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Short Cut

We all take shortcuts.

We look for the shortest line at the supermarket, we use keyboard shortcuts, and we text ”how r u?”

So, why shouldn't honey bees use shortcuts? They do.

If you've ever watched a carpenter bee drill a hole in the corolla of a tubed flower to get at the nectar—this is "nectar robbing" or bypassing pollination—you may have seen a honey bee come along and sip nectar from the hole. Why work hard to get at the nectar when it's right there for the taking?

This is the insect version of a convenience market!

Take the foxgloves (family Plantaginaceae, genus Digitalis). Sometimes you'll see a honey bee trailing or shadowing a carpenter bee that moves from corolla to corolla.

Short cut to the nectar!

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM

Bring Back the Monarchs!

When a monarch butterfly comes fluttering through your yard, grab your camera. Marvel at it beauty, celebrate its presence, and keep it in your memory. It may be become an endangered species the way things are going.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently reported that the monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. And, “during the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.”

So a trio—Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society—filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status to protect the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

The widespread loss of milkweed, the butterfly's host plant, especially throughout the Midwest, is troubling.

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis,  says there's plenty of milkweek in Northern California. “The problem is that nobody's there to breed on it.” For example, he sees large spreads of milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) around his many monitoring sites, including one by the Vacaville (Calif.) Transit Center. “Probably 75 stems, but I have never ever seen a monarch there, let alone any evidence of breeding." (See his entry on monarchs on his website.)

So, a monarch's solo visit to our little bee garden seems like a major event. When we see one, as we did Sept. 17, it heads straight for the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window. What a gorgeous butterfly, worthy of the royal name, “monarch!”

The only question is: will we consider it worthy enough to save it?

  • Plant milkweed, its host plant.
  • Avoid insecticides or herbicides.
  • Become a citizen scientist and help record sightings.
  • Support conservation efforts. 
  • Promote public awareness.

The Xerces Society's information on its website on the mighty monarch should be required reading, as should be this website: Monarch Watch.

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 5:28 AM

A Close Call

Art Shapiro (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, isn't feeling so well--to put it mildly--but he still went out on one of his butterfly monitoring expeditions today at his study site in North Sacramento.

He recorded 12 species of butterflies in the dry vegetation. (He's been monitoring the butterfly population in Central California for some four decades and he shares the information on his website.)

Frankly, we're surprised he went monitoring at all, especially after he emailed friends and colleagues about the bad news. Subject line: "Breaking Bad."

"At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept.11, my world turned upside-down. So did I.

"I was just into the crosswalk from the NW corner of Oak and Russell in Davis, heading south toward my lab, when I was struck from behind with great force by a bicyclist. I flew through the air and landed on the pavement head-first, with the right side of my face bearing the worst of the impact. The wife of a departmental colleague arrived on the scene a moment later; I believe she called 911. I was never unconscious, which is strange. My neck could easily have been broken, resulting in either death or paralysis, but it wasn't (the EMTs had assumed it was!). I was rushed to Sutter Davis Hospital and thence transferred to the UC Davis hospital trauma unit in Sacramento....Every bone on the right side of my face was pulverized. I had no more eye socket (orbit) and no more right cheekbone."

It was not a hit-and-run, as some folks speculated. The bicyclist stayed for the police report.

Through it all, Shapiro retained his sense of humor and is now back at work in his Storer Hall office after surgery on Sept. 12 and a repeat visit to the UC Davis Medical Center today.  And he can see again.

"...my right eye is swollen shut, I am all black and blue and look like I've been in the ring with Mike Tyson. I look like a ghoul in a zombie-apocalypse movie, with caked blood, blah blah. I'm not sure I've ever felt worse, though, oddly, there hasn't been all that much pain."

So, immediately after the Medical Center appointment, he trekked over to his North Sacramento study site. His appearance did not go unnoticed. "Looking like I do is an invitation for street people, homeless, and down-and-outers to talk to you, as I learned today. There were only two campers at North Sac, but I had a dozen such conversations...most of them assumed I had been in a fight." One guy said said 'I hope you gave the other guy as bad as you got!'

True to form, Shapiro appeared to be most interested in monitoring butterflies than monitoring his physical condition.

