In fact, he and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 23, 2010 to include the bumble bee on the proposed list. (See UC Davis news story.)
We're glad to see that tomorrow (Aug. 14) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose that it be listed as an endangered species. If approved, Franklin's bumble bee would be the first bee in the western United States to be officially recognized under the ESA, according to a Xerces' press release.
Its range, a 13,300-square-mile area confined to Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California; and Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon, is thought to be the smallest range of any other bumble bee in the world.
Thorp, who died at age 85 on June 7 at his home in Davis, had monitored the population closely since 1998, but last saw the bumble bee in August 2006. It was he who sounded the alarm.
Thorp's surveys clearly show the declining population. Sightings decreased from 94 in 1998 to 20 in 1999 to 9 in 2000 to one in 2001. Sightings increased slightly to 20 in 2002, but dropped to three in 2003. Thorp saw none in 2004 and 2005; one in 2006; and none since.
He refused to believe that it may be extinct. “I am still hopeful that Franklin's bumble bee is still out there somewhere,” he told us as late as last year. He excitedly received scores of photos--by email and snail mail--from folks who thought they'd seen it. None was Franklin's bumble bee.
Xerces says that the primary threats to this species are three-fold:
- diseases from managed bees
- pesticides, and
- a small population size
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's oldest and largest global environmental network, named Franklin's bumble bee “Species of the Day” on Oct. 21, 2010. IUCN placed it on the “Red List of Threatened Species” and classified it as “critically endangered” and in “imminent danger of extinction.”
Franklin's bumble bee, mostly black, has distinctive yellow markings on the front of its thorax and top of its head, Thorp said. It has a solid black abdomen with just a touch of white at the tip, and an inverted U-shaped design between its wing bases.
“This bumble bee is partly at risk because of its very small range of distribution,” Thorp told us. “Adverse effects within this narrow range can have a much greater effect on it than on more widespread bumble bees.”
If it's given protective status, this could “stimulate research into the probable causes of its decline,” said Thorp, an active member of the Xerces Society. “This may not only lead to its recovery, but also help us better understand environmental threats to pollinators and how to prevent them in future. This petition also serves as a wake-up call to the importance of pollinators and the need to provide protections from the various threats to the health of their populations.”
Thorp hypothesized that the decline of the subgenus Bombus (including B. franklini and its closely related B. occidentalis, and two eastern species B. affinis and B. terricola) is linked to an exotic disease (or diseases) associated with the trafficking of commercially produced bumble bees for pollination of greenhouse tomatoes. Other threats may include pesticides, climate change and competition with nonnative bees.
Named in 1921 for Henry J. Franklin, who monographed the bumble bees of North and South America in 1912-13, Franklin's bumble bee frequents California poppies, lupines, vetch, wild roses, blackberries, clover, sweet peas, horsemint and mountain penny royal during its flight season, from mid-May through September. It collects pollen primarily from lupines and poppies and gathers nectar mainly from mints. According to a Xerces Society press release, bumble bees are declining throughout the world.
“The decline in bumble bees like Franklin's bumble bee should serve as an alarm that we are losing important pollinators,” said Xerces Society Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black in a press release. “We hope that the story of the Franklin's bumble bee will compel us to prevent pollinators across the U.S. from sliding toward extinction.”
Sadly, Robbin Thorp died before knowing if the bumble bee will be protected. But he was told that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife would be proposing "in a few weeks" that Franklin's bumble bee be included on the ESA list. Now the proposal is going through the next steps of the procedure, which includes a comment period. If the proposal is approved, the bumble bee would receive federal protection and funding for its conservation.
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death. A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, he was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
In his retirement, Thorp co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
Born Aug. 26, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Mich., Robbin received his bachelor of science degree in zoology (1955) and his master's degree in zoology (1957) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his doctorate in entomology in 1964 from UC Berkeley, the same year he joined the UC Davis entomology faculty. He taught courses from 1970 to 2006 on insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology.
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Thorp volunteered his time and expertise to teach at The Bee Course, an annual workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The intensive 9-day workshop, considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists.
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, in the obituary on the department's website. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.”
Somewhere, we think Robbin Thorp, tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, and a true friend of all bees, is smiling.
A pollinator garden is a study in diversity--and of inclusion and exclusion.
The residents, the immigrants, the fly-bys, the crawlers, the wigglers, the jumpers. The big, bad and bugly. The prey and the predators. The vegetarians and carnivores.
