"Sweat bees have earned their common name from the tendency, especially of the smaller species,to alight on one's skin and lap up perspiration for both its moisture and salt content."
So write University of California scientists in their award-winning book, California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
California has some 1600 species of undomesticated or wild bees, point out the authors (Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter).
And one of them is the sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, a member of the family Halictidae. It's a medium-sized, ground-nesting bee with a striped abdomen.
This week one of these species (as identified by research scientist John Ascher) looked especially striking on a Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, a member of the Aster (Asteraceae) family. Both the plant and the bee are natives.
Several years ago we managed to photograph a flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, munching on one of these sweat bees. Not a good day for that little gal!
No dragonflies were around, however, when we watched this one foraging on a Black-Eyed Susan.
Did you know that the Black-Eyed Susan is the designated state flower of Maryland? And that it was the inspiration for the University of Southern Mississippi's school colors (black and gold)? And that it's a larval host to butterflies such as the bordered batch, gorgone checkerspot and silvery checkerspot?
Who knew? If you plant it, though, be aware that it is toxic (when ingested) to cats.
What was that!
If you grow Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) in your pollinator garden, you've probably noticed the fast-flying longhorned male bees being totally territorial.
Their job is to target whatever's on the Tithonia. It doesn't matter if it's a bumble bee, a honey bee, or a butterfly--it's fair game.
As the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a global expert on bees and a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, used to say about the male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis: "They're trying to save the flowers for their own species, per chance to mate with them."
Watching the territorial behavior is jaw-dropping, but imagine if you're a butterfly trying to sip a little nectar.
"Oh no! What was that heading straight at me?"
"Horrors! Here he comes again! Can't a pollinator get a little peace around here?"
The longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, is just one of the more than 1600 species of bees found in California. If you want to learn more about them, be sure to read California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014), co-authored by scientists from UC Berkeley and UC Davis.
"California Bees and Blooms (co-authored by Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Barbara Ertter and Rollin Coville) holds a magnifying glass up to the twenty-two most common genera (and six species of cuckoo bees), describing each one's distinctive behaviors, social structures, flight season, preferred flowers, and enemies," according to Heyday.
That it does. And if you try to stop the action with your camera, it helps to set the shutter speed at 1/3000 to 1/4000 of a second. (The two images of the bee and painted lady butterfly captured with a Nikon D500 camera, mounted with a 70-180 mm macro zoom lens, with the aperture set at 5.6 and ISO at 800. Image of the bee and monarch taken with a Nikon D800 mounted with a 105mm lens, and with similar settings.)
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...
It's spring and it's loud in the Spanish lavender patch.
The girls--the honey bees--are buzzing furiously as they forage among the blossoms, but so are the boys, in this case the mountain carpenter bee, Xyclocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The girls are there for the pollen and nectar to take back to their colonies, and the boys are there for some flight fuel. And to find mates.
Xyclocopa tabaniformis orpifex is one of three species of California carpenter bees: the others are Xyclocopa varipuncta (the largest one, about the size of a bumble bee), and Xyclocopa californica. All females are mostly black. The male Xyclocopa varipuncta, aka "the teddy bear bee," is a golden with green eyes. The other males often have yellow hair on their head or thorax.
The carpenter bees usually fly from March through October, according to California Bees and Blooms, A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, a University of California production featuring the work of Gordon Frankie Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter (Thorp is a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, Frankie is a professor at UC Berkeley, and Coville and Ertter are also affiliated with UC Berkeley).
A handy identification pocket guide--a companion to California Bees and Blooms--is Common Bees in California Gardens, published by the University of California Agriculture and Nature Resources. It will help you identify 24 bees and you can lean about the distribution, flight season, nesting habits, floral hosts and how each bee species transports pollen. You'll see beautiful images by noted photographer Coville, who holds a Ph.D. in entomology from UC Berkeley.
Excellent publications! The more you know about bees, the more likely you are to protect them and plant for them.
Ah, spring! It's loud in the Spanish lavender patch...
Or have you ever seen a bee nectaring in a community garden and wondered "How can I attract THAT bee to my yard?"
Just like all floral visitors are not bees, not all bees are honey bees. However, the honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most well known. Worldwide, there are 20,000 species of bees. Of that number, 4000 are found in the United States, and 1600 of them in California.
Here's how you can find out more about them.
The University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center has scheduled a four-hour program, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 on "Native Bees in Your Backyard" at two sites in Hopland and you're invited.
UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie and entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville, co-authors of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, will discuss native bees. They and will be joined by Kate Frey, award-winning gardener and author of “The Bee-Friendly Garden" who will provide a guided tour of her gardens and explain what plants attract pollinators. Her gardens are renowned for their floristic diversity, color and the habitats they provide for wildlife.
Participants will meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Kate Frey Gardens and from 11:30 to 2 p.m. at the UC Hopland and Research Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, from 11:30 to 2 p.m. A locally sourced, honey-themed lunch, catered by Beth Keiffer, will be served at noon.
Hannah Bird, community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, says attendees will "learn about some of the 1600 native bee species found in California--from the leafcutting bee to the cuckoo bee, the sweat bee to the mining bee!" They will learn how to identify them and how to accommodate their needs.
Frankie will share the research done by UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab and Rollin Coville will display and discuss his photographs of native bees and how he captured the images.
Advance registration is required by Sept. 18. The cost is $40, which includes lunch. Click here to register. Maps and directions will be provided to registrants.