Bring on the bumble bees!
In yesterday's Bug Squad blog, we mentioned the unusual first-of-the-year bumble bee sightings at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. We captured images of the yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on jade, Crassula ovata, the morning of Jan. 1, 2018. They were packing cream-colored pollen.
Bombus vosnesenskii were also out and about at the Benicia Marina--same morning, same day--but on a different floral species: rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis. This flower, too, yields a cream-colored pollen.
But wait! The bumble bees we saw foraging on the rosemary were packing orange pollen, as bright as Halloween pumpkins.
What happened? They didn't get it from the rosemary. It came from another plant, perhaps the early blooming California golden poppies which yield orange pollen (and no nectar).
Rosemary, which blooms nearly year-around in this area, belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae, which also includes peppermint, spearmint, basil, lavender, marjoram, germander, thyme, savory, and horehound. One of the distinguishing features in this family: square stems.
When you think about it, rosemary's presence at the marina is quite appropriate. It derives its name from the Latin "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea."
It's not spring yet, but don't tell that to the pollinators at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park.
We traveled to the state park on Monday, Jan. 25 to see if we could find a bumble bee foraging on the jade blossoms. Or more specifically, the black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. It's been out as early as December. We encountered Bombus melanopygus on Christmas Day, 2013.
Would we spot one again?
But the jade was in full bloom and honey bees were all over it. So was another pollinator, a syrphid fly, identified by fly expert Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture as a Lathyrophthalmus aeneus or Eristalinus aenus--depending on whether you follow the European or U.S. nomenclature, he says. "It is an introduced rattail maggot syrphid (family Syrphidae) from Europe which overwinters as adult and is one of the first syrphids you can find here during the first warm days." Hauser is a senior insect biosystematist in the CDFA's Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch.
Check out the distinguishable dotted eyes! And see more photos of Eristalinus aenus on BugGuide.net.
Oh, an American bee and a European fly on the South African jade? No. Both species hail from Europe. European colonists brought the honey bee, Apis mellifera, to the Jamestown colony (what is now Virginia) in 1622. We're not sure about the fly!
Several honey bees and at least one lady beetle (ladybug), also discovered the "hot spot" in the garden as the temperatures climbed to 52 degrees.
A bumble bee in Benicia? On Christmas Day? Who would have thought?
This bumble bee species, identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is one of only 250 species worldwide in the genus Bombus. It's native to North America.
Thorp is one of four co-authors of the newly published and long-awaited Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press). The book is billed as "the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century." It allows us to identify all the 46 bumble bee species found in North America, and also to learn about "evolutionary relationships, geographical distributions and ecological roles."
Lead author is Paul H. Williams, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. In addition to Thorp, other co-authors are Leif L. Richardson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College; and Sheila R. Colla, postdoctoral fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a project leader at Wildlife Preservation Canada.
Meanwhile, back to Benicia. Like North America's bumble bees, the Benicia Capitol has a rich history. Erected in 1852 and located at 115 West G St., it served as California's third seat of government. Legislators convened there from Feb. 4, 1853 (the year the honey bee was introduced to California) to Feb. 25, 1854.
Today, 160 years later, the Benicia State Capitol is the only surviving pre-Sacramento capitol. Let's hope we can still say that about bumble bees 160 years from now--and the years to come.