Did you observe World Bee Day today?
Every year on May 20, the United Nations asks us to think about this day, "to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators" and "the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development."
Some 20,000 species of bees inhabit our world, but the "poster child" is the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
"The recent COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on the beekeeping sector affecting the production, the market and as a consequence, the livelihoods of beekeepers," the World Bee Day website tells us.
"To mark the Day, a virtual event--under the theme "Bee Engaged"--highlighted the importance of traditional knowledge related to beekeeping, the use of bee-derived products and services, and their importance in achieving the SDGs. If you missed it, you can watch it here!"
"To celebrate #WorldBeeDay, renowned actors, singers, chefs and media professionals also recorded poems related to bees and beekeeping, some recalling how the behavior of bees so often mirrors that of human beings across our planet. Listen to the poems now and bee inspired."
Meanwhile, a pollen-dusted honey bee in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., totally engaged us as she foraged on Gaillardia, aka "blanket flower." Gaillardia, a member of the sunflower family Asteracae, resembles the colorful maroon and gold Native American blankets. It's named for 18th century French magistrate and botanist Maître Gaillard de Charentonneau.
This honey bee went about her bee-sy-ness and then, weighted with pollen, took flight. It's a wonder she could see to return home to her colony.
Happy World Bee Day!
Remember the biblical story about David and Goliath? How young David, the underdog, defeats a Philistine giant?
Sometimes you think the same kind of battle will occur in nature when a honey bee, Apis mellifera, encounters a much larger carpenter bee, the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta.
We recently spotted a female Valley carpenter bee foraging on a mustard blossom, while her smaller cousin, the honey bee buzzed in, hoping to share. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera and the family, Apidae. The carpenter bee is a native. The honey bee is not.
What happened? The honey bee discreetly moved out of the way and let the carpenter bee claim her bounty.
California has three species of carpenter bees.
- The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It's about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as "the teddy bear bee," is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It's fuzzy and does not sting--or as the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, used to say: "Boy bees don't sting."
- The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It's known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body, Thorp says. The females have dark smoky brown wings.
- The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
Still my favorite carpenter bee is the male X. varipuncta, the green-eyed blond. You don't see it as much as the female of the species, but wow! Now to photograph them in the same picture...
All hail the honey bee!
It's an immigrant, like almost all of us, except for the Native Americans.
European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to what is now the United States in 1622. Specifically, they arrived at the Jamestown colony (Virginia). The Native Americans called the honey bee "the white man's fly." California had no honey bees until 1853 when a beekeeper brought his colonies to the San Jose area.
If you're like me, you can watch honey bees for hours.
Pull up a chair near a bee-buzzing event, watch them forage, and photograph them.
Pardon me, Ms. Bee, is that mustard on your head?
It's bee-utiful to see golden pollen dusted all over their bodies from head to thorax to abdomen. Then there are those immense balls of golden pollen that weight them down and hinder their flight.
I took these images with a Nikon D500 with a macro lens, 200mm. The settings: 800 ISO, f-stop 8, and shutter speed, 1/2500.
It's a strikingly beautiful insect.
But in its larval stage, the alfalfa butterfly, Colias eurytheme--also known as the orange sulphur butterfly--is a pest.
If you grow alfalfa, you're not a fan of this butterfly, and rightfully so.
"Alfalfa caterpillars can consume entire leaves," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website. "The larger larvae are most destructive."
The butterfly lays its eggs "on the new growth of alfalfa that is less than 6 inches tall," UC IPM says. "Eggs hatch into green caterpillars in 3 to 7 days. Full-grown caterpillars are about 1.5 inches long and are distinguished from other caterpillars on alfalfa by their velvety green bodies with white lines along their sides."
"Caterpillar populations usually result from a flight of butterflies into the field when the alfalfa is less than 6 inches tall. Extremely large numbers of adults migrating between fields are often present from June to September in the Central Valley and from May to October in the southern desert."
We've been seeing lots of alfalfa butterflies sipping nectar on our African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal').
Sometimes they don't notice you and you can edge toward them, camera in hand.
Sometimes they don't even notice that a honey bee is shadowing them. Honey bees are also quite fond of African blue basil.
Butterfly meet bee. Bee meet butterfly.
In the insect photography world, that's called a "two-fer"--a bonus of two insects in one photo.
It was a good day for a crab spider.
It was NOT a good day for a honey bee.
It's early evening and here's this bee foraging on a bluebeard plant, Caryopteris x clandonensis, totally unaware of the ambush predator lying in wait.
The hunter and the hunted.
A venomous bite and it's all over.
These spiders, often called the "white death spider," are camouflage artists. They can turn colors, from yellow to white, or white to yellow. You'll often see yellow crab spiders on golden rod Solidago or a predominantly yellow plant, like blanketflower, Gallardia.
"These spiders change color by secreting a liquid yellow pigment into the outer cell layer of the body," according to Wikipedia. "On a white base, this pigment is transported into lower layers, so that inner glands, filled with white guanine, become visible. The color similarity between the spider and the flower is well matched with a white flower, in particular the Chaerophyllum temulum, compared to a yellow flower based on the spectral reflectance functions."
"If the spider dwells longer on a white plant, the yellow pigment is often excreted," Wikipedia says. "It will then take the spider much longer to change to yellow, because it will have to produce the yellow pigment first. The color change is induced by visual feedback; spiders with painted eyes were found to have lost this ability. The color change from white to yellow takes between 10 and 25 days, the reverse about six days. The yellow pigments have been identified as kynurenine and 3-hydroxykynurenine."
One thing's for sure: everybody eats in the pollinator garden.