"North Sac: 88F, clear, very light S wind. No new fires. Veg very dry, less of everything in bloom except Euthamia (goldentops) Hemizonia (tarweeds), and Epilobium (willowherbs/fireweeds) all peaking. No coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) yet. With all the Euthamia I expected (Atlides) halesus (Great purple streak), but didn't see it; with all the Epilobium expected (Ochlodes) sylvanoides (Woodland skipper), but didn't see it, either; and there were no Poanes melane (umber skipper)."

The species he recorded:

  • Junonia coenia, 11, Buckeye
  • Pyrgus communis, 18, Common Checkered Skipper
  • Plebejus acmon, 5, Acmon Blue
  • Pieris rapae, 19,  Cabbage White
  • Strymon melinus, 4, Gray Hairstr.eak
  • Brephidium exile, 1. Western Pygmy Blue
  • Atalopedes campestris, 4, Field Skipper
  • Phyciodes mylitta, 10, Mylitta Crescent
  • Everes comyntas, 1, Eastern Tailed Blue
  • Hylephila phyleus, 7, Fiery Skipper
  • Limenitis lorquini, 3, Lorquin's Admiral
  • Agraulis vanillae, 1, Gulf Fritillary

Twelve different species. Eighty-bugs. 

And what did Shapiro have to say about his field trip? "Me and AH-nold: we're b-a-a-a-a-a-c-k."

"It feels good," he added.

And we're all feeling good--whew!--that he's feeling good.

That was a close one.

Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Do You Have a Little Land to Spare for the Bee Buffer Project?

Kathy Kellison. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Do you have a little land to spare, such as a quarter of an acre or up to three acres? For honey bee habitat?

The Pollinator Partnership, as part of its U.S. Bee Buffer Project, wants to partner with California farmers, ranchers, foresters, and managers and owners to participate in a honey bee forage habitat enhancement effort. It's called the U.S. Bee Buffer Project and the goal is to "borrow" 6000 acres to plant honey bee seed mix.

It will create a foraging habitat of pollen and nectar, essential to honey bee health. And there's no charge for the seed mix.

What a great project to help the beleaguered honey bees!

"Beekeepers struggle to find foraging areas to feed their bees when they are not in a pollination contract," said "idea generator" Kathy Kellison of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, a strong advocate of keeping bees healthy.  "Lack of foraging habitat puts stress on the bees and cropping systems honey bees pollinate. The U.S. Bee Buffer Project will develop a network of honey bee forage habitats in agricultural areas to support honey bee health and our own food systems. We are looking for cooperators with land they are willing to set aside as Bee Buffers."

Kellison points out:

  • Honey bees provide pollination services for 90 crops nationwide.
  • A leading cause for over-winter mortality of honey bee colonies given by beekeepers surveyed is starvation. The nationwide winter loss for 2012/2013 was 31.3 percent.

The requirements, she said, are minimal:

  • Access to an active farm, ranch, forest, easement, set-aside, or landscape
  • Ability to plant 0.25 to 3 acres with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix
  • Commitment to keep the Bee Buffer in place
  • Allow beekeepers and researchers on-site

Of course, the benefits to the participants include free seeds and planting information; supplemental pollination of flowering plants; and leadership participation in the beginnings of a nationwide effort to support honey bees. Then there's the potential for enriched soil, reduction in invasive plant species, and enhanced wildlife habitat.

And, we made add, a sense of accomplishment as bees forage on your thriving plants.

Those interested in participating in this nationwide effort and hosting a Bee Buffer, can visit  http://www.pollinator.org/beebuffer.htm to fill out a brief eligibility questionnaire. More information is available from Mary Byrne at the Pollinator Partnership at (415) 362-1137 or mb@pollinator.org.

Go, bees!

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Prayers Answered

Praying mantids are, oh, so patient.

They perch on a flower, their spiked forelegs seemingly locked in a praying position, and wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

A green praying mantis recently did just that on our cosmos.

Usually we have to hunt for the mantids because they are so camouflaged or concealed.

Not this one.

This one was as visible as a green elephant in a field of snow.

Despite its conspicuous visibility, the attempts of this lean green machine proved fruitful. First, a honey bee. Then a fiery skipper.

His prayers were answered.

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 6:49 PM

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