In real life, insects "get" milkweed.
We all know it's the only host plant of the monarch butterfly--where monarchs lay their eggs--but it's also a a great source of nectar for butterflies and other insects.
Take the showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Native to California, it is found throughout North America, including in our little pollinator garden!
Speciosa nectar is sweet, tantalizing and irresistible.
Recently we've been watching the diversity of insects gathering on our milkweed. Sometimes it's a pushing/shoving match or I'll-fly-away-but-I'll-be-back-as-soon-as-you-leave vow.
Have you ever seen a male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, nectaring on milkweed? The male, a green-eyed blond about the size of a queen bumble bee, can't sting. Or as native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis says--"Boy bees can't sting." He calls it "the teddy bear bee." What could be more cuddly than this little fellow?
So here's this teddy bear bee trying to grab some nectar while honey bees are buzzing around him trying to get their share. He's bigger; they're louder.
And then, the female of this Valley carpenter bee species (she's solid black--the two represent a clear case of sexual dimorphism) comes along and the bees scatter. Our boy bee does, too.
The bees will be back. The nectar is sweet, tantalizing and irresistible.
Ever watched Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) foraging on salvia?
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, recently noticed a flurry of carpenter bees in the grape-scented sage, Salvia melissodora, in the Department of Entomology and Nematology's bee garden on Bee Biology Road.
Native bee enthusiast Celeste Ets-Hokin of the Bay Area gifted the plant to him. It is now thriving in the department's half-acre bee friendly garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Planted in 2009, the garden is located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.
When carpenter bees forage on the sage, they receive "pollen deposits" or "pollen caps" on their heads. "A perfect placement spot for pollen transfer from flower to flower," Thorp commented. "It also produces a striking orangish patch on the face of the all black bees."
The female Valley carpenter beesare solid black, while the males (which Thorp calls "teddy bear bees"), are green-eyed blonds.
As for the Salvia melissodora, the name "melissodora" originates from the Greek "Melissa" (honey bee) and "odora" (fragrance).
Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 2. That's when the Department of Entomology and Nematology will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the garden installation. Free and open to the public, the open house will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. UC Davis bee scientists will be there to help you observe and identify the native bees and provide information on honey bees. Download the flier for more information.
Thanks to a generous gift from Häagen-Dazs, the garden came to life during the term of interim department chair, Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, who coordinated the entire project.
A Sausalito team--landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki--won the design competition. The judges were Professor Kimsey; founding garden manager Missy Borel (now Missy Borel Gable), then of the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) at UC Davis and now director of the statewide UC Master Gardeners; David Fujino, executive director, CCHU; Aaron Majors, construction department manager, Cagwin & Dorward Landscape Contractors, based in Novato; Diane McIntyre, senior public relations manager, Häagen-Dazs ice cream; Heath Schenker, professor of environmental design, UC Davis; Jacob Voit, sustainability manager and construction project manager, Cagwin and Dorward Landscape Contractors; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Others who played a key role in the founding and "look" of the garden included the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by the duo of entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology), and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick. The ceramic mosaic art is the work of UC Davis Entomology 1 students, taught by Ullman and Billick, and artists from the community. Billick's stunning ceramic bee sculpture of a worker bee, "Miss Bee Haven," anchors the garden. Eagle Scout Derek Tully planned, organized and built a state-of-the-art fence around the garden. Later the California chapter of the Daughters of the America Revolution provided a much-welcomed donation. (Read more about the history of the bee garden here). Chris Casey succeeded Melissa Borel as the manager of garden.
Now five years have come and gone, and generations of bees have come and gone. Life is good.
When a rotten apple tree was cut down last week on private property in Davis, scores of eyes peered from the drilled holes. Soon, adult male Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta)--those green-eyed golden bees known as "teddy bears"--emerged with their female counterparts. The males and females look nothing alike; the females are solid black.
As entomologists know, the females drill holes in wood to lay their eggs. When the adult females and males emerge from their cells, they "wait it out" until spring or when the weather warms enough for them to take flight. It gets pretty cold in Davis.
Talented insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis got the carpenter-bee call. "My good friend's son, a football player up from Claremont, cut down the rotten apple tree," Jones said. Surprise! Insects began crawling from the drilled holes.
Jones knew immediately what they were. He's photographed hundreds of them. He picked up the golden bees, knowing that "boy bees can't sting" and delivered them to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The golden boys were all clinging together in a little ball when I left (the Laidlaw facility)," Jones said.
Thorp plans to keep them chilled to see if they survive the winter. They also will be part of "show and tell" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The male Valley carpenter bees are often mistaken for a new species of bumble bee. In fact, some refer to them as "golden bumble bees."
The Valley carpenter bees are the largest carpenter bee in California. They are included in the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, entomologist-photographer Rollin Coville and UC Berkeley botanist and curator Barbara Ertter.
Xylocopa varipuncta inhabits the Central Valley, Santa Clara Valley, and Southern California. At many garden events, visitors are surprised when Thorp picks up a male Valley carpenter bee and lets them hold it and feel the vibrating buzz.
"Boy bees can't sting," he tells them. "They're bluffing."
Female Valley carpenter bees are solid black--except when they're foraging around passion flowers. Then they're black and yellow--the yellow being the color of the pollen transferred to their thorax.
Mary Patterson, one of the founding Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven gardeners, planted a Passiflora (passion flower vine) along a fenceline of the bee garden several years ago to attract such insects as honey bees, carpenter bees and Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). This is the Gulf Frit's host plant.
And the Passiflora does indeed attract them.
The Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) were really mixing it up today during a Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Committee meeting.
The garden, installed in the fall of 2009, thanks to a generous gift from Häagen-Dazs to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is open from dawn to dusk.
Check out the passion flowers. You'll find lots of insects passionate about them.
- "I just saw a golden bumble bee. I think it's a new species! Can I name it?"
- "I just saw a huge bee and it's gold in color and all fluffy with green eyes!"
- "I just saw a huge bumble bee flying around in our backyard. It's yellow and I think it's a pest."
It's the male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, which native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of California, Davis, calls "the teddy bear" bee.
Like all male bees, it doesn't sting.
But what's unusual about this bee is its color, golden with green eyes. It's sexual dimorphism at its best, because the female Valley carpenter bees are solid black.
The Valley carpenter bee is the biggest carpenter bee in California. And it scares the living beejeez (dead beejeez, too) out of young children, teenagers, and adults. Just about everybody and everything, including the family dog and cat.
As Thorp told us several years ago for a news story:
"Xylocopa varipuncta occurs in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee), with all black females and golden/buff-colored males with green eyes. Females have dark wings with violet reflections."
Some folks think it's a pest. It's not. It's a pollinator. Let it "bee."