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...
If you're walking along the cliffs of Bodega Head, Sonoma County, you may overlook them.
While you're watching for whales, scouting for seabirds and checking out the hikers, there's a lot of movement in the seaside daises (Erigeron glaucus) and seaside woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum staechadifolium).
Green-eyed bullets with spectacular abdominal stripes zero in on the flowers, grab some food (this really is "fast food") and then take off at break-neck speed.
They're sand wasps, Bembix americana, so named because they dig nest holes in the sand. They belong to the family Crabronidae, subfamily Bembicinae, tribe Bembicini (sand wasps), subtribe Bembicina, and genus Bembix. They're quite common in North America. We've seen them from Fort Bragg to Bodega.
They're not vegetarians, like our honey bees. Like all wasps, they're carnivores. They're hunters. They're predators. They prey upon small insects, such as flies. The sand wasps then carry their prey back to their nests.
So while you're watching for whales, watch the flowers. If they move, it may be more than just the wind.
Want to read more about sand wasps? Entomologist Richard Bohart (for whom the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, is named), and his former graduate student, Arnold Menke, wrote about them in their book, "Sphecid Wasps of the World," published in 1976 by the University of California Press, Berkeley.
What do flies have in common with us?
For one thing, an innate immune system mechanism to detect and fight off invaders that threaten our health.
Four scientists, including two Nobel Laureates, will discuss host defense at a UC Davis symposium on Wednesday, Jan. 25 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
Nobel Laureates Jules Hoffmann of the University of Strasbourg, France and Bruce Beutler of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas will be among the speakers. They and Rockefeller University researcher Ralph Steinmann (who died in September) shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity.
The symposium, sponsored by the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine and the
Murray B. Gardner Research Seminar Fund, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Open to all interested persons, it's free but folks must register at http://conferences.ucdavis.edu/immunity to attend.
"In recent years, a remarkable evolutionary conservation of innate immune mechanisms has become apparent between flies, plants, mice and humans," according to the sponsors' flier. "Each of these species uses similar receptors to detect microbes. Therapeutic targeting of toll-like receptors for infectious and inflammatory disease and cancer, and crop engineering of these receptors for resistance to infection, is now a reality."
A Symposium on the Evolution of Common Molecular Pathways Underlying Innate Immunity.
"The Drosophila Host Defense: A Model for the Study of Innate Immunity"
--Jules Hoffmann, University of Strasbourg, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
"Creating Immune Deficiencies by Random Mutagenesis in Mammals"
--Bruce Beutler, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, 2011 Nobel Laureaute in Physiology or Medicine
"The Rice XA21 Receptor Recognizes a Conserved Bacterial Signaling Molecule"
--Pamela Ronald, professor, Department of Plant Pathology, and faculty, UC Davis Genome Center
"Toll-Like Receptors and Inflammasomes: Key Drivers of Inflammatory Diseases"
--Luke O'Neill, professor, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College, Dublin
The Contact Person:
Anita Moore at (530) 752-1245.