If you can't chew gum and walk at the same time, think about the multi-tasking honey bee.
Have you ever seen a worker bee engaging in three tasks simultaneously: flying, adjusting her pollen load, and cleaning her tongue?
We recently spotted a honey bee packing what seemed like a bowling ball-size load as she headed toward the mustard in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. She took the opportunity to clean her tongue or proboscis. There's a reason they're called worker bees!
This time of year, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, is also engaging in multi-tasking as she plans the second annual California Honey Festival in partnership with Woodland city officials. It's set for Saturday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown historical Woodland. It's a free, family event that promises to be both educational and entertaining.
"The California Honey Festival's mission is to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public," Harris says on her website. "Through lectures and demonstrations, the festival will help develop an interest in beekeeping by the younger generation. Attendees will learn about the myriad of issues that confront honey bees including pesticide use, diseases and even the weather! In addition, attendees can learn how to creatively plant their gardens to help feed all of our pollinators. It is important for the community to appreciate and understand the importance of bees as the lead pollinator of many of our crops adding to the food diversity we have come to enjoy."
The California Honey Festival benefits "select bee and pollinator non-profits doing the hard work of research and education to ensure bee health worldwide," Harris says.
At the inaugural festival last year, Harris was expecting a crowd of 3000. Surprise! Surprise! More than 20,000 attended. With all the buzz about the bees and the crucial need to protect them, the attendees turned into "bee-lievers." And there's more in store this year.
Among the speakers are Gene Brandi, past president of the American Beekeeping Federation; Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; John Mola, UC Davis graduate student and the winner of the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium graduate student poster competition; Kate Frey of Hopland, noted garden designer, consultant, columnist and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden; and Billy Synk, director of pollination programs with Project Apis m., and formerly with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will present its insect petting zoo (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, tarantulas and praying mantids) and educational displays.
Wait, there's more. And more. and more. Check out the California Honey Festival's schedule of events.
Bee-hold, the eye of a honey bee!
Have you ever looked into the eye of a honey bee? Really looked?
If you read Norm Gary's popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees, you'll see just how marvelous they are.
Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and a widely known bee wrangler for Hollywood movies and documentaries (as well as a musician), covers many topics in his book, published in 2010 by Bow-Tie Press.
"Bees have two compound eyes, each composed of thousands of light-sensitive 'micro-eyes' (ommatidae) that are fused together," he writes. "Each ommatidium has a lens and a nerve connection. The ommatidia are connected to collectively generate a mosaic of sensory inputs into the bee's tiny brain, where the signals are integrated into a functional image. Yes, bees can see images--especially flower shapes--as well as colors. They see shorter wavelengths better than humans;ultraviolet is invisible to humans, but bees see it as color. Flowers are exquisitely endowed with nature's ultraviolet artwork, which we visually impaired humans can't enjoy."
Note that "there are three additional simple eyes (ocelli) on top of a bee's head," Gary points out.
We've always been fascinated by the microscopic hairs all over the bee body, from the abdomen to the thorax to the head. The branched hairs on the eyes are clearly visible in this photo, taken with a Canon MPE-65mm lens.
This little bee was foraging in our Spanish lavender, and stopped to "eye" me.
A little drama in the mustard patch...
A honey bee is foraging head-first in the mustard. She's collecting nectar and pollen. She does not see the lady beetle, aka ladybug, thrust head-first above her.
The honey bee is dusted with yellow pollen. The ladybug, not so much.
The bee moves closer. The ladybug does not move.
If there were any conversations between the two beneficial insects, it might go like this:
Honey Bee: "Hi, ladybug. Let's share the mustard, okay? You take the aphids--I don't eat aphids--and I'll take the nectar and pollen. Is that all right with you?"
The ladybug does not move. She neither sees nor hears her buzzing companion.
The honey creeps closer.
Honey Bee, louder: "I said, is that okay, ladybug? I'm here for the nectar and pollen! I don't want your aphids!"
Ladybug, mumbling: "Aphids? Don't even think about eating my aphids. Buzz off, will ya?"
The honey bee buzzes off--to find more nectar and pollen.
The drama ends as quickly as it begins.
Another day in the mustard patch.
You never know what you'll see when you're strolling through the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, a treasure to students, faculty, staff and visitors.
Case in point: For the last several months, we've been admiring a Mexican grass tree, Dasylirion longissimum, a 10-foot tall drought-tolerant plant with long, needle-like leaves radiating from its trunk. So perfect. So exquisite. Kinetic art at its finest. Indeed, it's often described as an "architectural wonder" in the plant world. Scores of horticulturists in California and the southwest United States favor it as their focal point for their xeriscape landscape projects.
The plant is native to the Chihuahuan Desert, which extends from West Texas, through parts of New Mexico and Arizona, and into much of the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It can tower 15 feet in height.
Last week we noticed something different about its presence in the UC Davis Arboretum: a brown clump clinging to the faded green wiry spikes.
Could it be? It was. A praying mantis egg case or ootheca.
To protect it from "egg gatherers," we won't indicate the exact location. But it is clear evidence that a female praying mantis was there and she, no doubt, ambushed and devoured honey bees, syrphid flies and butterflies before mating and producing the egg case.
California has only a handful of mantid species, Pfeifer says. The natives include Stagmomantis limbata, Stagmomantis californica and Litaneutria minor. Introduced ones: Mantis religiosa, Tenodera sinensis and Iris oratoria. “Typically you have pockets for native species where you see only one,” he says.
We usually begin seeing sizable mantids around July and continuing through October. We photographed this one, a Stagmomantis limbata, perched on showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) on Oct. 3, 2017 in Vacaville, Calif., as she nailed unsuspecting prey. In this case, a honey bee.
Her egg case is probably around somewhere....but she didn't lay it on our milkweed....or our Mexican grass tree....
Ready? Set? Go?
The search party is almost ready to start. If you're lucky, you'll net the prize before Art Shapiro does.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has announced his annual “Butterfly for a Beer" contest: the person who collects the first cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the year in one of three counties—Sacramento, Yolo and Solano—will receive a pitcher of beer or its equivalent. The butterfly must be collected outdoors and delivered live to the Department of Evolution and Ecology, Room 2320 of Storer Hall. (See rules)
As you may remember, Shapiro launched the contest in 1972 as part of his scientific research. Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. He predicts that the first butterfly of 2018 may be collected as soon as Jan. 5 or 6, “depending on the weather.”
He's usually the winner; he's been defeated only four times, and then by UC Davis graduate students.
And yes, he's had some humorous moments.
Some folks contact him way way way after it's all over and done (like in the spring!) with a collected specimen and ask him if they've won.
We thought about declaring ourselves the winner to the good professor after photographing dozens of them all spring and into summer and late fall and encountering hundreds more.
Meanwhile, starting Jan. 1, the cabbage white will be the most sought-after insect in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano.
They're not easy to find in January. Neither are they always easy to photograph seasonally. They seem to flutter out of your viewfinder just as you're about to focus on them. Wait, wait, come back! I'm not through yet!
Other times, they photobomb your long-awaited image, like last summer when I was zeroing in on a solo bee on a bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis).
Webster defines photobombing this way: "to spoil a photograph of by unexpectedly appearing in the camera's field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke."
In this case, they both wanted the same nectar. The photo amounted to a "two-fer"--two insects for the price (prize?) of one.
And then the determined cabbage white butterfly circled the hapless honey bee for another photobomb opportunity. Aren't you done, yet?