If you're planning to hike the hills around Bodega Head in Sonoma County, watch out for the bears.
The woolly bear caterpillars, that is.
Last Sunday, with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, the woolly bears were everywhere. They were munching on the gray-green leaves of Lupinus arboreus (yellow bush lupine), not yet blooming. We also spotted them on yellow mustard and wild radish, both members of the Brassicaceae family and both abloom.
If you look closely at these little caterpillars, they seem to be having a bad hair day. They look as if they just encountered a jolt of static electricity.
They're also known as the larvae of Ranchman's Tiger Moth (Platyprepia virginalis). Once they become moths, they do not resemble woolly bears any more.
Rick Karban, professor of entomology at UC Davis, has published a number of research papers on these herbivores.
"Platyprepia virginalis caterpillars are dietary generalists and feed on multiple host species within a single day," he wrote recently in Ecological Entomology. "We conducted field experiments to evaluate their performance on diets consisting of only their primary food, Lupinus arboreus, or diets consisting of L. arboreus plus other acceptable host species."
"We found that relative growth rates and rates of survival were higher when they fed on mixed diets compared to lupine only."
That feeding behavior we saw, too. A lupine lunch, with a touch of mustard and radish.
It's called the "Pride of Madeira" but don't let that name fool you.
True, it's the pride of the Portuguese island of Madeira, where it's endemic, but it's also the joy of Bodega Bay.
"What's that purplish spiked flower that grows somewhat like a yucca or a tower of jewels?" visitors ask. "It's all over the Bodega area."
It's not a yucca, which belongs to the agave family, Agavaceae. It's an Echium candicans, a member of the family Boraginaceae. It's a kissing cousin of Echium wildpretti, or the tower of jewels.
Last Sunday visitors to the Sonoma County coastal town enjoyed the warmth of a spring day and those spectacular blue-to-the-bone-and-purple-as-you-please blooms. An extra bonus: an occasional bumble bee.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified the bumble bee below as Bombus melanopygus.
This little forager found the Pride of Madeira and the Joy of Bodega Bay.
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) may be one of the most underappreciated pollinators.
You see it buzzing around lavender, lupine, California poppies, mustard and other plants.
But a Xerces Society study of organic farms in Yolo County found that it was one of the most important of the native bees visiting the Sungold cherry tomatoes.
The study, titled “Native Bee Pollination of Cherry Tomatoes,” was based on research by Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis and Sarah Greenleaf, California State University, Sacramento, all members of Xerces.
“Recent studies demonstrate that tomatoes pollinated by native bees produce larger and more numerous fruits,” the authors wrote. “Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes because they cannot get the pollen and the flowers do not produce nectar. With no reward, honey bees will not visit the flower. Many native bees, however, know the trick to extracting tomato pollen and are, therefore, valuable pollinators.
"Although the tomato plant is self-fertile, flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. To achieve the most effective pollination, the flower must be vibrated at a specific frequency to release the pollen. Honey bees are unable to vibrate the tomato flower in this way, but bumble bees and other native species can.
The Xerces Society offers a great resource on how to attract bumble bees: see Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.
In some respects, the yellow-faced bumble bee resembles a cuddly teddy bear. It's big and bumbly, as a bumble bee should be.
From behind, however, its heavy load of pollen looks for all the world like saddlebags on a trail horse.
Ever heard of a polyester bee?
We encountered a plasterer or "polyester" bee on a recent trip to Bodega Bay.
A female Colletes fulgidus longiplumosus, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, was foraging on a seaside daisy (Erigeron) along a sandy cliff off Bodega Head, Sonoma County.
She was covered in pollen.
The common name, polyester bee (family Colletidae), refers to the cellophane-like polyester material females secrete to line their burrows, Thorp said. These bees, he noted, nest in the same cliff faces with Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana (a faux bumble bee), but do not have turrets. A polyester membrane “doggy door" guards the nest entrances.
Worldwide, there are more than 20,000 identified species of bees.
The polyester bee is one of them.
Thar’s gold in them thar hills.
And also bumble bees.
If you visit the Sonoma County coastal town of Bodega Bay, and drive up to Bodega Head overlooking the ocean, you’ll see a carpet of gold flowers known as coastal goldfields or Lasthenia minor.
And you’re certain to see bumble bees nectaring those flowers.
Noted bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor at UC Davis, says the most common species of bumble bee at Bodega is the yellow face bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. The second most common? Bombus bifarius.
Goldfields are natives and so are bumble bees. Goldfields belong to the Asteraceae family, also known as the aster, daisy or sunflower family.
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Bumble bees are very much in the news. Thorp wrote a piece for a UC Berkeley publication. He recently addressed the Smithsonian Institute on the plight of the Western bumble bees and gave a Webinar at the UC Davis Department of Entomology on Franklin's bumble bee, an insect he fears may be extinct.
Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp and colleagues also wrote the lead story on native bees, featured in the latest edition of California Agriculture.
It's good to see the plight of the bumble bees drawing so much interest and it's good to see all the bumble bees at Bodega Bay.
BB at BB.