Have you ever pulled up a chair in your garden and watched honey bees foraging?
They are so intent on their "bees-ness" that they don't know you're there. It's a great opportunity to photograph them.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, they'll buzz over your head on their way back to their colony, and you'll see:
- The three main body parts: head, thorax and abdomen
- The two pairs of wings
- The three pairs of legs
- The pair of antennae
Such was the case in Vacaville this week when we were watching honey bees forage in our African blue basil, a bee magnet that we plant annually. We first learned of African blue basil, (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal'), through Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor and the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. They co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Books) with Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Want to know more about honey bees? Be sure to read the newly published The Art of the Honey Bee; Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies (Oxford University Press) by noted bee geneticist and biologist Robert E. Page Jr., who maintains strong ties to UC Davis and Arizona State University (ASU). Also learn about honey bee anatomy on ASU's web page, "Ask a Biologist."
Page, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. In 2004, Arizona State University (ASU) recruited him for what would become a series of top-level administrative roles. He advanced from director of the School of Life Sciences to dean of Life Sciences; vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and university provost. Today he holds the titles of provost emeritus of ASU and Regents professor emeritus, as well as UC Davis department chair emeritus, professor emeritus, and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor.
Did you know a bee has a tool kit? Page lists the tool kit in his book, The Art of the Bee: a compass, an odometer and a path integrator.
'As 'central place foragers,' bees fly out from the nest site and explore the surrounding environment in search of food resources," writes Page, renowned for his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. "They return to the nest with the resources they collect. To do this, they need to be able to navigate out and find their way back. To aid them, they have a toolkit of navigation mechanisms."
One tool in their tool kit is their internal compass that depends on the location of the sun.
"As light from the sun passes through the atmosphere, it becomes polarized," Page writes. "The pattern of polarized light in the sky depends on the angle of the sun relative to where you are looking. Bees have special sensors in their eyes for detecting the polarized light patterns. On cloudy days, they can't see the sky; but they can still locate the sun using ultraviolet light detectors. Ultraviolet light penetrates cloud cover, allowing bees to use the location of the sun as a navigational marker. With heavy clouds, bees can get to and from a resource by relying solely on landmarks that they learn; otherwise, they stay home until the weather changes. However, as the earth turns, the sun is always changing location relative to the horizon, making it an unreliable marker unless you know the time of day, and bees do. They learn the movement of the sun across the sky and reference it to an internal clock. We know they have the clock because we can train them to forage at specific times of day. If you anesthetize a bee, you can stop her clock. When she awakens and takes a foraging trip to a learned foraging station, her flight path will be offset by the amount of time lost. In other words, she will misinterpret the direction based on the current location of the sun by the amount of time she was anesthetized."
"The odometer plus the ability to determine a flight vector (direction and distance) from a given landmark along a resource flight path, using their sun compass and internal clock, give bees the basic tools for navigation," Page writes. "The last tool in the toolkit is a path integrator that combines the compass and odometer information."
It's a fascinating book by Page, whose most salient contributions to science include constructing the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.
Meanwhile, take the challenge. Pull up a chair in your garden and watch and photograph the bees going about their "bees-ness."
It seems as if the image of the dogface butterfly is everywhere. It's on every California driver's license; on postage stamps; on a UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology poster created by Bohart associates Fran Keller and Greg Kareofelas; and in a book authored by Keller.
And now for the splash: the image appears on the labels of two California wines (Dogface Syrah and Dogface Cabernet Sauvignon), produced by Lone Buffalo Vineyards and Winery, Auburn, in collaborative projects with Pacific Land Trust.
Lone Buffalo is a longtime supporter of Placer Land Trust in its efforts to conserve 10,000 acres of natural and agricultural land in Placer County.
Keller, now a professor at Folsom Lake College (she holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum) recently visited Lone Buffalo to check out the 2016 Dogface Cabernet Sauvignon and to deliver copies of her children's book.
The history of the dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, is fascinating.
Found only in California, the dogface butterfly thrives at the Shutamul Bear River Preserve near Auburn, Placer County. The 40-acre preserve, part of the Placer Land Trust, is closed to the public except for specially arranged tours. (See Placer Land Trust's video of the butterfly habitat.)
