Several honey bees and at least one lady beetle (ladybug), also discovered the "hot spot" in the garden as the temperatures climbed to 52 degrees.
A bumble bee in Benicia? On Christmas Day? Who would have thought?
This bumble bee species, identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is one of only 250 species worldwide in the genus Bombus. It's native to North America.
Thorp is one of four co-authors of the newly published and long-awaited Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press). The book is billed as "the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century." It allows us to identify all the 46 bumble bee species found in North America, and also to learn about "evolutionary relationships, geographical distributions and ecological roles."
Lead author is Paul H. Williams, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. In addition to Thorp, other co-authors are Leif L. Richardson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College; and Sheila R. Colla, postdoctoral fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a project leader at Wildlife Preservation Canada.
Meanwhile, back to Benicia. Like North America's bumble bees, the Benicia Capitol has a rich history. Erected in 1852 and located at 115 West G St., it served as California's third seat of government. Legislators convened there from Feb. 4, 1853 (the year the honey bee was introduced to California) to Feb. 25, 1854.
Today, 160 years later, the Benicia State Capitol is the only surviving pre-Sacramento capitol. Let's hope we can still say that about bumble bees 160 years from now--and the years to come.
These freezing temperatures we're experiencing make us yearn for spring.
True, it's still autumn and winter doesn't officially start until Dec. 22, but it's a good time to think of honey bees pollinating the almond blossoms.
California almonds usually bloom around mid-February. We remember, however, that on Jan. 1, 2013 we spotted almonds blooming in the Benicia State Recreation Area. Guess they didn't get the message that it's not spring yet. Bees didn't get the message, either.
Then in early February we cruised over to Matthew Turner Shipyard Park, Benicia, and saw more almond blossoms and a bevy of bees flying.
Let's skip the winter solstice and head right into the vernal equinox!/span>
Oh, the fun-loving, sun-loving cosmos.
A native of Mexico and a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, this plant brightens many a garden, attracting such pollinators as honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, hover flies and butterflies. Its common name and genus are the same: cosmos!
As the autumn days grow colder, its color seems to grow bolder. The vivid pinks, glorious whites, and cranberry reds are a delight to see. Some of the daisylike petals are striped like candy canes.
Last Sunday was a pollinator-perfect day for the cosmos planted in the Avant Garden, a community garden at the corner of First and D streets in Benicia. Insects couldn't seem to get enough of them.
"Spanish priests grew cosmos in their mission gardens in Mexico," according to a Texas A&M website. "The evenly placed petals led them to christen the flower, 'Cosmos,' the Greek word for harmony or ordered universe."
The website lists "The Top 10 Reasons Everyone Should be Growing Cosmos." They include easy to grow, best annual for hot, dry locations, best annual for poor soils and the like. And, it's a self-seeding annual that can be used for floral arrangements.
The Spanish priests probably thought so, too.
Talk about an early bloomer!
At least one almond tree was blooming in California on the first day of the year. In the Benicia State Recreation Area, to be exact.
We spotted the almond tree flowering on Jan. 1 near the entrance to the state park. The delicate white blossoms poked through a rusty fence as they were dignitaries at a meet-and-greet reception.
From the looks of the blossoms, the buds had probably opened in late December, maybe shortly after Christmas.
We're accustomed to seeing wild almond trees flowering in mid- to late January as we drive along Interstate 80, Solano County. But not this early! Jan. 1?
California's commercial almond trees usually begin blooming around Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. Our state has about 800,000 acres of almonds, each acre requires two hives for pollination. The buzzing bees are trucked here from all over the country. Indeed, California's $3 billion-almond industry--the state's largest export--is pure gold.
Meanwhile, it's too bad that there's no contest for finding the first almond tree blooming. Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at UC Davis, sponsors a contest for anyone collecting the first cabbage white butterfly in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento. The prize he offers is a pitcher of beer.
Maybe there should be beer for a bud?
There's only one thing wrong with the bucolic scenes below: no foraging bees. But there will be.
It was a reddish-orange beetle, moving a little but not a lot.
We spotted it on a sunflower bordering the Avant Garden in Benicia. The garden, located at the corner of First and East D streets, thrives with assorted tomatoes, peppers, onions, strawberries, cucumbers, eggplant, squash and ornamentals.
This little beetle, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, is a meloid blister beetle.
"These are nest parasites of wasps and mostly bees," Kimsey said.
Blister beetles (Coleoptera) belong the family Meloidae. They produce a blistering agent (thus their name) known as cantharidin, that can blister the skin. Horses can die from ingesting blister-beetle contaminated feed, such as alfalfa.
Scientists estimate there are approximately 7500 known species worldwide. They vary in size, shape and color.
The adults feed on multiple plants, including garden vegetables, ornamentals, vegetables, alfalfa, soybeans and potatoes. Larvae dine on grasshopper eggs and the like. Solitary bee nests are a haven for immature stages of some blister beetle species.
UC Davis evolutionary ecologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a graduate student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology, researches a solitary ground-nesting bee, Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, found in the Mojave National Preserve.
Saul-Gershenz says the larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical cue or a pheromone similar to that of a female solitary bee to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
She and her colleagues most recently published their research in the April edition of the National Park Service's Mojave National Preserve Science News. You can read about her exiting work on the Department of Entomology website and see her amazing photograph of blister-beetle larvae on a digger bee. That's something you won't forget.