Might As Well Be Spring
"I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm
I'm as jumpy as puppet on a string
I'd say that I had spring fever
But I know it isn't spring."--Frank Sinatra
Wait, it is spring!
Today is the day we've all be waiting for--the first day of spring.
If you're lucky, you'll see bumble bees nectaring on spring flowers, including nectarine blossoms.
We spotted this bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, also known as a black-tailed bumble bee, heading toward our nectarine tree and foraging on the blossoms.
This is one of the 27 species of bumble bees in California. We frequently see the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and sometimes Bombus californicus, aka the California bumble bee.
Our little buddy, Bombus melanopygus, appears to be nesting nearby due to her frequent visits to the nectarine blossoms. Hmm, wonder if she is occupying a rodent hole or maybe an old birdhouse....
If you're interested in learning more about bumble bees, check out the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, the work of UC Davis and UC Berkeley scientists, including Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who is also the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide.
You never know what you'll find when you visit a pollinator garden.
Take the case of our visit Nov. 12 to the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, to see the pollinator garden of Kate Frey, an ardent pollinator advocate, world-class garden designer, and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn.
The flower-filled Frey garden is a people/pollinator favorite at the Sonoma Cornerstone, and no wonder.
We spotted a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Salvia Indigo spires. Normally, you don't see bumble bees this time of year, but this one came out of hibernation temporarily to eat. She appeared famished!
Bombus vosnesenskii is among the bees featured in the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). It's the work of entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville and plant expert Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors call attention to this iconic Bombus species: the yellow hairs on the face and top of head, and the yellow stripe on the abdomen.
Hibernating queen bumble bees are a joy to photograph as they forage for food, buzzing from blossom to blossom to sip nectar. This one seemed to be braking during a winter break.
Hey, honey bee, I'll race you to the flowers.
Okay, but you'll lose. I can go faster. Watch me!
The scene: a male bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and a worker honey bee, Apis mellifera, are buzzing along at breakneck speed toward the lavender in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
They nearly collide but Mr. Bumble Bee pauses in mid-air and gives Ms. Honey Bee a free pass---and just in time for National Pollinator Week, when all of our pollinators need free passes! That starts out with two crucial steps: plant bee-friendly flowers and avoid using pesticides. Feed them food, not poison.
The end result here: plenty of nectar for everyone.
Bombus melanopygus, also known as the black-tailed honey bee, is among the bumble bees featured in the book, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University), the award-winning work of Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla.
Thorp, a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is also the co-author (along with Gordon Frankie, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter) of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. They offer great information on bee identification, but also crucial advice on how to attract and retain bees in your garden.
Happy Pollinator Week!/span>
Have you checked to see what's foraging on your early spring blooms?
Our cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) are blooming and the Andrena (mining) bees are zooming. These fast-moving bees are solitary ground-nesting bees that are early spring bees, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. The males emerge first.
"Females emerge several days later and, with only a few short weeks to live, waste no time with polite introductions," write and Thorp (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley) and UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie in California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. The book is also co-authored by UC Berkeley affiliates: entomologist/photographer Rollin E. Coville and botany specialist Barbara Ertter.
"Mating is first on their agenda, followed by a quick meal of pollen to build up their ovaries," Thorp and Frankie point out. "They then dig or forage for materials to construct their nests, and for food for their offspring. At the end of the short flight season, the adults die and the new generation's life cycle continues inside the nest."
Thorp identified the bees below as two females: Andrena candida and A. nigrocaerulea. He and several colleagues teach The Bee Course, "an annual workshop for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees." It's held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., and this year's dates are Aug. 21-Aug. 31.
"Most North American Andrena species are black, dull metallic blue, or green and moderately hairy, with bands of pale hair on their abdomens," according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "Females have large, velvety facial depressions (foveae) that look like eyebrows and large pollen-collecting hairs (scopae) on the upper part of their hind legs, seemingly in their 'armpits.' Despite a variety of striking colorations, Andrenan species are difficult to tell part."
If you have sandy soil and shrubs, that's ideal for them. You'll be the landlord and they'll be your tenants. "They nest in the ground, typically in sandy soil and often near or under shrubs. The nest entrance is usually marked by a small mound (tumulus) of soil."--Xerces Society.
Andrena is the largest genus in the family Andrenidae, with more than 1300 species, and about 261 in California. They occur nearly worldwide (Americas, Eurasia and the Old World tropics). The tiniest of the Andrena are only 7 millimeters long.
You may not see them. They're as tiny as they are fast, and they don't stop for photographs!
Sometimes you get lucky...
That's when native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, will address the crowd, sharing his encyclopedia-like knowledge and answering questions.
The two-hour program, "Bee Aware Bee Cause," begins at 1:30. Free and open to the public, the program is sponsored by the Rush Ranch Educational Council, in partnership with Solano Land Trust, owner of Rush Ranch. It will be held "rain or shine," a spokesperson said.
How much do you know about bees? You probably know that the honey bee is not native to this country. European colonists brought it over here in 1622 to the Jamestown colony.
But how about the thousands of other bees?
- How many undomesticated bee species are there in the world?
- How many bee species live in the United States?
- How many bee species live in California?
"Robbin Thorp" and "bees" are synonymous. Internationally recognized for his expertise, he co-authored the UC California book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press).
Thorp annually teaches at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The two-week course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994. Although emeritus since 1994, he continues his research, writings, bee identification, public outreach and other "bee-involved" activities from his headquarters in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
CNN recently featured him in a piece it titled "The Old Man and the Bee," about his dedicated drive to find the critically imperiled (and feared extinct) Franklin's bumble bee within its five-county range of southern Oregon and northern California. Thorp last saw the bumble bee, Bombus franklini, on Aug. 9, 2006 in a meadow near Mt. Ashland, Ore.
During his talk, Thorp will discuss how to attract bees to your garden and why you should.
It's not just honey bees that are declining, scientists say. So are undomesticated bees, due to pesticides, diseases, malnutrition, habitat destruction/fragmentation, global climate change, drought and other extreme weather events.
The mission of the Rush Ranch Educational Council, a non-profit organization, is to increase awareness, understanding and appreciation for Rush Ranch and the Suisun Marsh by providing free educational programs and events. For more information on the Rush Ranch program, including directions, visit www.solanolandtrust.org or call (707) 422-4491.