UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey loves flies.
So, every chance I get, I shoot an image for him.
Many of the images wind up in his classroom PowerPoint presentations.
"Keep 'em coming," he says.
So, I shoot flies. Yes, indeed. I shoot flies. No, I am not a candidate for a 12-step program. Well, not yet.
Truth is, we think of flies as noxious. We don't think of flies as having parts like a head, abdomen and thorax--or compound eyes, arista, antenna, prescutum, scutum, scutellum, balancer and mesothorax.
They do, though.
Alive or dead.
And some are even pretty--especially when they're touching down on delicate pink blossoms.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomonen characterized by honey bees abandoning their hives, is still with is, and the cause is still mysterious.
Over the past three years beekeepers throughout the United States have reported losing from one-third to 100 percent of their colonies to CCD, says UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology Faculty since 1976 and a noted authority on honey bees.
The bees just vanish, leaving behind the queen, the immature brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) and stored food.
The calamity of CCD.
The queen, in peak season, lays about 2000 eggs a day. The worker bees serve as the nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, heating and air conditioning specialists, foragers, guards and undertakers. They feed their mother (the queen) and their brothers, the drones. The sisters are their brothers' keepers. The drones' only function is to mate with the queen.
The worker bees pollinate about 100 crops in California, including nuts, fruits and vegetables. They just finished pollinating California's 700,000 acres of almonds. Now they're pollinating pomegranates, tangerines, lemons, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables in orchards and gardens near you.
Bring on National Pollinator Week, June 22-28.
Meanwhile, it's good to see that Häagen-Dazs Häagen-Dazs is continuing to support honey bee research at UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University. Back in February 2008, the premier ice cream brand launched an educational campaign to save the bees and just unveiled a newly updated site. One of the next projects: the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. Designed by a Sausalito team, the haven will be implemented this summer and publicly dedicated in October.
The haven will be a year-around food source for bees and other insects, such as butterflies, bumble bees and syrphids. Other goals: to create a public awareness of the plight of the honey bee, and to educate visitors about bees and the kinds of bee friendly plants they can choose for their own gardens.
Bottom line: let's keep our bees healthy. Mussen suspects that CCD is caused by a combination of factors: malnutrition, pesticides, parasites, diseases and stress.
If CCD has a face, then two photos can tell the story. First, look at the photo of healthy bees and then look at the photo from an abandoned hive. The bee antenna poking through an abandoned cell is just plain sad.
The queen bee, the sisters, the brothers, the brood--all gone.
The calamity of CCD.
To catch a carpenter bee...
The carpenter bees (Xylocopa tabaniformis) that nectar the sage, lavender, catmint and coral bells in our bee friendly garden move fast.
How fast? As fast as a buzz. They buzz into a blur and then back into a buzz.
Oh, but there are ways to capture their images. Consider not just the camera, but the time of day, the habitat, and your presence.
Camera: A macro lens will enable you to get up close. Remove the lens hood so you can get even closer. Like people, carpenter bees don't like being poked with sharp metal objects. Skip the tripod. It's too cumbersome to haul around on insect safaris. Use a flash to stop the action and provide a sharper depth of field.
Time of Day: Shoot early in the morning when the sun hasn't quite warmed them. They don't fly as fast then. They are cold-blooded so their body reflects the temperature around them.
Habitat: Know what they like. In our yard, they gravitate toward the lavender, but they like to mix it up with sage, catmint and coral bells. The pomegranate, citrus, tomato and squash blossoms don't interest them as much as they do me.
Your Presence: There are several rules here. Watch where they go and station yourself there. Make them come to you. Assure them them that hey, you're just part of the scenery. (You don't have to wear a t-shirt that says "I'm Just Part of the Scenery.") Keep low, preferably at their level. Do not shadow them. If they buzz off, not to worry. Like Arnold, they'll be "b-a-a-c-k."
Added Attractant: Sometimes you can dab a little honey or sugar water on a blossom to ensure that they stay a little longer. I'm saving this one for autumn, when the nectar subsides.
Oh, one more thing. If you have a entomologically inclined cat, make sure the feline is not around to disrupt their flight patterns.
But that would make an interesting photo, too.
If you like squash, you have a bee to thank.
Without bees, no pollination. Without pollination, no squash.
Honey bees in California pollinate some 100 agricultural crops, including fruits, nuts and vegetables. One of them is squash.
When a squash blossom burst open last weekend in our garden, a honey bee buzzed inside, shadowed by a carpenter bee.
The carpenter bee chased off the honey bee, but not for long. The honey bee returned to roll in the pollen, victorious.
A victory in the garden. Does that make it a victory garden?
Look closely at Charles Darwin's ceramic face.
You'll see selections from his secret notebooks and images of organisms that most influenced his scientific studies.
His beard is peppered with moths. You'll also find barnacles, iguanas, finches, orchids and other creatures on his face.
It is, says Diane Ullman, "a profound learning experience in and of itself."
The ceramic mosaic, appropriately titled "The Face of Darwin," will be among the art work displayed June 3-July 3 in the Buehler Alumni and Visitors' Center at UC Davis.
The background of "The Face": Ullman, an entomologist-artist, taught a freshman seminar with fellow artist Donna Billick to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday. Ullman and Billick co-founded the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program and serve as the co-directors. The seminar was part of the Art/Science Fusion Program.
The Buehler art exhibit features more than 50 student photographs from Terry Nathan's class, "Photography: Bridging Art and Science," also part of the Art/Science Fusion Program. The photographs, Nathan said, explore the conceptual connections between art and science and the role of art and science on the UC Davis campus.
A public reception takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4.
"The Face of Darwin" is both hauntingly beautiful and a vividly detailed study of the science that engulfed the evolutionary biologist. The eyes plead his passion, begging for knowledge, understanding and realization.
It is, indeed, as Ullman said, "a profound learning experience in and of itself."