You never know what you'll find when you visit a pollinator garden.
Take the case of our visit Nov. 12 to the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, to see the pollinator garden of Kate Frey, an ardent pollinator advocate, world-class garden designer, and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn.
The flower-filled Frey garden is a people/pollinator favorite at the Sonoma Cornerstone, and no wonder.
We spotted a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Salvia Indigo spires. Normally, you don't see bumble bees this time of year, but this one came out of hibernation temporarily to eat. She appeared famished!
Bombus vosnesenskii is among the bees featured in the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). It's the work of entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville and plant expert Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors call attention to this iconic Bombus species: the yellow hairs on the face and top of head, and the yellow stripe on the abdomen.
Hibernating queen bumble bees are a joy to photograph as they forage for food, buzzing from blossom to blossom to sip nectar. This one seemed to be braking during a winter break.
Nice to see you!
That's how we greeted our very last bumble bee of 2016.
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, apparently came out of hibernation and started nectaring on mallow Nov. 14 at the Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz. We were at the park to see the overwintering monarch butterflies, but it was definitely delightful to see another insect species as well.
Ms. Bombus buzzed from one mallow to the other, keeping her distance from the two-legged park visitors. Once she nearly collided with an overwintering monarch heading for tropical milkweed blossoms.
B. vosnesenskii, native to the west coast of North America and found from British Columbia to Baja California, is an iconic pollinator and also an important pollinator for such crops as greenhouse tomatoes. It's among the bumble bees featured in the book, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University), the award-winning work of Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla.
When you click on the Princeton site, you'll hear the familiar buzz of bumble bees. It's just like encountering them in a wildflower meadow and listening to them take flight. It's a sound, unfortunately, that we're not hearing that much any more. The world's bumble bee population is declining, and some species are extinct or critically imperiled.
Speaking of bumble bees, did you see the paper, “Bumble Bees of Montana,” published this week by faculty and students in the Montana State University College of Agriculture in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America (AESA)? The scientists researched and compiled the state's first inventory of bumble bees known to live in Montana.
"The first time a bumble bee was recorded in Montana was in the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805," wrote Jenny Lavey of the MSU News Service.
Four scientists co-authored the paper:
- Michael Ivie, associate professor of entomology in the MSU Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology
- Kevin O'Neill, professor of entomology in the MSU Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences,
- Casey Delphia, MSU research scientist, and
- Amelia Dolan, former MSU entomology graduate student
"Because of Montana's size, landscape diversity and regional junction of eastern and western geographies, when it comes to bumble bees, Montana hosts a diverse, large and globally relevant community of species,” Ivie said in the news release. “Our research shows 28 different species of Bombus, with four more expected to make the list. That's the largest number of bumble bee species recorded for a state in the entire country."
Said Dolan: "It was amazing because we had people collecting specimens across the state, in varying elevations and diverse ecosystems – areas we alone wouldn't have had access to in the time that we had to complete the project. The number of species is representative of Montana's wild spaces and diverse landscapes that host these bees."
When was Bombus vosnesenskii first recorded in Montana? In 1923 (Frison).
If you want to hear more about bumble bees and other bees (some 1600 species of bees reside in California), be sure to attend a free two-hour presentation on "Bee Aware Bee Cause" at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 7 by Robbin Thorp at the Rush Ranch Nature Center, 3521 Grizzly Island Road, Suisun. A worldwide expert on bees, Thorp is a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who continues his research, writings and bee identification work. (See information on the event on previous Bug Squad blog.)
When the monarchs return to southern California and central Mexico to overwinter, the residents rejoice.
When the bumble bees emerge from their nests in the spring, we, too, rejoice.
They are like the swallows of Capistrano and the monarchs of Pacific Grove.
So, on Friday, April 29, a native bumble bee, the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) buzzed into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the verbena.
It skipped the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii), the California golden poppy, the honeysuckle, the catmint, the lantana, the butterfly bush and other flowers in bloom and singled out the verbena, species native to the Americas and Asia.