The dogface butterfly, so named because of the poodle-like silhouette on the wings of the male, was adopted as the official California insect on July 28, 1972, but entomologists had selected it as the state insect as early as 1929. Their choice appears in the California Blue Book, published by the State Legislature in 1929. (Read more on how the butterfly became the state insect under the Ronald Reagan administration.)
The state insect made the news several years ago when Keller, Kareofelas and former UC Davis student and artist Laine Bauer, teamed to publish a 35-page children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly.
The trio visited the Auburn site for their research, and Kareofelas also reared and photographed a dogface butterfly at his home in Davis.
The one-of-a-kind book is popular in elementary school classrooms. "The ecology, life cycle, taxonomy and conservation issues presented are relevant to grades K-6 that can be used in classroom curriculum,” Keller says.
Earlier, Kareofelas (photographer) and Keller (designer) created the Bohart Museum's dogface butterfly poster of the male and female. Both the book and the poster are available at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge, on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. (The Bohart is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and precautions.)
KVIE Public Television's "Rob on the Road" show recently featured the butterfly and its Auburn habitat. Kareofelas, who has served for several years as a volunteer docent for the Placer Land Trust's dogface butterfly tour, assisted with the "Rob on the Road" tour. It's online at http://vids.kvie.org/video/3002661342/
The California state insect never had it so good.
My first thought was "Wow! Haven't seen a Polistes dominula nest for years!" (The last one I saw was hanging out on the lip of a trash can in a UC Davis parking lot; it vanished the next day.)
And the second thought: #wasplove," a hashtag coined on Twitter by Amy Toth of Iowa State University.
Back in May of 2015, Toth, now an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology and the Department of Entomology, delivered a presentation on wasps at a seminar hosted by the University of California, Davis. As her website indicates, she's interested in the mechanisms and evolution of insect sociality, using paper wasps and honey bees as model systems. Current research projects involve de novo sequencing of paper wasp genomes and transcriptomes, comparative genomic analysis of Hymenoptera, genomic and epigenetic mechanisms regulating caste evolution, and the influences of nutrition and viruses on honey bee behavior and health.
Toth holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where she studied with Gene Robinson, and also did postdoctoral work with Christina Grozinger at Pennsylvania State University.
Wasps are pollinators and they attack pests of agricultural crops, Toth told the Department of Entomology and Nematology at her seminar.
However, many folks we know just aren't fond of wasps. They're unwelcome guests in their yard, patio or picnic. See the information on "Yellowjackets and Other Social Wasps" on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website, which includes "Preferring to live in or near orchards or vineyards, they (paper wasps) hang their paper nests in protected areas, such as under eaves, in attics, or under tree branches or vines. Each nest hangs like an open umbrella from a pedicel (stalk) and has open cells that can be seen from beneath the nest. Sometimes white, legless, grublike larvae can be seen from below. Paper wasp nests rarely exceed the size of an outstretched hand, and populations vary between 15 to 200 individuals. Most species are relatively unaggressive, but they can be a problem when they nest over doorways or in other areas of human activity such as fruit trees."
We remember asking Toth to list what she loves about wasps.
Here's her list, as posted earlier on a Bug Squad blog:
1. They are pollinators
2. They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants
3. They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
4. They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
5. They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
6. Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior, manifest in nearly constant passive-aggressive interactions between individuals.
7. They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
8. They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
9. They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
And my No. 10: they are quite photogenic.
Yes, they are./span>
Amy Hustead of Grass Valley, a veteran beekeeper who also happens to be the first and only beekeeper in her family, is now certified by the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), headquartered at the University of California, Davis, as its first-ever Master Beekeeper.
She is no novice. She knows bees. She's a seven-year beekeeper and president of the Nevada County Beekeepers Association.
CAMBP, founded and co-directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. It offers three levels of certification (Apprentice, Journey and Master). Niño launched the first Apprentice class in 2016.
