was named a recipient of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' "Friend of the College" award in 2015.
Undergraduate advisor Brandy Fleming will be on hand (tabling) to talk about classes, careers, and fun with entomology. Yang is also planning a display featuring cabbage white butterflies for educators.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids, and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
So there you have it--bees and gardens on Saturday, Sept. 23, and "Insects and U" (including butterflies) on Sunday, Sept. 24.
You could call it a slacker, a deadbeat, a moocher, a sponger, or a loafer.
Or you could call it a cuckoo bee.
Take the cuckoo bee, Xeromelecta californica, a parasite of the digger bee, Anthophora.
When the female Anthophora leaves its nest to collect more pollen, the female cuckoo bee sneaks in and lays an egg.
"When the host female seals her nest, it seals the doom of her own offspring," distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology told the crowd at last week's 40th annual Western Apicultural Society meeting, held at UC Davis. They eat the provisions, a pollen ball meant for the host offspring, and kill and eat the host larvae.
The cuckoo bee offspring emerge.
Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, also called attention to their "pointy abdomen" and "wasp-looking appearance."
But they are bees--cuckoo bees. They're also called parasitic bees or "kleptoparasites" or "cleptoparasitises."
They have no pollen-carrying/collecting apparatus, like a scopa, because they don't need any, Thorp said, just as they do not construct their own nests.
If you look around a pollinator garden, you just might sight some cuckoo bees. Last week we saw a Xeromelecta californica (as identified by Thorp and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology). It was sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
We've also spotted Anthophora urbana nectaring on our lavender.
One thing's for certain: a cuckoo bee didn't lay its eggs in the Anthophora nest that time or the urbana wouldn't have been there.