Where, oh where, is that first bumble bee of the year?
It's about this time of the year when the queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and the queen yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, emerge.
One of our area readers asked if there's a chart or calendar indicating what time of year the various native bees emerge. One of the best sources is native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. (By the way, he's giving a public presentation on native bees at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24 at Solano County's Rush Ranch Nature Center, Suisun City. All interested persons are invited; there's no admission.)
"Each species of bee has its own particular season," Thorp says. "Some start in late winter to early spring, others start late spring, early summer. Some don't fly until fall. Some bees, especially our social bees (honey bees, bumble bees and some sweat bees) fly most of the flowering year (January-February into October-November)."
"It's probably best to frame the bee calendar in context of the bloom of various plants," Thorp points out. "Manzanita is one of the first flowering shrubs and when they come in to bloom that is the time to look for queens of our two early bumble bee species, Bombus melanopygus and B. vosnesenskii. Some of our large digger bees like Habropoda and some Anthophora come on during that bloom. In the vernal pools, early flowering starts in late February and some of our solitary ground nesting mining bees, Andrena start about then. When the red bud comes into bloom about mid-March the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB), some other species of bumble bees, and some sweat bees come out. Leafcutting bees (Megachile) and some long-horned digger bees (Melissodes and Svastra) start their activity about mid-May. "
A great book to learn about native bees and the flowers they visit is the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). It's co-authored by Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, all with UC Berkeley connections.
For example, if you look up manzanita (genus Arctostaphylos and family Ericaceae), in California Bees and Blooms, you'll see that there are more than 90 species and subspecies in California, and you'll learn which bees visit them. The authors provide a description of the plant, its origin and natural habitat, its range and use in urban California, its flowering season (late winter to early spring), the resources it provides for bees (pollen and nectar), bee ecology and behavior, and gardening tips.
The book is a treasure.
As are the bees!
You may also have heard that during the two-hour program (free and open to the public), Thorp will share his extensive knowledge of bees and discuss their role as pollinators.
What you may not have heard is that Robbin Thorp is the newly selected recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award, a high honor, indeed. And richly deserved.
Robbin Thorp, known as a tireless advocate of native bees, especially bumble bees, will be presented the award at a luncheon hosted next month by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.
“Professor Thorp has had an outstanding professional career in the area of pollination ecology and systematics of honey and bumble bees,” said Lyn Lofland, president of the Executive Committee of the UC Davis Emeriti Association. “He has continued his professional contributions since he retired publishing both scientific papers and books. He has continued to teach and guide graduate students providing them with the benefit of his vast experience and knowledge. He also provides expert taxonomic services, identifying thousands of native bee specimens. He has coupled this effort with training numerous field assistants. Professor Thorp matched perfectly with the criteria established for the Distinguished Emeriti Award."
Thorp said it's a great honor to be named a distinguished emeritus. "It is an extra pleasure to be recognized for doing what I love and enjoy."
Thorp, who joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1964 and achieved emeritus status in 1994, is a state, national and global authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, contribution of native bees to crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
Since his retirement, he has compiled an exemplary record for his research, teaching, publications, presentations, and advisement services, sharing his expertise with local, statewide, national and international audiences. In his retirement, he has published 68 papers and is the first author on 15 publications. He received several prestigious awards: the 2013 outstanding team award, with several colleagues, from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America, and the 2010-2011 Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship, UC Davis. Thorp is the North American regional co-chair for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Bumblebee Specialist group. He is a member of 10 professional societies, including the International Society of Hymenopterists.
Thorp chaired the Jepson Prairie Advisory Committee at UC Davis from 1992-2011 (which includes seven years after his retirement). He is still active as a docent leading tours during the tour season. He is also involved in training new docents by providing information on the native bees that pollinate vernal pool flowers.
Thorp spends much of his time in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses collections critical to his bee identification work. He identifies species and regularly volunteers at the open houses and other event.
Thorp is an integral part of The Bee Course, an annual 10-day workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Field Station near Portal, Ariz. He has taught there since 2002 (the instructors are all volunteers), and even though he is 81 years young, he plans to continue teaching there.