Hustead's passion is education and outreach. Her Master Capstone project involved teaching two, three-hour online CAMBP classes (“Planning Ahead for Your First Hives,” and “Working Your Colonies.”) She designed, developed and successfully delivered "Intermediate Backyard Beekeeping," an in-depth, online, four-hour course on science-based beekeeping for the hobbyist and sideliner. Topics included winter and spring preparation, swarm prevention, active swarming, splits and nucs (nucs, or nucleus colonies, are small colonies created from larger colonies), diseases, nutrition, maximizing honey production, and harvesting honey, wax, propolis and pollen.
Meet Amy Hustead
Amy Hustead, a wife, mother of 9-year-old twin boys, and a seven-year beekeeper, said she really enjoys CAMBP. “It has allowed me to meet some really excellent beekeepers. I plan to continue to teach classes and help educate people on the biology of bees.”
Highly praised for her work, she has drawn such comments as "the class exceeded my expectations”; her “lecture style is professional, yet warm, which is needed in the context of Zoom classes”; and she “keeps an open mind about other beekeepers' goals.” Wrote another: “Amy is very informed and easy to follow, and shares her information with the right amount of applicable detail for the intermediate.”
“I dabbled in homesteading when I first moved to the foothills, and like a lot of people, started out keeping chickens. I think I wanted to get goats but my husband was not on board, so I decided to get bees instead.”
As a veterinary technician, she works in low-cost spay and neuter programs. "I also volunteer with an organization that provides veterinary care to pets of homeless and low-income people in the Sacramento area."
Bees keep her occupied at several locations. “I have between 15-20 personal colonies at three different locations,” Hustead related. ”I also manage a few colonies for other people.”
As it turns out, this year is not a good year for bees. “Mostly my bees aren't doing well this year,” she said. “The nectar flow was non-existent, and the recent fires haven't helped. For the first year ever I am harvesting no honey from my yard at home.”
Hustead home-schools her twins. “I am very serious about home-schooling my kids, and part of our curriculum is extensive travel.” The Hustead family has visited a number of states in the nation, and has already been to Mexico, Ireland, Costa Rica. “We are planning a Europe trip as soon as possible.“
Since late 2016, CAMBP has certified 206 Apprentices and 22 Journey-level beekeepers, who have volunteered more than 24,510 service hours in science-based education and outreach in beekeeping and environmental stewardship. Total value of the service hours: $623,289. Total number of individuals served: 98,618.
CAMBP's current 53 Apprentice candidates will take their online exam Sept. 12. To pass, they must score at least 75 percent. “Candidates will upload videos or partake in 'live from their apiary' Zoom sessions to satisfy the requirements of the practical rubric,” Mather said.
The Journey-level candidates have completed the online written portion of their certification and their videos and Zoom practicals are in progress. “So far, we're proud to announce that all 15 Journey level candidates scored above 80 percent on their written exams, and their videos and Zoom practicals are looking great!” Mather commented.
The Master level usually takes an average of five years to achieve. Some candidates choose to remain as Apprentice or Journey-level beekeepers. CAMBP offers pre-approved Master Capstone Tracks, but also encourages candidates to follow their passion if their favorites are not on the list, which includes:
- Native Bees and Pollinator Gardens
- Commercial Beekeeping
- Scientific Research
- Education and Outreach
- Policy for Honey Bees and Native Pollinators
Seven Master-Level Candidates
The seven Master-level candidates for the 2020-21 season are pursuing a variety of projects, including mapping drone congregation areas, authoring a book on the history of honey in ancient Greece, establishing a pollen library for the state of California, starting a commercial beekeeping business, and training a “detector dog” in the apiary.
To maintain active status as a Master Beekeeper with CAMBP, members are required to perform and log 25 hours of BEEs (Beneficial Education Experiences). Hustead will perform a minimum of 25 volunteer hours annually. Her volunteer service, at the minimum, is valued at $25.43 per hour or about $600 per year.
“Amy will have no problem doing that as she's active as the president of her local beekeeping club,” Mather said, “and she mentors many new beekeepers to help them become science-based stewards and ambassadors of honey bees and beekeeping.”
UC Davis alumnus and bee expert Elizabeth Frost, a technical specialist for bees with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, sadly knows the fire scene well.