In some countries, verbena is considered a healthy alternative to what ails you. However, modern-day researchers claim there's no scientific evidence that it can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. It has long been associated with "divine and other supernatural forces," according to Wikipedia.
Says Wikipedia: "In the William Faulkner short story An Odor of Verbena, verbena is used symbolically and described as "the only scent that can be smelled above the scent of horses and courage," similar to the symbolic use of honeysuckle in The Sound and the Fury.
We're not sure what drew the bumble bee last Friday to the verbena (no horses or courage around here!), but it seems we're experiencing a dearth of bumble bees this year.
According to bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardneers and Naturalists, there are six species of bumble bees that occur in Sacramento: Bombus crotchii; B. californicus, B. sonorus, B. melanopygus, B. vandykei, and B. vosnesenskii. "Of these, B. sonorus, used to be quite common but has essentially disappeared from the Sacramento Valley at least in recent years. We are not sure why this one has gone missing. Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-aced bumble bee is the most common species of this area, and of the entire state."
"The Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis doesn't quite reach Sacramento County," Thorp says. "Its historic range is primarily in the Coast Ranges from Monterey County north and the Sierra from Tuolumne County north. It penetrates into the Delta region, Contra Costa County (Pittsburgh and Antioch) and comes as close to Sacramento as Colfax and Nevada City in the Sierra region."
The next time you see a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) packing pollen, check out the color.
Last Saturday on an outing in Vallejo overlooking the Carquinez Straits, we noticed a yellow-faced bumble bee on an Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira) packing red pollen, as brilliant as a sun-ripened strawberry.
It probably picked up the red pollen from the nearby California golden poppies--not from the Echium because Echium pollen is a bluish/lavender.
The yellow-faced bumblebee, so called because of its yellow face, is native to the west coast of North America. In the global line-up, it's one of some 250 species of bumble bees--all within the genera Bombus, which is Latin for buzzing or humming.
Bombus vosnesenkii is easily identifiable by its yellow face and the yellow stripe or band at the T4 segment of its thorax.
Want to learn more about bumble bees and how to identify them? Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, co-authored the landmark publication, Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) with Paul Williams, Leif Richardson and Sheila Colla. It won a 2015 Outstanding Reference Sources Award from the Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association.
There's increasing interest in bumble bees--and rightfully so--due to the critical role they play in our ecosystems. Bumble Bees of North America is described as "the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century."
We haven't seen many bumble bees this year, but as spring temperatures warm up and blossoms beckon, they'll be out there foraging.
Graced with many colors of pollen.
Feb. 14 was a perfect day for foragers, as the temperature climbed into the '70s, an unusually warm February day.
The site: The Glen Cove Marina in Vallejo, Calif., across the Carquinez Straits from Crockett.
We focused on one Bombus vosnesenskii--but only because the other four buzzed out of camera range. For 10 minutes, we watched her work the rosemary, buzzing from flower to flower as honey bees and syrphid flies zeroed in for their share, too.
But look at the bumble bee's pollen load, reminiscent of Halloween candy corn, those triangle-shaped yellow, orange and white-layered sweets.
"She obviously switched from one plant species with pale pollen to one with orangish pollen and maybe back again during her foraging bout," noted native polinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heydey) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press.)
"A fickle forager," Thorp declared. "Rosemary has whitish pollen, but it is usually a nectar resource for honey bees and others. So there must be some other plants being visited by B. vos. females in the area."
Indeed there were. California golden poppy (the state flower), wild radish, oxalis, and mustard.
"Detective" Thorp quickly figured it out. "The wild radish, mustard, and oxalis all have yellow pollen. Poppy has orange pollen. So it looks like your female may have started on rosemary (upper whitish part of the load), moved over to poppy for a while, and back to rosemary (bottom pale part of the load). Since poppy produces no nectar, visits to rosemary are primarily to tank up on nectar for flight fuel and apparently to collect some pollen there as well. It is often said that a mix of different pollen types is best for bees, so she is picking up a balanced diet for her babies."
Bottom line: When you capture an image of a bumble bee, you may not know where it's going, but a top-notch pollinator specialist can tell you where it's been!