In an email conversation, colleague James Cane of the USDA-ARS Pollinating Insect Research Unit, Utah State University, Logan, said it well: “Dr. Robbin Thorp should be the first scientist to be cloned, so valuable and broadly integrated are his knowledge about bees and pollination. No one else I know has his combination of skills; normally several people would be needed. Thus, he is a taxonomist of several genera of bees, a competent pollination biologist studying both native bees and honey bees in both natural and agricultural realms (with research experience in several crops), and a conservation advocate for bees. Moreover, I have watched his considerable teaching skills while helping in The Bee Course over the years. There I also get to see what a model human being Robbin is: thoughtful, considerate, a great listener, playful, polite unpretentious, all traits that the students gravitate toward. I have looked to Robbin as a role model for over 30 years, listen carefully to what he has to say, and always look forward to being in his presence. UC Davis is very lucky indeed to have attracted and retained such a fabulous faculty member.”
Colleague Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley credits Thorp with not only identifying more than 100,000 bees for her research since his retirement in 1994, but helping her with research protocol and helping her graduate students identify bees. “Dr. Thorp has contributed in three main ways. First, he has provided expert input into the design of protocols for the research, including assays for pollinator effectiveness, developing citizen science methods, rearing experimental bumble bee colonies, monitoring bumble bee colony properties in the field, and developing pollinator survey methods. Second, he has provided expert taxonomic services, including personally identifying over 100,000 native bee specimens that we have collected during this work, and working with us to develop a bee traits database. Third, he has trained numerous field assistants and graduate students from my lab in different aspects of bee biology. He's spent long hours with many of my graduate students helping them learn to identify bees. He also helped us develop methods and information sheets for teaching field and lab teams to recognize key generic and family characters for identifying bees in the field and sorting them in the lab. He's advised many of my graduate students on different aspects of their work.”
Said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis: “I have to say that Robbin has been phenomenal. He is more active in research and outreach every year. Regardless of what task is presented to him he is engaged and brings all his experience and knowledge to bear. I don't know many line faculty who are as active in their fields as Robbin is as a retiree. He is always available for museum events and loves to work with the public, particularly kids. I don't know of many pollination ecologists or bee systematists with his level of knowledge.”
Entomologist Katharina Ullmann, who received her doctorate in 2014 from UC Davis, says that Robbin Thorp is “one of the few people in North America who can identify bees down to the species level. As a result he's in high demand and has identified thousands of specimens for numerous lab groups since his retirement. However, he doesn't just identify the specimens. Instead, he's willing to patiently work through dichotomous keys with you so that you can learn those skills. His ongoing monitoring projects, work as an IUCN specialist, and recent books on bumble bee identification and guide to the bees of California show his commitment to the broader impacts of his research.”
Around the UC Davis campus, Thorp is known as a tireless advocate for pollinator education and outreach. He is often called upon by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden (both part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), the UC Davis Arboretum and the California Center for Urban Horticulture to participate in their public outreach forums and events.
He spends countless hours connecting people of all ages to the world of insects, especially the pollinators like bumble bees. One of his research projects is monitoring the native bee activity in our department's bee garden, Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden, work that he has done since 2008. In addition, he frequently presents talks at UC Davis and afield, to diverse audiences including UC Master Gardeners, beekeeper groups, and schoolchildren.
Thorp, who calls Michigan his home state, received both his bachelor's degree and master's degree in zoology from the University of Michigan. He received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1964.
Previous recipients of the distinguished award:
2014: Tom Cahill, professor emeritus, physics
2013: Eldredge Moores, professor emeritus, geology
2012: Alex McCall, professor emeritus and former dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
2011: Charles Hess, professor emeritus and dean emeritus, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
2008: M. Wayne Thiebaud, emeritus professor, art
Congratulations, Robbin Thorp! Scientist, researcher, author, professor, teacher, and a longtime public advocate for the bees!
P. S. Can we clone him now, as Jim Cane suggested?
Earlier this year she came out with an app, "Wild Bee Gardens," the first-known conservation app for North American native bees. That app was exclusively for an iPad, but she promised an app for an iphone later.
Later is "now."
It's out. "Wild Bee Gardens" is an educational tool "showing the dazzling diversity of North America's native bees." The app pairs native bees with many of the flowers they frequent.
Ets-Hokin, a UC Berkeley zoology graduate, wants us all to work together to protect North America's premier pollinators. She seeks to inspire an appreciation for the importance and diversity of our native bees, and anticipates that people will create a habitat for native bees in their own gardens. The habitats are not fancy; in fact, native bee habitats are "a bit on the wild side," she says.
The work is impressive. It opens up the world of native bees and their floral resources through her text and some 300 photographs of native bees, primarily the work of entomologist/insect photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area.
