It was Saturday, April 18, the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day, a campuswide open house, and several thousand folks filed into the Bohart Museum of Entomology to see the displays. The theme: "Bigger, Better, Buglier: Impressive Science."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Nematology and Nematology, displayed male Valley carpenter bees he netted in the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (and later released there).
And in an amazing moment, a young boy, wearing a bumble bee t-shirt, walked up to see the bees. "My kind of guy!" quipped Thorp when he saw Adne Burruss, 6, of Irvine. Thorp is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). Adne's mother, Sigrid Burruss, a geneticist, is a UC Davis alumnus.
The male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), a green-eyed blond, is also known as "the teddy bear bee." The female of the species is solid black. Thorp urged visitors to touch the carpenter bee. "Boy bees don't sting," he assured them. He also displayed specimens of bumble bees and other native bees.
Bohart Museum associate Wade Spencer, an undergraduate majoring in entomology, brought along his pet scorpions. Assisting him was Crystal Homicz, an animal biology major. She periodically pointed a black light on his scorpion to show the fluorescence. (Visitors were not allowed to touch the scorpions, which are known for their venomous sting.)
Entomologist and Bohart Museum associate Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, drew in visitors with his colorful butterfly and moth specimens and kept their attention as he talked about the places he's been and the insects he's seen.
Julianna Amaya, 10, of Martinez, was fascinated with the Australia walking sticks. She and sister, Jasmine, 14, and their mother, Rocio, watched it crawl up their hands. "Julianna is really into bugs," mom said.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and named for prominent entomologist Richard M.Bohart, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, it is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas); and a year-around gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Fran Keller, an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (major professor Lynn Kimsey) talked to visitors about insects and also kept busy with sales at the gift shop. Lady beetle t-shirts and monarch t-shirts proved popular.
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.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honey bees, yes! Bumble bees, yes! Carpenter bees, uhh, not so much.
Ever seen carpenter bees drilling holes in dead limbs or untreated fence posts to build their nests? No? Well, you've probably seen them in their "robber role," piercing a hole in the corolla of a flower and robbing the nectar, bypassing pollination.
"Beneficial insects or pests?" we asked native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
"Carpenter bees are controversial and their status as pests or beneficial insects is complicated," Thorp noted. "Some people consider only the negative effects of carpenter bee behaviors--tunneling in wood structures we create or nectar-robbing from some long-tubed flowers--deeming them pests and seeking ways to control them.
"But carpenter bees are important pollinators in native plant communities, and even beneficial as pollinators of some crop plants such as passion fruit, blueberries, melons, hybrid cotton and they are effective buzz pollinators of tomatoes and egg plant," he said. "Even effects of their nectar robbing are not entirely negative. They may actually enhance out-crossing by forcing legitimate pollinators to visit more flowers thus increasing out-crossing. In some cases, they may actually pollinate flowers while nectar-robbing from them."
"Carpenter bee tunneling into wood is an initial step in breaking down dead limbs and logs as part of the recycling process in natural communities. It is when they burrow into untreated wood used in our constructions that they are considered pests."
Thorp said that "any damage caused by them should be weighed against their positive contributions in trying to determine whether to attempt to control them or not."
Bottom line: we consider carpenter bees beneficial.
California has three species of carpenter bees.
- The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It's about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as "the teddy bear bee," is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It's fuzzy and does not sting--or as Thorp says "Boy bees don't sting."
- The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It's known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body, Thorp says. The females have dark smoky brown wings.
- The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
Check out the images and descriptions of carpenter bees on BugGuide.net).
Want to hear more about California's bees, which total some 1600 species? Thorp will be giving a two-hour presentation, "Bee Aware Bee Cause," on Saturday, Jan. 7 starting at 1:30 at the Rush Ranch Nature Center, 3521 Grizzly Island Road, Suisun. The site is located off Highway 12, two miles south of Suisun City. The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Rush Ranch Educational Council, in partnership with Solano Land Trust, owner of Rush Ranch.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994. Although emeritus since 1994, he continues his research, writings, bee identification, public outreach and other "bee-involved" activities from his headquarters in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Thorp co-authored the UC California book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press). He annually teaches at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The two-week course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
Bees--and other pollinators--gravitate toward the enticing aroma of the milkweed, too.
The milkweed is widely known as the larval host plant of the monarch butterflies--and a nectar source for the adults--but they have to share.
The broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden draws everything from honey bees to leafcutter bees to carpenter bees.
It's almost like "Take a number." And it's especially noticeable during National Pollinator Week, a week set aside to celebrate the pollinators and to do what we can to protect them.
Recent visitors to the milkweed have included:
- A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a green-eyed blond
- A female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, solid black
- Honey bee, Apis mellifera
- Male leafcutter bee, Megachile sp.
And, of course, the monarchs (Danaus plexippus)!
Oh, that cuddly teddy bear.
The male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as "the teddy bear bee," comes around occasionally to nectar our broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden.
The milkweed is the larval host of the monarch butterfly, but other insects, including the honey bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and butterflies, stop by to sip some nectar.
The male Valley carpenter bee joined the party, and what a party it was. He bluffed his way past the other insects--boy bees do not sting as they have no stinger, as native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, says.
A monarch fluttered in for a little nectar, too, but the teddy bear bee refused to budge.
When you're big, hungry, and a bluffer, you can do that.
It's an incredible photo.
Nicole "Nikki" Nicola, a staff research associate in the Frank Zalom lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, University California, Davis, captured an image in her back yard of both the male and female Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) sharing the same passionflower (Passiflora).
Most of us often see--and hear--the solid black female, but not so much the green-eyed blond male. And rarely together.
But to see them on the same flower? What a great example of sexual dimorphism!
Nicola works with Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. A noted entomologist, he is a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.
As for those Valley carpenter bees, the next time you see the female frequenting the Passiflora, check out those tiny grains of golden pollen. They look for all the world like gold dust.
Valley carpenter bees are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.