That's because bees don't fly until the temperature hits around 55, and the thermometer on that wintry day (Jan. 7) refused to budge over 47.
The facility, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, is located next to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
It slides Davis into the national spotlight as "Pollination Central" and "The Bee Capital of the World." The Davis facility is the newest of five USDA bee research labs in the United States and as the only one in California.
“This is the only USDA bee research team in California—where the action is,” said emcee Paul Pratt, research leader of the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Lab. USDA maintains honey bee research facilities in Tucson, Ariz.; Beltsville, M.D., Baton Rouge, La., and Stoneville, Miss.
“The opening of the USDA-ARS bee lab marks a new opportunity for USDA and UC Davis entomologists to collaborate and investigate serious problems that affect stakeholders,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “We are very fortunate that the lab was built at UC Davis.”
Plans for the USDA-ARS facility began five years ago at a stakeholders' conference in the Laidlaw facility. Attendees at the November 2015 meeting targeted honey bee health, primarily varroa mites, pesticides and nutrition.
Park-Burris, of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Palo Cedro--her family has worked with UC Davis researchers for more than 80 years--cut the ribbon with four other stakeholders: almond pollination consultant Robert Curtis of Carmichael, former director and associate director (now retired) of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California; Kevin Adee of Bruce, S.D., president of the American Honey Producers' Association; Brad Pankratz of Can-Am Apiaries, Orland, Calif.; and Darren Cox of Cox Honey Farms, Logan, Utah, a past president of the American Honey Producers' Association.
Pratt introduced newly hired research entomologists, Arathi Seshadri and Julia Fine, who form the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit at Davis. They are dedicated toward developing technology that improves colony survivorship through long-term studies of multiple stress factors, he said. "They will develop and transfer integrated biologically based approaches for the management of invasive species and the improvement of pollinator health.”
The speakers centered their presentations around cooperation, camaraderie, and, yes, the cold! (See new story and images on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Park-Burris said it well:
"The California State Beekeepers' Association is overwhelmed that we have a USDA lab to collaborate with our UC Davis lab. We hope there's a lot of collaboration going on. We really look forward to that. As a stakeholder, my family has been raising queens just north of here (Palo Cedro) for over 80 years. Dr. Laidlaw had worked with my uncle and my father. He's been at my house. And he's been through my bees. Julia (Fine) has even already been up to see the queen farm.” (See more information on Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr., 1907-2003, the father of honey bee genetics, on the UC Davis website.)
“The queen bee breeding industry could definitely use you guys,” Park-Burris continued. “California has all the issues because everybody comes here. …it's very important that we have this lab here and how grateful we are that you have all gone to the work to make this happen."
“We look forward to solving some of our problems—varroa, varroa, varroa--and forage and pesticide interaction,” Park-Burris said, “and all that happens in California during the largest pollinator event in the world. So you're in a good place and we're grateful.”
The bees? They're grateful, too.
Macro insect photographer extraordinaire Allan Jones captured an image of a female black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus on Monday, Jan. 6 on the UC Davis campus.
- The time: 1:45 p.m.
- The place: On white manzanita, just east of the 0ld Redwood Grove past the Old Davis Road/Arboretum Drive entrance, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Arboretum
- The temperature: About 56 degrees
"From the looks of her pollen load, she has been out collecting for some time now, so she must have been collecting earlier when it was colder yet," Jones reported. He saw one yesterday (Jan. 5 in Davis) west of El Macero but the bumble bee flew before he could photograph it. "I figured the black-tail ground nests were warmed up enough so they would be out early."
Jones, who worked closely with global bumble bee authority Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis, explained the warming of the nests:
"One summer while shooting bees soon after dawn at a lavender farm in the foothills, the first flight of bees were the bumble bees. Once it warmed up some, the honey bees showed up. So a few years ago I asked Robbin why on chill winter days I was seeing lots of honey bees, but no bumble bees. (Of course I was eager to win our contest.)
"He explained that bumble bees often nest facing north so that in cold mountainous climates, the warm southern sunshine does not warm their nests and lure them into a sudden drop in temperature or a snow squall that would kill them. Instead they wait for the ground and their nest to warm a bit before they venture out. It was Robbin's reasoning that lead me to believe that yesterday's B. melanopygus sighting in South Davis proved that local nests were warm enough that they would be flying with honey bees in the low '50s. A few years ago, the winner went out and got a shot on a day with very low temperatures as well, but she was on campus where buildings produce some tropical microclimates. This year I decided to get out early."
A little bit about the contest: Thorp launched the contest in 2012 with a small group of bumble bee enthusiasts/photographers: Allan Jones and Gary Zamzow of Yolo County, and yours truly of Solano County. Later UC Davis doctoral student Kim Chacon with the Geography Graduate Group (and on track to receive her doctorate in June 2020), joined the group. Chacon, who studies "habitat connectivity issues for bees at a landscape scale" (see her website on Resilient Bee Landscapes), worked closely with Thorp until his death in June 2019. She is a 2018 alumnus of The Bee Course, co-taught by Thorp.
The rules are simple: the first one who photographs the first bumble bee of the year in Yolo or Solano County wins the title! (No reward, just bragging rights)
The first bumble bee to emerge in this area is the black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. Native to western North America and found from California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho, it forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others.
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death. In 2014, during his retirement, he co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. He co-taught The Bee Course from 2002 to 2019. This is an intensive nine-day workshop affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. It's geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, spanning the 5300-acre campus, is a landmark on the UC Davis campus--and traces its beginnings to more than 80 years ago. As the website says, it includes "demonstration gardens and scientific collections as well as the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve – a rare stream and grassland ecosystem managed for teaching, research, wildlife and habitat protection."
Go visit the Arboretum--and be sure to look for the bumble bees!