The nectar-rich flowers attract honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies. And right near them are the predators: the praying mantids, dragonflies and assassin bugs.
The assassin bugs, family Reduviidae, are ambush predators. They resemble human assassins (or at least those on the movie screen!): long narrow neck, beady eyes, and sturdy body. When they ambush a predator, they stab it with their rostrum, inject venom, and suck out the juices. Or as UC Berkeley entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue write in their book, California Insects, "The victims, which include all kinds of insects, are snatched by quick movements of the forelegs, and immediately subdued by a powerful venom injected through the beak."
Such was the case with the assassin bug, Zelus renardii, this week. We watched one lie in wait on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia); we watched another dine on an unidentifiable prey on a milkweed blossom; and we watched yet another stab a lady beetle (aka lady bug) on a leaf.
Everybody eats in the pollinator garden.
We never thought we'd see one this year.
And then it arrived.
The first monarch sighting of the year.
A Danaus plexippus majestically touched down on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) around 5 this afternoon in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, circled the milkweed plants about 10 times, and then fluttered over the roof and vanished.
Meanwhile, we managed to grab a couple of photos of the iconic butterfly.
Fellow monarch enthusiasts report the scarcity of monarchs.
"Haven't see any this year," said one.
"Me, either," said another.
"No, not a single one," said yet another. "I'm looking."
Rita LeRoy has seen two at the Loma Vista Farm, Vallejo.
"Send some over to us," we said.
We remember butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, commenting at a meeting hosted at UC Davis Feb. 28, 2019 by the Environmental Defense Fund, that "monarchs are on life support." The attendees--some scientists, some citizen scientists--were there to discuss "Recovering the Western Monarch Butterfly Population: Identifying Opportunities for Scaling Monarch Habitat in California's Central Valley."
The organizers related that "The latest population surveys indicate that monarchs overwintering on the central coast have declined 86% since last winter and now total 0.5% of their historical average. Population declines have spurred greater scientific study, funding, and coordination around the western monarch. California legislators appropriated $3 million in funding to the CA Wildlife Conservation Board to establish the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Rescue Program."
"Additionally," they said, "the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan calling for an additional 50,000 acres of monarch-friendly habitat in the California Central Valley and adjacent foothills by 2029. Join Environmental Defense Fund along with farmers, restoration practitioners, and scientists for an invitation-only workshop to share expert knowledge and identify strategic opportunities for restoring monarch butterfly habitat across the Central Valley. We will discuss important topics including opportunities for monarch habitat in the food production landscape, incentivizing monarch habitat restoration using limited resources, production and distribution of native plants, and other subjects that will put the western monarch butterfly population on the path to recovery. We will use the results of the workshop to inform conservation initiatives and effectively and efficiently allocate funds and resources for optimal conservation outcomes."
Shapiro was one of the five speakers in the "State of the Science" workshop section. He has been monitoring Central Valley's butterfly population since 1972 and maintains a website on his research.
In his presentation, Shapiro declared that "monarchs are on life support in California, and we are reduced to prescribing placebos."
"Consider a doctor faced with a patient in rapid decline," Shapiro told the group. "All tests have failed to identify the cause. What is the doctor to do? You can't prescribe treatment for an undiagnosed illness, can you? You can make a wild stab at a prescription on the basis that the patient is going to die anyway, and MAYBE, just maybe, this drug will do some good. Or you can prescribe a placebo, just to reassure the patient that you are doing something. That's where things get interesting. Occasionally a patient improves drastically on a placebo. Maybe he would have improved anyway; there's no way of knowing. Suppose our patient has a complete remission despite having received only a placebo. Does our doctor convince himself the placebo cured him? As of right now, the Monarch is on life support in California, and we are reduced to prescribing placebos. If our patient comes back from the brink—as history suggests it may well—will we convince ourselves that our placebos worked? Probably. And that's not how to do science. That's what philosophers call the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. We can do can do better than that!" (Read his presentation on a Bug Squad blog.)
Meanwhile, we know there's at least one monarch in Vacaville...Maybe it's a female and will return to lay eggs on our milkweed. We can only hope.
Two of those attending the four-day international Lepidopterists' Society conference held recently at the University of California, Davis, are as celebrated in Lepidoptera circles as the butterflies they study.
