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.”
Honey bees are the first thing you notice about the sea squill (Drimiamaritima or Urginea maritima) in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
The sea squill, thriving in the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo, is a bee magnet, not to mention it's an incredible flowering plant in an incredible place.
As it says on the Arboretum website: "The Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo is a theme garden based on medieval moon-viewing gardens of India and Japan. With its curving paths framing a vine-covered gazebo, the garden is a popular site for weddings and other events. Many of the plants here are fragrant, and their pale flowers are particularly luminous by moonlight. The garden is named for Carolee Shields, an avid gardener and the wife of Judge Peter J. Shields, one of the founders of the UC Davis campus."
The plant grows from a large bulb that produces a raceme of flowers. It's native to southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Since ancient times, it's been used as a medicinal plant. Hippocrates reportedly used it to treat jaundice, convulsions, and asthma. The main active compounds, according to Wikipedia, are cardiac glycosides.
And did you know that the plant has also been used as a poison? "It is very bitter, so most animals avoid it," Wikipedia tells us. "Rats, however, eat it readily, and then succumb to the toxic scilliroside. This has made the plant a popular rodenticide for nearly as long as it has been in use as a medicine. The bulbs are dried and cut into chips, which can then be powdered and mixed with rat bait. The plant was introduced as an experimental agricultural crop in the 20th century primarily to develop high-toxicity varieties for use as rat poison.]nterest continued to develop as rats became resistant to coumarin-based poison."
Since Sept. 1, 2020, we've reared and released 28 healthy monarch butterflies into the Vacaville, Calif., area.
Each eclosed from its chrysalis, dried its wings, and fluttered around its indoor habitat (a netted, zipped, pop-up container available at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis and online).
Then each alerted us that it's time to leave.
Let me out! Now!
The entire process, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, is not only breathtaking but phenomenal. Each time is special. Each time is unique.
Over the last four years, our little project has involved a little over 100 caterpillars (total) reared to adulthood, but this year, the COVID-19 Year, we reared them mostly from eggs. We collected the eggs before their predators (spiders, milkweed bugs, lady beetles, green lacewings, et al) sought out a meal. We collected the larvae or caterpillars before the wasps, tachnid flies, praying mantids and birds eyed them.
So, there they were, the Magical 28, and there they went, the Magical 28.
Their entrance into a world unknown (seven different Freedom Days) varied:
- Some edged out of their habitat container as if confused about what to do next
- Some bolted out as if a California scrub jay were chasing them
- Several touched down on flowers, such as the UC Davis yellow roses, "Sparkle and Shine," and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola)
- Several fluttered into the crape myrtle tree
- One hugged a fence post
- One decided to become an integral part of our garden sculpture, the Ray Carrington railroad tie sculpture. (Emeritus entomologist Walter Bentley, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and UC Integrated Pest Management advisor, called it "The Iron Butterfly.")
As of today, the Magical 28 are gone, but their buddies are waiting in the wings. Nine chrysalids remain. The Magical 9?
Happy Labor Day!
And what an appropriate time to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, depositing an egg!
The females lay their eggs on the tendrils and leaves of the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) but we've seen them depositing eggs on nearby fences where the vines climb.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area."
It is a dazzling butterfly, what with its brilliant orange wings and spectacular silver-spangled underwings.
The Gulf Frit, also called the "passion butterfly," is usually quite skittish--except this one wasn't. We captured this image on Labor Day weekend in Vacaville, Calif., with a short macro lens--60mm--mounted on a Nikon D500.
She didn't seem to mind.