Hear that buzz? California almond pollination season is approaching.
The season usually begins around Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, but we usually see the first-of-the-year almond blooms in mid-January in a hot spot near the Benicia marina.
That's where we saw them on Jan. 23, but they've bloomed in that vicinity as early as Jan. 1.
Almonds are big business in California, a burgeoning big business.
The most report of the California Field Office of the USDA's Agricultural Statistics Service, released April 23, 2020, indicates:
- California's 2019 almond acreage is estimated at 1,530,000 acres, up 10 percent from the 2018 acreage of 1,390,000.
- Of the total acreage for 2019, 1,180,000 acres were bearing and 350,000 acres were non-bearing. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2020 was estimated at 1,260,000 acres.
- Nonpareil continued to be the leading variety, followed by Monterey, Butte, Carmel, and Padre.
- Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These five counties had 72 percent of the total bearing acreage.
It takes about two bee colonies per acre to pollinate the California almonds. Since California can't meet that requirement--we don't have enough bees!--the little agricultural workers are trucked here from all over the United States.
According to Nov. 23, 2020 article, "2021 Almond Pollination Outlook and Other Considerations," published in West Coast Nut:
"Idaho, North Dakota and Florida remained the top three states shipping colonies into California. Many honey bee colonies are transferred from the Northern Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest after honey production is finished to be held (often indoors) until almonds bloom in California. So, even though Idaho looks like the top shipping state according to CDFA border shipment data, many of those colonies in reality are coming from elsewhere. The shipment of colonies to storage in the Pacific Northwest is a trend that looks to continue into the future. Many beekeepers have seen lower mortality rates from storing colonies indoors over the winter."
Hear that buzz? It's almost time.
On Valentine's Day, it's inaccurate to say that "everything is coming up roses."
Think jumping spiders on flowers. They come up, too.
Take that jumping spider (family Salticidae) perched on a red trumpetlike vine at the Benicia Marina, Solano County. It was not alone. Another jumper waited below. A suitor? An aggressor?
They oogled one another with their four pairs of eyes (all jumping spiders have four pairs of eyes), and then one oogled me and my camera.
"Don't take my picture."
And they vanished.
But a photograph of a jumping spider on a red flower is a good thing. Especially on Valentine's Day. And especially when you get a twofer (two-for-one).
Actually, it's not so unusual to have both "jumping spider" and "Valentine's Day" together in the same sentence: CBC News, Calgary, interviewed two spider enthusiasts for a piece on "Bondage, Gifts and Cannibalism: A Spider's Valentine's Day" published Feb. 12.
John and Kathleen Hancock of Pincher Creek, Alberta, related that Valentine's Day can be deadly when a female spider eats her suitor. (So said the people who acknowledged they once had 4,500 spiders living in a spare room of their home.)
"The male (spider) is a good meal and he is actually contributing to the growth of his offspring if she eats him," Kathleen said.
"There are a number of species of Australian jumping spiders that are absolutely fantastic," said John. "Each species of jumping spider has a different dance, and if he approaches the wrong female, she'll just eat him."
It helps to have the right moves, or "dinner and a movie" can just wind up as "A (bad) move and a (good) meal."
An anise swallowtail fluttered in and out of the tall anise bordering the banks of the Benicia Marina.
A beautiful sight.
The female butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), as identified by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was probably laying eggs, he told us.
The butterfly is often confused with a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Their coloring does indeed look similar.
As for the anise butterflies, "they have several generations (late February or March-October) and breed very largely on sweet fennel ("anise"), Foeniculum vulgare, and (in the first half of the season) poison hemlock, Conium maculatum," Shapiro writes on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World. "Both of these are naturalized European weeds."
The larvae of the anise swallowtail use fennel as a food plant. Something else about anise: If you crush the leaves, they smell like licorice.
While we were watching the anise swallowtail, something else was watching her: an European paper wasp.
Wasps eat butterfly eggs.
Do you brake for wasps?
We spotted a bumper sticker on the UC Davis campus the other day that read: "I brake for wasps."
It was parked in the Briggs Hall loading zone--Briggs is the home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology--so I imagine it was braking for wasps right then and there.
It was not a car owned by self-described "wasp woman" Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
But she wants one of those bumper stickers!
The colorful wasp below was foraging recently on an Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepsis umbellata 'Olivia') at the Benicia marina. Kimsey identified it as a "a solitary vespid, probably in the genus Stenodynerus. This is a male. The females feed on caterpillars."
Of these wasps: "They are pretty interesting," Kimsey said. "The males have the last antennal segment like a finger folded up against the adjacent segment. You can see it in one of the photos."