The two were among those who gathered at the Bohart Museum of Entomology during the Lepidopterists' Society conference. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis professor of entomology, hosted two visits with several other Davis-based society members: retired research entomologist John De Benedictus; entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Bohart Museum's Lepidoptera collection; Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon, and Bohart associate and naturalist Greg Kareofelas.
"This was our 68th annual meeting," said society president Brian Scholtens, a professor at the College of Charleston, South Carolina. "We have more than 1000 members worldwide."
This year's meeting, headquartered in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Davis, included two scientific gatherings at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The conference focused on the theme, "Insects in a Changing World Climate." "Attendees came from as far away as Finland to hear student and member speakers and to meet with their fellow Lepidopterists," said Smith. Marianne Horak of the Australian National Insect Collection received the prestigious Karl Jordan Medal, in absentia, at a banquet on the closing night.
The conference t-shirt and name tags depicted the California state insect, the dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice.
Robert Michael Pyle
Robert Michael Pyle, a Yale-trained ecologist and a Guggenheim fellow, is the founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He has authored 23 publications, including the comprehensive National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, a go-to reference source. Among his other insect-related books: Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage, which chronicles his 9,000-mile journey to discover the secrets of the monarchs' annual migration. For his book, Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year, Pyle sought to track, firsthand, the 800 species of butterflies known in the United States. The book is a result of his 88,000 mile journey.
Pyle, now a resident of Grays River, Washington, recently published Magdalena Mountain: A Novel, about three Magdalenas:
- Mary, a woman on an uncertain journey;
- Magdalena Mountain, "shrouded in mystery and menace" and
- The Magdalena alpine butterfly, an all-black alpine butterfly, considered "the most elusive of several rare and beautiful species found on the mountain."
While at the Bohart Museum, Pyle delighted in examining the Magdalena specimens.
Professor Paul Opler, attending with his wife, naturalist/writer/nature photographer Evi Buckner-Opler, is a special appointment professor at Colorado State University. He is best known for his research on insect host relationships of Lepidoptera and tropical ecology and his service as first editor of American Entomologist, published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA). A fellow of ESA and a prolific writer, he authored field guides to both eastern and western butterflies. He is also known for his contribution to Moths of Western North America, and his role as scientific editor of "Status and Trends of Our Nation's Biological Resources."
UC Berkeley Reunion
Three entomologists, trained directly or indirectly by Professor (now emeritus) Jerry Powell of UC Berkeley reunited at the Bohart gathering: Dan Rubinoff, professor of entomology and director of the University of Hawaii Insect Museum, Honolulu; "Moth Man" John De Benedictus, retired UC Davis research entomologist; and Paul Opler, who retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the first entomologist in the Endangered Species Program and then accepted a special appointment professor in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences at Colorado State University.
All three received degrees in entomology from UC Berkeley. Opler (Ph.D) and De Benedictus (Masters) studied with Powell, while Rubinoff (Ph.D) studied with Powell's successor, Felix Sperling.
At the Bohart gathering, director Lynn Kimsey gifted the attendees with a copy of the museum's innovative calendar featuring humorous sentences she collected from students in her classroom. UC Davis entomology student/artist Karissa Merritt illustrated the calendar.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens and the California Insect Survey. They're used as an "insect library" or references during identifications. They're also a permanent record of insect species' distribution in time and space.
In addition, the Bohart Museum houses a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
More information is available on the website or by contacting email@example.com or (530) 753-0493.
How magical are the dragonflies.
They zig-zag through the pollinator garden, a perfect portrait of a predator: multifaceted eyes, strong wings, and mouthparts that include a toothed jaw and flap like labrium.
They're an ancient insect: scientists have found fossil dragonflies that date back 325 million years ago.
Bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980) reportedly said he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." Predators, like dragonflies, frequent pollinator gardens because that's where the food is--food like native bees and syrphid flies.
Like other dragonflies, red flameskimmers, Libellula saturata, frequent our pollinator garden because of "Sutton's law." We welcome them with bamboo-stake perches. They circle the garden on their hunt, snag prey, and return to the perch to consume it.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll see a dragonfly eat a bee (lucky for a nature photographer who wants to share a little bit of how nature works, but not so much for the bee!).
We can't tell what bee was on this male flameskimmer's menu, but it appears to be a longhorned bee, maybe Melissodes agilis, family Apidae.
It's eat and "bee eaten" in a pollinator garden.