Topics covered include:
- The role of native bees in our natural ecosystems
- The ecology and life cycles of native bees
- How to create a successful bee garden
- How to identify the native bee visitors that will appear in these gardens
The app covers 26 genera and links the bees to their favorite plants. Consultants included three scientists: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley faculty members Gordon Frankie and Clare Kremen. They are acknowledged for their contributions of scientific knowledge and research. Arlo and Rebecca Armstrong of the Bay Area designed the app.
Just as we need food and shelter, so do bees. Native bees forage for pollen and nectar for their offspring. The bee scientists suggest you leave areas of undisturbed, bare ground for ground-nesting bees, and provide "bee condos" (wood blocks drilled with the proper-size holes) for leafcutting bees and mason bees.
While many folks will be out buying computers, laptops, tablets, designer clothes, houseware and the like during the holiday season, Ets-Hokin hopes they will take time to think about the native bees and provide for them.
Meanwhile, Celeste Ets-Hokin continues to spread public awareness about the plight of bees, writing about them, speaking about them, photographing them, and now she has an app for that: "Wild Bee Gardens."
The European honey bee, also known as the Western honey bee, has been in the United States for s-o-o-o long that we think it's a native.
It's not. European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to the Jamestown colony (Virginia) in 1622. The native Americans called it "the white man's fly." And the honey bee wasn't even introduced to California until 1853. That was in the middle of the California Gold Rush, 1848-1858, when it arrived in the San Jose area.
Our ancestors quickly became quite fond of the industrious little pollinator and honey/wax producer buzzing around them.
Today, as they did, we frequently see non-native and native bees sharing nectar resources, such as in the photos below of honey bees and yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii).
We're often asked: "Do honey bees, being an invasive species, impact the native bees?"
We put that question to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's served as California's Extension apiculturist since 1976, almost 40 years.
His answer: "We do not have a definitive answer to that question. But, since honey bees have been living in what is now the U.S. for just short of 400 years, it is likely that honey bees and native bees determined, long ago, how to partition resources at any particular location so that both species survived. It is true that only honey bees can be moved into and out of a specific location overnight, and that might put a stress on local populations of native bees, but I never have heard of honey bees eliminating native bees from any particular spot."
That's the buzz on bees.
The boys won't be back in town for awhile.
But they will show up. Girls, too.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and his UC Berkeley-affiliated colleagues, Gordon Frankie, Rollin Coville, Sara Leon Guerrero and Jaime Pawalek, will show you where both the native male and female bees are during their June 4-8 workshop in Hastings Reserve, Carmel Valley, on "California's Native Bees: Biology, Ecology and Identification."
You'll learn how to identify California's native bees by genus and why it's critical to provide ecosystem services in not only wild habitats but in agricultural and urban settings. More than 1600 species comprise California's list of native bees. (And if you're thinking the honey bee is one of them--not! European colonists brought the honey bee to what is now the United States (Virginia) in 1622. The honey bee was introduced in California in 1853.)
If you join the workshop, you'll collect bees in the field at the UC Hastings Reserve and at a nearby diverse garden in Carmel Valley, according to the website. Then you'll also spend time in the lab viewing and keying collected specimens. Evening lectures on a variety of related topics will add to the field experiences. This workshop is an extension of the previously offered weekend bee workshop, with more focus on bee identification."
"Bee collections from the Hastings Reserve date back several decades, so knowledge of important bee-flower relationships are well known for this site. Participants will learn about bees' flower preferences, how to collect bees using several different methods, information on how to build a bee-friendly garden, bee photography techniques, and bee identification using generic keys and microscopes."
Frankie, Thorp, Coville and Barbara Ertter recently co-authored a California bee garden book, expected to be published in the fall of 2014 (Heydon). The working title is "California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists."
Of the four authors, Thorp, Frankie and Coville received their doctorates in entomology from UC Berkeley. Errter obtained a doctorate in biology from the City University of New York.
Thorp, who maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, taught a number of courses while on the UC Davis faculty: entomology, natural history of insects, insect classification, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology. Although he retired in 1994, he continues his research on ecology, systematics, biodiversity, conservation, and biology of bees. Thorp is also on the faculty of The Bee Course.
Frankie is a professor of insect biology at UC Berkeley who focuses his research on plant reproductive biology, pollination ecology, and solitary-bee biology. He splits his field research between California and Costa Rica.
Ertter has served as the curator of Western North American Flora, University Herbarium and Jepson Herbarium, UC Berkeley, since 1994. She focuses her research on the flora of western North America.
One thing's for sure: they'll share a wealth of information about native bees at this workshop!