Happy Turkey Day!
The last Thursday of November is Thanksgiving Day, but it really should be Honey Bee Day.
Without the bees, we’d have no Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving as we know it. They are our unstung heroes. They pollinate more than 90 agricultural crops in California. One third of the American diet is pollinated by bees.
So, as we sit around the dining room table giving thanks, we should also consider the insect that makes it all happen.
The honey bee.
Happy Honey Bee Day!
When UC Davis chemical ecologist Walter Leal received a major award from the Entomological Society of America at its 56th annual meeting, held in Reno, DEET has something to do with it.
Leal, who received the Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology from ESA president Michael Gray, has amassed an amazing record of productivity. Most recently: his lab discovered the mode of action for the mosquito repellent, DEET.
Contrary to previous hypotheses, DEET doesn't jam a mosquto's sense of smell or mask the smell of the host. The reason why mosquitoes avoid DEET is they don't like the smell and avoid it.
Leal, professor of entomology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, was one of seven professionals receiving distinguished awards at the ESA meeting. The other categories were extension, entomology, horticultural entomology, teaching, the certification program, and early career innovation.
A pioneer in the field of insect olfaction, Leal is best known for his research on the mode of action of odorant–binding proteins and odorant-degrading enzymes on the identification and synthesis of insect sex pheromones and on insect chemical communication.
As colleague Ring Cardé, chair of the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside, said: "Dr. Leal is one of the leading scientists worldwide studying the chemistry of pheromone communication in insects and related arthropods.”
I ran into two members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Patrol this afternoon.
No, I wasn't at a border. I was merely walking the halls of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. The border patrol agents were there to meet with entomology department officials in Briggs Hall.
They handed me a pamphlet, "Don't Pack a Pest," urging vacationeers (who me? I didn't go anywhere on T-Day, honest, 'cept for an insect safari in my back yard) to bring back memories, not pests.
The pamphlet is a reprint of a news article written by Kate Campbell of the California Farm Bureau Federation and published in the May/June edition of California Country magazine.
The gist of the article: don't tuck food, seeds or plants in your luggage and try to smuggle them into California. "Although they (items) may seem harmless, discoveries like these illustrate that while California travelers are settling in after a long trip, so too are a host of damaging pests, plants and diseases that have hitchiked home with them," Campbell wrote.
At the San Francisco Airport, someone tried to sneak in a "whole shrink-wrapped piglet and a rice straw pillow from Mongolia, with potentially diseased grain still attached," Campbell wrote.
Then there are the seed smugglers, like the California executive who stuffed seeds into pouches tucked in his underwear.
Whoa! (The reason they nabbed him was because the border patrol had earlier flagged him as a high-risk seed smuggler.)
The pamphlet quoted California Food and Agriculture Secretary A. G. Kawamura: "The public has an important role to play in keeping pests out."
Here are some tips for travelers, courtesy of the pamphlet:
- When camping, check tents, tarps, ice chests and other gear for dirt and pests. Rinse and shake before stowing.
- Leave firewood behind, likewise kindling, sticks and leaves.
- Don't bring fresh fruit and vegetables back across the state boundaries, particularly from backyard or roadside trees and gardens
- Don't bring animal houses back--dog houses, poultry cages or rabbit hutches.
- Hose off bikes, motorcycles and boats.
- Check tubular equipment for dirt--hollow poles, pipes, folding chairs and rods.
- For boaters, never move live fish or other aquatic animals or plants from one body of water to antoher.
- Drain and dry all water and dry boats, equipment and gear and clean live-wells.
- Check waders and boots for caked-on dirt.
- Keep foodstuffs tightly closed to prevent bringing infestations home. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Don't dump aquarium plants and exotic fish into sewers, creeks or lakes.
- Know what you're planting in your garden by checking online at www.plantright.org. Most plants sold for use in gardens and landscaping do not invade or harm wildland areas, but a few vigorous species can--and do.
Want to report a suspective invasive plant or pest? Call the California Department of Food and Ag's Plant-Pest Hotline at (800) 491-1899.
Want to know what NOT to bring back to California? Go to www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/pe/ or call (916) 654-0312.
Aquatic invaders? Check the Department of Fish and Game's Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives.
And to report a smuggler of prohibited exotic fruits, vegetables or meat products across international borders and into the U.S. or California, call the anti-smuggling hotline at (800) 877-3835.
As Campbell said, bring back memories, not pests.
Protecting California from invasive species costs some $85 million a year, according to www.plantright.org.
Folk singer Pete Seeger asked "Where have all the flowers gone?"
UC Davis butterfly expert Art Shapiro wants to know "Where are all the Monarchs?"
In the current edition of the Bohart Museum Society newsletter, Shapiro notes that California populations of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) "are notoriously unstable, fluctuating wildly in numbers."
"Because the Monarch is just about everyone's favorite butterfly, certainly the best known, the public is interested in how it is doing," he wrote. "This year it is doing very poorly indeed, at least in the Sacramento Valley."
See, Shapiro tracks Monarchs (and other butteflies) throughout much of Northern California. He's been doing that since 1972, using "a combination of fixed study sites visited every two weeks and more casual 'at large' observations."
His permanent sites include the Suisun Marsh and Gates Canyon (near Vacaville), both in Solano County; West Sacramento, Yolo County; and North Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County. "Monarchs have been present at all of these sites every year, and bred at most of them nearly every year, until 2008," Shapiro wrote.
"As of Sept. 10, no Monarchs in any life stage have been seen at West Sacramento, North Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, or anywhere else in the Davis-Sacramento area. This has never happened before. I've spent just over 60 days at these three field sites this year, and my eyes have been open every day. So this is significant."
Personally, I don't see Monarchs, either. The last Monarch I spotted was along the Mendocino Coast, near Timber Cove, and that was on Oct. 19, 2007.
It looked drenched from the rain.
I photographed it. The next morning, I looked for it and it was gone.
(Note: For more information on butterflies, see Shapiro's book, "Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions.")
God in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why.
Every time I see a fly I think of the Ogden Nash poem.
Our bee-friendly garden is attracting a few flies. I captured this one visiting sage and then preserved it for posterity: I posterized it in Photoshop./st1:city>/st1:place>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>