On the last few days of Year 2019, where do you find a foraging honey bee?
Well, if the temperature soars to 50 or 55, you might see honey bees slip out of their hives and head for a winter flowering plant commonly known as the "red hot poker" or "Christmas cheer" (genus Kniphofia).
As its name implies, the red hot poker is dramatic. It's like the attention-grabbing red bow on a Christmas present, a passionate red heart on a Valentine's Day card, or the glowing red tip on a fireplace poker.
You can see this perennial in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. It's one of the 100 Arboretum All-Stars. (And look for it at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery plant sales).
Arboreum horticulturists aptly describe it as "dramatic": “Dramatic plant brightens up the winter garden; at the top of its tall flowering stems, brilliant orange buds open to deep-gold tubular flowers; long, narrow leaves form an attractive, medium-large clump over time; attracts hummingbirds.”
And honey bees.
Native to Africa, Kniphofia belongs to the family Asphodelaceae and begins to flower in December. It's named for Johann Hieronymus Kniphof, an 18th-century German physician and botanist. In fact, the genus was first described in 1794, back when George Washington held forth in the White House and John Adams was his vice president.
Hear that buzz? Honey bees are gathering nectar and pollen on the Kniphofia. Can New Year's Eve and New Year's Day be far behind?
Nice knowing you, Year 2019. Welcome, Year 2020.
Happy New Year!
'Tis the season of giving, and the ninth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, set for Saturday, Feb. 15, needs donors.
Make that "urgently needs donor pledges." The pledge deadline of Jan. 6 looms.
The free, science-based public event drew more than 4,000 visitors in 2019. It's always held the Saturday of Presidents' Weekend. Displays range from ancient dinosaur bones to stick insects; from hawks to honey bees; and from California condor specimens to carnivorous plants.
Visitors of all ages can meet and talk with UC Davis scientists—from undergraduates to staff to emeriti professors—“and see amazing objects and organisms from the world around us,” said volunteer chair Tabatha Yang, who is also the education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Sponsors (two openings available) who donate $3000 will receive “Presenting Sponsor” recognition (donor name or company logo) on the T-shirts, as well as recognition on social media fliers, fliers, banners and other entities.
Other contributors are “Biodiversity Allies” or $1500 donors (four openings available); “Biodiversity Supporters” or $500 donors, and “Biodiversity Friends” or $100 donors. General supporters, who can give what they can any time of the year, are also needed. More information on how to give is on the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum website. All donations are tax-deductible and much appreciated, the organizers said.
Open to the public on Feb. 15 will be:
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Department of Anthropology Museum
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Marine Invertebrate Collection (not linked)
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Nematode Collection
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
- Viticulture Enology Culture Collection
The 13 museums or collections represent nine departments, all within walking distance on campus except the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road and the bee garden on Bee Biology Road. The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will showcase three museums or collections: Bohart Museum of Entomology, Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, and the Nematode Collection.
Founded in 2011, UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day is billed as an annual event for the public to learn about nature, science and the work of UC Davis around the globe. The science-based day focuses on natural history showcasing the university's critically important, research and teaching collections, the committee related. Many students attend Biodiversity Museum Day to gather information on career choices.
All participating museums and collections have active education and outreach programs, but the collections are not always accessible to the public. In the event of rain, alternative locations are planned for the outdoor sites.
For more information on sponsors, contact Charlie Lemcke, assistant director, Foundation and Corporate Engagement, at email@example.com or (530) 754-4102.
If you collect the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo, you'll win a pitcher of beer or its equivalent, compliments of Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology.
Shapiro is sponsoring his 48th annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest and it's all in the name of research--to determine the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae. Since 1972, when he launched the contest, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
The butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. The male is white. The female is often slightly buffy; the "underside of the hindwing and apex of the forewing may be distinctly yellow and normally have a gray cast,” Shapiro said. “The black dots and apical spot on the upperside tend to be faint or even to disappear really early in the season.”
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be delivered alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it, Shapiro says.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, usually wins his own contest and did so again in 2019. He collected the winner near the Suisun Yacht Club, Suisun City, Solano County, at 1:12 p.m., Friday, Jan. 25.
Shapiro has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students: Jacob Montgomery in 2016; Adam Porter in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each defeated him in the late 1990s.
The list of winners, dates and locations since 2010:
- 2019: Jan. 25: Art Shapiro collected the winner near the Suisun Yacht Club,Solano County
- 2018: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento, Yolo County
- 2017: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner on the UC Davis campus
- 2016: Jan. 16: Jacob Montgomery, UC Davis graduate student, collected the winner in west Davis
- 2015: Jan. 26: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2014: Jan. 14: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2013: Jan. 21: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2012: Jan. 8: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2011: Jan. 31: Shapiro collected the winner in Suisun, Solano County
- 2010: Jan. 27: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
The 2019 winner was the earliest recorded in Suisun City in 47 seasons, said Shapiro. That day he noticed dandelions, mustard, radish and mallow in bloom and a few Picris (sunflower family) in the area. "But near the Suisun Yacht Club (703 Civic Center Blvd., Suisun City) at 1:12 p.m. I saw a rapae. It didn't land and I had to take it in the air. It's a small and very heavily infuscated male.” It had just eclosed that day, he said.
The UC Davis professor has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California since 1972 and records the information on his research website. His 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. He visits his sites every two weeks "to record what's out" from spring to fall, weather permitting. He has studied more than 160 species of butterflies in his transect. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
Shapiro and illustrator Timothy D. Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press. Shapiro is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society, and the California Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about this butterfly, see the data on the UC Integrated Pest Management Program website. In its larval stage (cabbageworm), it's a pest.
And if you want a free pitcher of beer (or its equivalent), don't leave home without your net!