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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com or Liz Luu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While folks from Alaska to Colorado to New York to Maine are shivering in freezing temperatures, here in sunny California--well, at least parts of the Golden State are sunny--bumble bees are foraging on winter blooms.
Bumble bees? On the first day of the year?
Yes. We spotted a dozen yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring this morning in Benicia, Solano County, Calif.
They were foraging on jade at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and on rosemary at the Benicia Marina. Honey bees and syrphid flies joined them. We also saw some hungry predators--birds--chasing them.
For the last several years, several of us bumble bee aficionados--led by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis--seek to find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year.
Last year the big winner was naturalist and insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis. At 2:02 p.m., on Friday, Jan. 27, he alerted us: "Two Bombus melanopygus on manzanita just east of the redwood grove (UC Davis Arboretum)."
And then he found another melanopygus. It was a three-in-one day.
The story behind the story: Inspired by Robbin Thorp, a small group of eager bumble bee aficionados--naturalists and insect photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones of Davis, and yours truly of UC Davis--launched the First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest six years ago.
It's a take-off of Art Shapiro's "Beer for a Butterfly" contest. Shapiro, a distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, offers a pitcher of beer for the first cabbage white butterfly (Pierae rapae) of the year found in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento. He launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate.
For us bumble bee aficionados, the prize isn't a pitcher of beer. There's no prize. It's basically to provide a few more eyes to help Robbin Thorp track early-season bumble bees.
Thorp is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
Meanwhile, look around for bumble bees in your area. You won't find them in the "deep freeze" states like Alaska, North Dakota or Minnesota. And you certainly won't find them in Hettinger, N.D., where the temperature dipped to a negative 45 degrees today.
But if you're in Benicia or another sunny place, it's a Bumble Bee Kind of Day and what a way to begin the New Year!
Happy New Year!
It's not spring yet, but don't tell that to the pollinators at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park.
We traveled to the state park on Monday, Jan. 25 to see if we could find a bumble bee foraging on the jade blossoms. Or more specifically, the black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. It's been out as early as December. We encountered Bombus melanopygus on Christmas Day, 2013.
Would we spot one again?
But the jade was in full bloom and honey bees were all over it. So was another pollinator, a syrphid fly, identified by fly expert Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture as a Lathyrophthalmus aeneus or Eristalinus aenus--depending on whether you follow the European or U.S. nomenclature, he says. "It is an introduced rattail maggot syrphid (family Syrphidae) from Europe which overwinters as adult and is one of the first syrphids you can find here during the first warm days." Hauser is a senior insect biosystematist in the CDFA's Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch.
Check out the distinguishable dotted eyes! And see more photos of Eristalinus aenus on BugGuide.net.
Oh, an American bee and a European fly on the South African jade? No. Both species hail from Europe. European colonists brought the honey bee, Apis mellifera, to the Jamestown colony (what is now Virginia) in 1622. We're not sure about the fly!
At first glance, we thought "Strawberry blossoms!"
Not strawberries, though.
The white-floral ground cover at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park is Sutera cordata or bacopa, as identified by Missy Gable, program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of California, Davis.
As historians know, the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park was the site of the state capital back in 1853-1854. Then Sacramento claimed the title.
And bacopa? "I’ve used bacopa quite a bit in hanging baskets but have honestly never tried it in the landscape," Gable said. "It’s a pretty short lived perennial and in my experience dies at the first frost BUT it’s an awesome bloomer!"
That it is. We spotted the bacopa the first day of the year. It was a lukewarm 55 degrees in Benicia but the honey bees were out, out of their dark hives and into the sunlight to start gathering nectar and pollen for their colony.
Interestingly enough, both the honey bee and bacopa are natives of Africa. European colonists brought the honey bee to what is now the United States in 1622 (to the Jamestown colony, Va.)
Honey bees did not arrive in California until 1853 (the same year that Benicia claimed the state capital). California's first beekeeper, Christopher A. Shelton, established a 12-colony apiary just north of San Jose. According to the UC ANR book, Beekeeping in California, authored primarily by UC Davis bee scientists: "Of the 12, only one survived, but it cast three swarms that summer and by 1858 there were at least 150 colonies directly descended from the Shelton hive."
Bacopa could be another suitable plant for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden that doubles as demonstration garden on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. Missy Gable plays a key role in making the garden as beautiful as it is.
Meanwhile it's Benicia, bees and bacopa! And awesome bloomer!