- Author: Andrew Mason Sutherland
It's that time of year again: termite swarm season! Western subterranean termites, Reticulitermes hesperus (species complex), produce reproductive swarms during calm sunny periods immediately following the first autumn rains. This is especially pronounced in the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of the Sacramento Valley, where mature termite colonies across a broad region may swarm simultaneously en masse, filling the air with termites fluttering their gossamer wings and filling social media discussions with wonder, horror, confusion, and dread.
What should you do? If observing a swarm on your property, especially if near your home or other structures, you can hire a professional termite company for a detailed inspection. Make sure to photograph or otherwise note the swarm location so that the inspector can start there. Even if you don't see swarms on your property, regular (every three to five years) inspections will help detect infestations before they cause significant damage and prevent future infestations. There are several proven management strategies for termites; review UC IPM's Pest Notes: Subterranean Termites.
For now, perhaps we can all appreciate the wonder of this natural spectacle. Winged termites are great sources of food for birds, lizards, other insects, and spiders. Termites also provide important ecosystem services, such as decomposition of wood and fallen leaves, contribution to soil structure formation, enhancement of water infiltration in soil, and facilitation of nutrient availability to plants. Furthermore, western subterranean termites are native to California and have been here long before we built wooden structures on top of their colonies. (Termite) love is in the air!/div>
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When honey bees swarmed last week at the entrance to the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Vacaville, the site seemed quite fitting.
Biblical references to bees and honey, such as "the land of milk and honey," abound.
Blessed are the bees.
Bees, responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat and renowned for their intelligence and industriousness, figure prominently in religion, mythology and folklore. Roman Catholic Bishop St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) of Geneva viewed a bee's work as "pure," writing that “the bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” (The bishop, later honored as a saint, apparently did not know that worker bees are female, not male.)
So enter Epiphany Episocol Church congregation member and music director Carlyn Crystal of Vacaville, the "junior warden" or "people's warden" who helps coordinate issues with the facility and grounds. She heard the buzz, saw the small cluster (about the size of several baseballs) 12 feet above the church entrance, and on the third day, contacted the Craig Hunt family, a Vacaville family of beekeepers.
Swarming, mainly a spring phenomenon, is the colony's means of reproduction as scout bees search for a new, permanent home. The swarm usually moves within three days.
Craig, his wife Shelly and daughters Alyssa, 13 and Emma, 8, arrived in the early evening of March 22 with a ladder, a smoker and a bee box. The family keeps some 50 hives at their residence on Meridian Road and were active in 4-H beekeeping projects before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Craig has taught many a 4-H'er, including his daughters, about bees.
"The bees may have swarmed to a nearby location," Craig said.
But there they were, the social insects congregating at the entrance to Epiphany, forming their own choir and social center.
Yes, 4-H projects have long included beekeeping. The Solano County 4-H Program, comprised of 10 clubs (as well as the military 4-H programming at Travis Air Force base), currently has one beekeeping project, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program Representative. The beekeeping project, offered by the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, includes 11 youth and two adult volunteer project leaders. (News flash: James "LJ" George gave an illustrated talk on beekeeping at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held March 13 on Zoom and won a gold award.)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Solano County 4-H Office is temporarily closed and meetings, programs and workshops are under restrictions.
Bees, however, know neither boundaries nor borders as they go about their bees-ness.
Church grounds are just fine with them.
Blessed are the bees.
(Note: Beekeeper Craig Hunt can be reached at 707-637-7221)
While we are staying home during the pandemic, insects are most definitely not!
In fact, you may have seen different types of insects swarming over the last few weeks. Swarming is a reproductive behavior where certain insects leave their colonies in droves, mate, disperse, and establish new colonies. Most of these swarms are not successful and end up dying, but for those that are successful, spring is an optimal time for insect colonies to find new homes.
For subterranean termites, warm sunny days following spring rains often lead to swarms emerging from underground nests. Even if you do see termite swarms in your yard, it doesn't necessarily mean your house has termites. See our Pest Notes: Subterranean and Other Termites for more information on identifying and controlling subterranean termites.
Many species of ants swarm too. Just like termites, ants are social insects that live in colonies and leave the nest to set up new colonies when environmental changes occur. Fire ants, carpenter ants, and other ant species exhibit swarming behavior. For more on ants as pests around the home and landscape, see Ants page on the UC IPM website.
Unsure whether you are seeing swarming ants or termites? Ants have a pinched “waist” between their abdomen and thorax while termites have a broad or thick waist. The wings of termites are the same size while ants have different sized wings. See the graphic below.
- Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas
In a practical sense though, what would you do if you were caught up in a bee swarm, perhaps not while playing in the Big Leagues but in the backyard playing catch?
Luckily, UC IPM has information to help you handle this situation. If you encounter a swarm of bees on your property, you can read about bee behavior and how to remove them in the Pest Notes: Removing Honey Bee Swarms and Established Hives.
Are you allergic to or fearful of bee or wasp stings? Read about how to distinguish between bees, yellowjackets, and other wasps, potential effects of bee and wasp stings, and to avoid getting stung in the Pest Notes: Bee and Wasp Stings.
While the player was joking about spraying an insecticide and did not actually have any pesticide in the backpack sprayer on his back, anyone planning to spray a pesticide should make sure they are prepared. To ensure you are spraying a pesticide as safely as possible, see the publication Pesticides: Safe and Effective Use in the Home and Landscape.
Stay safe out there and... play ball!
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Bee swarms are absolutely fascinating.
Several years ago, when bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey was teaching a queen- rearing class at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, her students received an extra bonus: they witnessed a bee swarm.
Right in front of them, as if on cue, the bees left the entrance of a hive and clustered on a nearby tree branch. That was Lesson No. 1. Cobey and crew quickly captured them and moved the swarm to a vacant hive. That was Lesson No. 2.
Actually, bee swarms aren't that rare on the UC Davis campus. They're just difficult to see because we're usually looking down instead of up.
This week UC Davis employee Suzan Carson alerted us to a bee swarm in the North Hall/Dutton Hall complex. She pointed to a tree branch, about 30 feet off the ground, where, in the deepening shadows, a cluster hung like grapes. "Good eye!" we said.
Today, toting my telephoto lens, I returned to capture an image of the cluster. They were still there, but probably won't be for long. The pending rainstorm may drive them from their temporary home, observed Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, explains the ins and outs of swarms in his newly published book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
"The act of swarming is perhaps the most dramatic event in the lives of honey bees," Gary writes. "Here's how it happens: Egg production increases dramatically in response to warming spring weather as well as an abundance of pollen and nectar from spring flowers. Within a few weeks, the colony population essentially doubles. Multiple queen cells--usually at least six--are constructed in the brood nest. A few days prior to the emergence of a virgin queen, the old queen's ovaries begin to shrink. Egg-laying essentially stops, and she loses enough weight to permit flight for the first time since her mating flight."
So basically there's "no room in the inn" for the burgeoning population. The colony divides. The swarm usually heads for a nearby tree to cluster on a branch while the scouts search for a new--and appropriate--home.
Meanwhile, back at the old hive, new queens are emerging and what happens next isn't pretty. "Rival queens engage in fierce stinging attacks until only one virgin queen remains," Gary writes.
About a week later, the victorious queen will depart on her mating flight to a drone congregation area, mate with 12 to 25 or so drones, and then return to the hive to lay eggs--as many as 2000 a day during the peak season.
The queen will never leave the hive again...
Unless, on a warm spring day...