(June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week.)
"How many? Does anyone know?"
No one did, but by the end of the Pollination Education Program, sponsored by CAMBP, all 72 youths from the Sutter Creek and Ione area of Amador County did: 20,000.
They also learned that there are 4000 species of bees in the United States, 1600 species in California, and 350 in Yolo County.
And they learned that pollinators include honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, sweat bees, hummingbirds and syrphid flies.
"Can you all say entomologist?" Mather asked. "Does anyone know what entomology means?"
"Insects," said one youth.
"Yes, entomology is the scientific study of insects," Mather told them. That's what each and everyone of you is today: entomologists! Okay?
She explained the life cycle of a bee: from egg to larva to pupa to adult. "Males are called drones," she said. "Females are called worker bees."
Toward the end of the program, Mather told the students: "You are ready for the university. As soon as you graduate from high school, I hope to see you guys here. You are all excellent, very respectable, responsible and mature scientists. I want you to please take the knowledge that you gathered here today and share it with family and friends."
The Pollinator Education Program (PEP), developed two years ago by CAMPB director and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, along with staff research associate Bernardo Niño, aims to provide a fun, immersive educational experience "to help kids of all ages understand the importance pollinators play in the lives of humans."
At the recent session, Mather shared data on native bees, explained the life cycle of a honey bee, encouraged students to be citizen scientists, and demonstrated how to carefully collect bee specimens with a bee vacuum in a catch-and-release activity.
Volunteer Robin Lowry managed the “Planting for Pollinators” and “Be a Beekeeper” station. Students tried on beekeeping suits and tested the equipment, including a smoker and hive tools.
Volunteer Julia Wentzel introduced the concept of "pollinator specialists" and engaged the students in creating a "pollinator" which they then used to transfer "pollen" to different shaped flowers. Diverse floral sources are integral to honey bee health, she said.
Matthew Hoepfinger, staff research associate in the Niño lab, opened a bee hive (inside a screened tent) and showed the students the queen, workers and drones.
Just before boarding the buses for home, the students sampled several varietals of honey. "This is really good!" a girl said. "I want more."
Ron Antone of the UC Master Gardeners of Amador coordinates the annual program, working with Amador school officials, parents and master gardeners. This year he coordinated two groups:
- Jackson Elementary. 62 third graders, 3 teachers, 2 aides, 3 parents and 2 Master Gardener volunteers from Amador County.
- Ione Elementary. 72 third graders, 3 teachers, 7 parents, 3 Master Gardeners and 3 volunteers from Farms of Amador.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology operates the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, with Elina Lastro Niño serving as the garden's faculty director and Christine Casey as the manager. Two others from the Niño lab--staff research associate Charley Nye, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and staffer Christine Torres--assisted with the pollinator education programs.
"It takes a village as they say," Mather said.
That it does.
A tip of the bee veil to CAMBP, PEP, the Niño lab, and the UC Master Gardeners of Amador County for their roles in educating youth about pollinators.
Have you ever wondered about sexual size dimorphism in the tropical spiders, the golden orbweavers?
The females are sometimes 10 times larger and 100 times heavier than their male counterparts. And the webs that the females weave are huge--they can be as wide as five feet in diameter.
And, yes, the females cannibalize the males, says Jason Bond, professor and Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology,
“Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) often seems to be correlated with extreme morphological, behavioral and life history phenotypes in either sex,” says Bond, senior author of a newly published paper in the Journal of Systematic Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Systematic Biologists.
Through phylogenomic (the intersection of the fields of evolution and genomics) and comparative analyses, Bond and his colleagues found that golden orbweavers “ignore biological rules.”
The global team of 11 scientists--from Slovenia, China, Taiwan, Czech Republic and the United States (UC Davis, Smithsonian Institution, University of Idaho, University of Florida and University of Vermont)--unraveled a complex evolution of sexual size and dimorphism and found that Nephilid female gigantism is a “phylogenetically ancient phenotype, over 100 million years old, though their magnitudes vary by lineage.”
The spiders belong to the genus Nephila and family Nephilidae; the members are known for constructing huge or exaggerated webs. The species thrive in warmer regions throughout the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa (including Madagascar) and the America. One species, N. clavipes, is found in southern United States, from Texas to North Carolina.
For the paper, “Golden Orbweavers Ignore Biological Rules: Phylogenomic and Comparative Analyses Unravel a Complex Evolution of Sexual Size Dimorphism,” the team tested two biological rules: Cope's rule and Rensch's rule. Cope's rule postulates that population lineages tend to increase in body size over evolutionary time. Rensch's rule is a biological rule on allometric patterns of male and female size. Neither rule applied to the golden orbweavers.
First, the scientists established the backbone phylogeny of Nephilidae, using 367 anchored hybrid enrichment markers, and then combined these data with classical markers for a reference species level phylogeny.
In conclusion, the scientists proposed a new clade, a group of organisms evolving from a common ancestor. They resurrected the family Nephilidae and proposed the new clade, Orbipurae, to contain Araneidae Clerck 1757, Phonognathidae Simon 1894, new rank, and Nephilidae.
The researchers proposed “taxonomic changes based on the criteria of clade age, monophyly and exclusivity, classification information content, and diagnosability. Spider families, as currently defined, tend to be between 37 million years old and 98 million years old, and Nephilidae is estimated at 133 million years old, thus deserving family status.”
