Several UC Davis bumble bee enthusiasts--encouraged by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology--compete every January to find the first bumble bee of the year in Yolo and Solano counties.
It's a friendly competition. Gamers include Allan Jones, Gary Zamzow, both of Davis, and yours truly.
We have a winner!
On Thursday, Jan. 10 doctoral student Kim Chacon photographed a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, on manzanita blossoms in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
What a delightful find! And in between the rain drops!
This species is native to western North America, ranging from California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho. It's commonly found on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others.
Chacon actually spotted an earlier bumble bee on Jan. 9 at 2:10 p.m. in the UC Davis Arboreutm, but had only her cell phone with her that day. It was a Bombus melanopygus on Arbutus in the Ericaceae section.
She captured some images with her cell phone, but "there was a big downpour about 15 minutes and I didn't bring my good camera, so I went home for the day. I know from my research that this particular location in the Arboretum is a hot spot for bees. The banks and flowering vegetation get plenty of sun. There are three possible spots in the Arboretum, according to my research, and this one had blooming flowers first."
But on Jan. 10, "I woke up determined to get good photos with my good camera!" She walked over to the Ericaceae section again in the Arboretum and spotted a Bombus melanopygus at 3:58 p.m. (See photos below)
Chacon, a UC Davis PhD student in geography, studies "habitat connectivity issues for bees at a landscape scale."
"Lack of habitat connectivity is listed as the main reason for native bee declines and yet, thus far solutions only include stand alone gardens, with randomly spaced unspecified plant species," she commented. "A spatial habitat problem such as destruction and fragmentation needs a spatial solution. I am working on solving this complex problem with the help of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Part of my research involved weekly monitoring bee visitation of bees throughout the UC Davis Arboretum for one full year. I learned about the trends of bee-flower visitation within each unique themed garden, specifically, how they function as novel ecosystems. When I graduate I hope to design effectively connected landscape habitat for bees. I would also love to design educational gardens, showcasing bee diversity!"
Chacon is a 2018 alumnus of The Bee Course, a nine-day intensive workshop affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. It's offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. This year's dates are Aug. 18-28, and the deadline to apply is March 1, 2019.
Thorp is one of the veteran instructors of The Bee Course; he has taught there annually since 2002. A member of the UC Davis entomology faculty from 1964 to 1994 and internationally recognized for his expertise on bees, he achieved "distinguished emeritus professor" status in 2015. 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 continues his research, writings and bee identification at his office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
It was the morning of Jan. 1, 2018, a year and four days ago.
While strolling the grounds of the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, we captured images of yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on jade, Crassula ovata. They were packing cream-colored pollen from the jade. The same day, we spotted the same species nectaring on rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, by the Benicia marina, but packing orange pollen, probably from the nearby California golden poppies.
Thus began our Year of the Insects.
So far this year, we haven't spotted a single bumble bee in Solano or Yolo counties. It's too early in the season (except for hot spots in Benicia, Solano County, where even some almond trees bloom on Jan. 1!)
Nowadays, though, the talk isn't just about "bumble Bees," the insect, but "Bumblebee," the movie, as in the 2018 American science fiction action film. It's about a Transformers' character of the same name, described as "battle-scarred and broken."
Why is the insect spelled "bumble bee," two words? The Entomological Association of America (ESA), in its newsletter, Entomology Today, explains: "...entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists--house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies --their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word." (Check out the ESA Comman Names of Insects Database.)
So there you have it: bumble bee, the insect, and Bumblebee, the movie.
And sometimes there's a serendipity moment when the two meet.
We remember back in April of 2017 when native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Nematology and Nematology, was displaying bumble bees at a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house.
Thorp, a global authority on bumble bees, is the author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
So was he ever surprised when in a defining moment, 6-year-old Adne Burruss of Irvine (his mother, Sigrid, is a geneticist and UC Davis alumna) walked up to him wearing a Bumblebee t-shirt. Adne wanted to look at the "other" bumble bees.
So do we! So do we!
"Black Friday" means different things to each of us, but when I think of "Black Friday," I think of black bumble bees nectaring on blackberry blossoms in Berkeley.
Bumble bees on blackberry blossoms in Berkeley. Talk about alliteration!
Specifically, I think of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, the bee I photographed on a Friday last spring in Berkeley.
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 scientist Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authoredBumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
Bumble bees are in trouble. Many populations are declining, threatened or endangered. Take the case of critically endangered--or maybe extinct--Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), which has probably the most restricted or narrowest range of any bumble bee in the world, according to Thorp, who has been monitoring its population--or trying to--since the 1990s. Its habitat is--or was--a small area of southern Oregon (Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties) and northern California (Siskiyou and Trinity counties). It frequents California poppies, lupines, vetch, wild roses, blackberries, clover, sweet peas, horsemint and mountain penny royal during its flight season, from mid-May through September.
