Sometimes they barely notice you.
Such was the case of a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, spotted on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a bee worth?
If you want to learn more about bumble bees, be sure to check out the landmark book, Bumble Bees of North America, an Identification Guide, co-authored by our own Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. It's the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century.
Thorp is one of the veteran instructors at The Bee Course, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Ariz. This year's course is Aug. 20-30. (The deadline to apply was March 1.) It's a nine-day intensive workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists "who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees."
The Anise Swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, fluttered into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the Verbena.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, identified the gender: "it's a girl."
The Anise Swallowtail, our first sighting of the season, bypassed the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii.
But she'll be back--hopefully to gather some more nectar and lay her eggs on our fennel.
The Verbena patch was a little too populated for her liking--honey bees and yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, wanted their share of the nectar, too.
"The Anise Swallowtail is a complex set of ecological races, or 'ecotypes,' whose seasonality has been adjusted by natural selection to match that of their host plants," says Shapiro on his research website. He's studied butterfly populations in central California since 1972.
"In multivoltine populations the spring brood is typically small, pale, heavily marked with blue and with narrow dark borders on all wings. Summer individuals are larger, with richer yellow color, broader black borders and little or no blue in males. Univoltine populations tend to be intermediate between these extremes. The small larvae resemble bird droppings. Large larvae are pale green with black bands containing orange spots; in hot, dry sites there is more green and less black, while under cool, humid conditions the green may even disappear! The pupae may be brown or green."
Read more about the swallowtail, including its food sources, on Shapiro's web page.
Meanwhile, whether you see your first Anise Swallowtail of the season or the last of the season, you'll want to see more of this yellow-mellow butterfly!
It was billed as the second annual Butterfly Summit, hosted last Saturday by Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond.
But a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Anchusa azurea (a member of the borage family), apparently didn't like the focus on butterflies.
Butterfly Summit? How about a Bumble Bee Summit?
For several minutes, we watched this industrious bumble bee zip in and out of the Anchusa. It zig-zagged between a Delphinium Cobalt Dreams and a Linaria triornithophora, Three-Birds Flying.
With her heavy load of orange pollen, she appeared to be bogged down, perhaps too heavy to fly?
We remember National Public Radio running a piece on "Heavy Loads of Pollen May Shift Flight Plans of the Bumble Bee," which aired in August of 2015. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce drew attention to research by biologist Andrew Mountcastle of Harvard University, work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Despite what you may have heard, bumble bees do not defy the laws of physics when they fly," Greenfieldboyce related.
Fact is, they just fly differently than airplanes. "They flap their wings, and their wings bend and twist as they flap them," Mountcastle told her. He said that when bumble bees carry a pollen load, rather than a nectar load, "they are more stable, but less maneuverable in flight."
Bottom line: bumble bees are very good at flying, even when they're loaded with cargo (pollen).
What's better than a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) on yellow mustard?
Not much. Both are signs of early spring.
Mustard is popping up all over, along with oxalyis and wild radish. The earth is warming. Spring is here. Get ready.
In the University of California book, California Bees and Blooms: Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, the authors write that B. vosnesenskii and B. melanopygus "are considered spring bees because that is when their population is highest, tailing off in numbers the rest of the year."
The book is the work of Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley entomology professor; Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis; photographer and entomologist Rollin Coville (he received his doctorate from UC Berkeley), and botanist Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Be sure to check out their companion pocket guide on the UC ANR website. It's titled Common Bees in California Gardens. It will help you identify 24 of the most common bees found in urban gardens and landscapes. That's 24 out of nearly 1600 species of native bees found in the Golden State.
Yellow-faced bumble bee, yellow mustard, Golden State....Life is good...
The bumble bee was hungry.
She moved quickly from blossom to blossom on a jade plant at the Benicia (Calif.) Capitol State Historic Park, Solano County. As she foraged, you could see her tongue (proboscis) and her trademark yellow face and yellow stripe on her abdomen.
Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-faced bumble bee. And what a treat to see her in January.
It's enough to make you want to plant jade (Crassula ovata), also known as the friendship plant and lucky plant. It's native to South Africa and Mozambique, but is cultivated worldwide.
Another jade--jewelry--is considered lucky, too. It's supposed to bring you good luck and protect you from evil, according to Chinese tradition.
For bumble bee enthusiasts, just seeing a bumble bee on the plant is luck enough.
If you want to learn more about bumble bees, be sure to pick up a copy of the award-winning Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press, 2014). Lead author is Paul H. Williams, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Co-authors are Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis; Leif L. Richardson, then a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College; and Sheila R. Colla, then a postdoctoral fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a project leader at Wildlife Preservation Canada. Of the 250 species of Bombus worldwide, some 46 bumble bee species are found in North America. You can read about "evolutionary relationships, geographical distributions and ecological roles."
Bumble bees will also find their way into a presentation by world-class garden designer, pollinator advocate and author Kate Frey of Hopland, Calif., at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy, set Saturday, March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Room on Alumni Drive. She'll speak on "Designing Bee-Friendly Gardens" at 2:45 p.m. Frey is co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with Gretchen LeBuhn, professor of biology, San Francisco State University). The book won the American Horticultural Society 2017 Book Award.
Registration is underway for the conference, sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, located in the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Keynote speaker is noted bee scientist/professor/author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who will speak on "Darwinian Beekeeping" at 9:15 a.m. Seeley is the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees. He's the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton University Press. His books will be available for purchase and signing at the symposium.
The daylong event "is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees," said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. "In addition to our speakers, there will be lobby displays featuring, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants, and much more."
Graduate students throughout the country are invited to submit their research posters. The winners will share $1800 in cash prizes. Applications must be submitted to Liz Luu at email@example.com, by Feb. 12. For the rules, see this web page.
To register, access the Honey and Pollination Center website. The cost is $85 (general), $25 (students). For more information, contact Amina Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or Liz Luu at email@example.com.