“Nephilid female gigantism is a phylogenetically ancient phenotype (over 100 million years old), as is extreme sexual size dimorphism, though their magnitudes vary by lineage,” they wrote. “Despite the sometimes conflicting trends seen within Nephilidae, the clade stands as the most extreme example of female-biased SSD among terrestrial animals, as far as we know.”
The Jason Bond lab and the Chris Hamilton lab, Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology at the University of Idaho, Moscow, provided the anchored hybrid enrichment data and phylogenomic analysis.
Co-authors of the paper, in addition to Bond and Hamilton, are
- Matjaž Kuntner of the National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana, Slovenia; the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; and Hubei University, China;
- Ren-Chung Cheng, Biological Institute ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana, Slovenia, and National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan;
- Matjaž Gregorič, Nik Lupše and Tjaša Lokovšek, all with the Biological Institute ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana,Slovenia (Lupse is also affiliated with the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic);
- Emily Moriatry Lemmon and Alan Lemmon, Florida State University, Tallahassee;
- Ingi Agnarsson of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; and University of Vermont, Burlington; and
- Jonathan Coddington, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
The research drew funds from Slovenian Research Agency grants, from the U.S. State Department through a Fulbright visiting scholar; ZRZ Director's Fund, National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and funds from Auburn University, Alabama. Bond joined the UC Davis faculty in July of 2018 from Auburn University after a seven-year academic career there, where he served as professor of biology and chaired the Department of Biological Sciences. He also curated the arachnids and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, and related animals) at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.
It's National Pollinator Week. Do you know where your pollinators are?
If you're thinking bees, butterflies, beetles, birds (hummingbirds) and bats, you're correct.
But what about European paper wasps (Polistes dominula)? They're pollinators, too, says associate professor Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, who researches wasps and coined the hashtag, #wasplove.
Several years ago she delivered an excellent presentation to our UC Davis Department of Entomomlogy and Nematology, and I later asked her 10 reasons why we should love wasps.
It's worth repeating:
- They are pollinators.
- They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants.
- They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
- They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
- They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
- 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,
- They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
- 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).
- They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
That's Amy Toth's list. To that, I'd like to add one more: they are quite photogenic!
The European paper wasp, so named because of its European origin, is relatively new to the United States. Scientists tell us that the P. dominula was not recorded in North America until 1981. P. dominula was first discovered in the United States in the late 1970s near Boston, Mass. Entomologists worry that it is displacing the native species of Polistes wasps.
Interestingly enough, last year at this time--this very date--European paper wasps were building a nest beneath the overhanging lip of a recycling bin near the Mann lab on the UC Davis campus.
And today they're doing it again. Same place. Same bin. Same spot.
Wrong place. Wrong bin. Wrong spot. It won't be there for long.
If you visit the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone--and you should, especially during National Pollinator Week--you'll see honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, among other pollinators.
Today we spotted a male monarch patrolling the milkweed in search of a female, and a Western tiger swallowtail nectaring alternately on Verbena and on Salvia 'indigo spires.'
About that Western tiger swallowtail--it was missing a chunk of its left forewing. A predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis--tried to nail it but missed.
About that garden--it's the work of Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author. When she addressed the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," she said that "Bee gardens make us happy."
They do indeed.
Frey, a resident of Hopland, co-authored the award-winning book, The Bee Friendly Garden, with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University. It's a book that details how to design an abundant, flower-filled garden that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.
And make us happy.
About that butterfly--the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, is common throughout western North America and is often seen in urban parks and gardens. In color, it's a striking yellow and black, with spots of blue and orange near its tail. Its wingspan can measure 3 to 4 inches.
It's "basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology on his website."It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse."
When we left Sonoma Cornerstone today, the "tiger" was still floating, fluttering and flittering, quite majestically, too, throughout the garden, despite the wear and tear on its left forewing.
Survival of the flittest...
When was the last time you sighted a bumble bee? Photographed it?
It's National Pollinator Week and one of our favorite bumble bees is the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. It was also a favorite of internationally renowned bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who passed away June 7 at age 85. (See obituary)
In fact, all bumble bees were his favorite, including the elusive Franklin's bumble bee, found only in a small range in southern Oregon and northern California and now feared extinct. We remember a July 2010 interview with Thorp:
“People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee," Thorp told us. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”
“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” he said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Thorp treasured bumble bees and encouraged everyone else to do so, too.
The yellow-faced bumble bees are native to the west coast of North America, from Baja California to British Columbia. They're important pollinators, especially important for their buzz pollination of tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Buzz pollination occurs when they grab a blossom and shake it, dislodging the pollen. Honey bees can't do that.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently posted that one quarter (28 percent) of North American bumble bees are in some degree of extinction risk. "Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change." (See more information on bumble bees on the Xerces' site.)
Meanwhile, "across the pond," London has established a seven-mile long bee corridor of wildflowers just for pollinators.
"The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said wild mammals had declined by 82 per cent since 1980, space for natural ecosystems had halved, and one million species were now at risk of extinction as a result of human action," according to a May 7, 2019 article in The Independent newspaper. "Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Insects are required to maintain the existence of 75 per cent of crop species, 35 per cent of global crop production and up to 88 per cent of flowering plant species," reporter Harry Cockburn wrote.
Want to learn more about the bumble bees around us? A good start is to read these two books, both co-authored by Thorp in his retirement: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
And, if you would like to get involved in citizen science, Bumble Bee Watch seeks your sightings.