Thorp hasn't seen it for 12 years. He sighted a total of 94 Bombus franklini in 1998; 20 in 1999; 9 in 2000 and only 1 in 2001. Sightings increased slightly to 20 in 2002, but dropped to 3 in 2003. Thorp saw none in 2004 and 2005; one in 2006; and none since. (See his photo of Franklin's bumble bee.)
In a UC Davis interview in July 2010, Thorp told us: “People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee. In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless."
"Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” Thorp said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Many factors, including loss of habitat, are involved. Pesticides must share some of the blame. Interesting that researchers at Worchester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute recently found that bumble bee exposure to neonicotinoids may be contributing to their decline across America. Even small doses, the researchers discovered, reduce the survival of queen and male bees, which are critical to the survival of wild population. (See Worchester Polytechnic Institute news story.)
Bottom line: if bumble bees disappeared, it would not only be a Black Friday, but a Black Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday./span>
Bohart associates sang "Happy Birthday" and cheered when he blew out a candle on the dessert plate.
For the occasion, doctoral student Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, drew two longhorned bees on his birthday card envelope--the bees replaced the "b's" in his first name. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum, coordinated the event.
Thorp actually celebrated his birthday while he was teaching Aug. 18-28 at The Bee Course, sponsored annually by the American Museum of Natural History, New York at its Southwest Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive workshop draws conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of California: An Identification Guide (2014, Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (2014, Heyday Books). both available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's gift shop.
Robbin received his bachelor and master's degrees in zoology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctorate degree in entomology from the University of California, Berkeley. He served on the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) from 1964 to 1994.
During his long and productive career, Thorp conducted research on pollination of crops pollinated by honey bees, especially almonds. His research also included the use of other bee species in crop pollination, the roles of native bees in pollination of flowers in natural ecosystems such as vernal pools, and the ecology and systematics of native bees. He taught courses at UC Davis in General Entomology, Natural History of Insects, Insect Classification, Field Entomology, California Insect Diversity, and Pollination Ecology, and has given scores of public presentations.
Thorp is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco (since 1986). Among his many awards: the distinguished team award (shared with Eric Mussen, Neal Williams, Brian Johnson and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2013 from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America for their collaborative work specializing in honey bees, wild bees and pollination issues through research, education and outreach. Their service to UC Davis at that time spanned 116 years.
Although Thorp retired in 1994, he continues to be active. For many years after his retirement, he researched ecology, systematics, biodiversity, and conservation of bees including pollen specialist bees in vernal pool ecosystems, as well as the role of native bees in crop pollination, the role of urban gardens as bee habitat, and declines in native bumble bee populations. He maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis where he continues his public service. That includes identifying bees for his colleagues. He recently served as a "bee" advisor for Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (2017) and published her first piece in the Proceedings for the Natural Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on “Deceptive Signals and Behaviors of a Cleptoparasitic Beetle Show Local Adaptation to Different Host Bee Species.”
Robbin Thorp is truly a dedicated entomologist who does the University of California proud!
- Read about his work: Robbin Thorp, Distinguished Emeritus Award
- Listen to Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen interview him about his career.
- Read what CNN wrote about him in its piece on "The Old Man and The Bee" (in pursuit of Franklin's bumble bee, now feared instinct)
Happy "b-day," Professor Thorp! That "b" can stand for bumble bees, honey bees, native bees, carpenter bees, blue orchard bees, leafcutter bees, longhorned bees and more...there are more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California.
Ah, pillow fights, popcorn, and marathon movies on TV, you ask?
No. "Boys' Night Out" is when the longhorned male bees in our pollinator garden in Vacaville engage in sleepovers on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and other blossoms.
At night, the girls sleep inside their nests, and the boys cluster on flowers.
Lately, we've been admiring a trio of boys--Melissodes (possibly M. robustior, as identified by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis)--bunking down on a Tithonia. Every day, around sunset, they head over to the same flower, arrange themselves in comfortable sleeping positions (hey, quit kicking me), and it's nighty-night! When the sun rises, they vacate the bedroom. Sometimes it's earlier than planned, no thanks to buzzing bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees foraging around them and disturbing their beauty sleep. The nerve!
Other species of male longhorned bees--including Melissodes agilis and Svastra obliqua--sleep on flowers at night as well.
"Most frequently, the boy bee overnight clusters are single-species clusters," says Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, with UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994, continues to "bee involved" in research, writings, bee identification and public outreach. He teaches annually at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
In a previous Bug Squad blog, Thorp responded to a reader's inquiry about "stings" from the clustering bees. "Boy bees cannot sting," he pointed out. "They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
"Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest," Thorp answered. "Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Said Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
Longhorned bees are among the more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California. In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent. Meanwhile, check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and the exciting research underway.