Frost, a 13-year beekeeper, recently authored "24 Million Acres: Reports from Australia's Massive Fire Scar," published in the quarterly magazine, 2 Million Blossoms. The informative piece tackles the subject of Australian bushfires and it provides insight into the kind of scorched path lying ahead for California beekeepers.
"Bees don't abscond but stay with the hives as far as I can tell from beekeeper anecdotal evidence," Frost told us this week. "Where a 'cool' burn runs quickly through the bee yard, hives generally suffer from radiant heat. Post-fire, they should should be fed supplementally if there are no natural food sources where they can be moved to, and requeened. Otherwise, ongoing queen/productivity issues result."
At UC Davis, Frost worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey (now at Washington State University) at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. The two colleagues are closely following the California wildfire disaster. "This is devastating--it will take years to recover," Cobey said.
An integral part of what's occurring both here and Australia, the colleagues said, is climate change. "Prolonged and potentially extreme bushfire seasons in Australia due to climate change is our present reality, not our future," wrote Frost in 2 Million Blossoms.
Meanwhile, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council is keying on rebuilding the bushfire-devastated honey bee and pollination industry.
Frost described the 2019-20 bush fires in 2 Million Blossoms: "24 million acres were burnt in Australia's 2019-2020 bushfire season. In Australia's biggest beekeeping state, New South Wales (NSW), the 2019-20 bush-fires burnt through 13 million acres, 7% of the state's area, including 37% of NSW National Parks and 50% of State forests. NSW Apiarists' Association President Stephen Targett noted, “NSW Bushfires have burnt over 9,809 hives and wiped out the field of over 88,094 hives and burnt just over 5 million hectares of forests. With minimal autumn prospects, a small percentage of these affected hives will be suitable for almond pollination. While the mature almond orchards in Australia don't cover anywhere near as much land as in the United States, they still require around 220,000 hives in August, when mass bloom occurs in the Southern Hemisphere."
"This bushfire disaster was unprecedented in its impact on the Australian beekeeping industry which relies on native tall timber forests of nectar and pollen yielding trees to produce 30,000 tons of honey in a good year," Frost wrote. "Most of these species flower once every 3 to 4 years, unless soil moisture is below average for extended periods in which case some trees may not flower for up to 10 years. Australia's unique flora and dispersed bloom times means beekeepers must pay keen attention to botanical detail in order to effectively migrate to nectar flows that are not annual or even biannual. Australia lost vast swathes of vital natural sources of nutrition, species that provide car- bohydrates, proteins, amino and fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. The bushfires destroyed prime habitat that functioned as a safe haven far from the threat of pesticides to honey bees and native pollinators alike."
Frost called attention to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a leading Australian federal government scientific agency, that has been conducting bushfire research for almost 70 years. "Bushfires are a natural part of the Australian landscape, necessary for the regeneration of many endemic plant species that evolved with the harsh climatic conditions of the world's lowest, flattest and (apart from Antarctica) driest continents," Frost pointed out. CSIRO reports that “bushfires are the result of a combination of weather and vegetation (which acts as a fuel for the fire), together with a way for the fire to begin – most commonly due to a lightning strike and sometimes human-influences (mostly accidental such as the use of machinery which produces a spark).”
The impact of climate change has led to longer, more intense fire seasons, Frost related, and an increase in the average number of elevated fire weather days, as measured by the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). Last year saw the highest annual accumulated FFDI on record.
"Climate change doesn't cause fires directly, but has caused an increase in the occurrence of extreme fire weather and in the length of the fire season across large parts of Australia since the 1950s," Frost wrote. "In addition to 2019 being the driest year since records began in 1900, it was Australia's warmest year. In 2019 the annual mean temperature was 1.52 °C above average.”
Frost asked: "In the short term, how will the beekeeping industry evolve to cope with millions of acres of its floral resource burnt and unproductive, providing no bee forage for at least the next few years? Supplemental feeding, previously practiced sparingly in Australia, will have to become the norm for the country if beekeepers hope to bring colonies up to required colony strength as agreed in their almond pollination contracts."
Sadly, it's a long singed recovery as well for the California beekeepers victimized by the wildfires. (To offer financial support for Caroline Yelle, owner of Pope Canyon Queens, access the Gofundme account.)