"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>
You never know what they will do.
When you release newly emerged monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), some linger in the comfort of your hand. Some soar high into the sky. Some flutter to a nearby bush or tree.
When we released two newly emerged monarch butterflies on Nov. 20 in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, they formed a perfectly matched pair on the milkweed.
Well, not so perfect and not so identical. One was a male, much smaller than the female. The female appeared more robust and more mobile than the male.
The female inched closer to the male and then settled down to roost. Together they clung to the milkweed all night and into the morning.
The next afternoon they were gone. Perhaps off to Berkeley?
A newly published report in Berkleyeside, an independent news site, indicates that clusters of monarchs are being seen for the first-time ever in Berkeley's Aquatic Park. They're roosting in the trees just east of the 14th hole of the disc-golf course. See the images in Berkeleyside by talented photographer Elaine Miller Bond.
Will the monarchs overwinter there? Or will they journey on to Santa Cruz or elsewhere? That remains to be seen.
Ever been to the Burning Man Festival and checked out the art cars?
No, and no.
But last Sunday at the Berkeley Marina, we saw an art car that looked as if it could have been at the Burning Man.
It was the wheel deal.
And a car that an entomologist could love.
Assorted insects, including a stylistic blue ant, decorated the car. Excitedly different. Curiously surreal. Marvelously eccentric.
Wikipedia defines an art car as "a vehicle that has its appearance modified as an art of personal artistic expression." The owners are sometimes called "Cartists."
We've seen a yellow Volkwagen painted to resemble a bumble bee. We've seen the Oscar Meyer Wienie Wagon cruising down the street. Singer Janis Joplin ("Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?") drove a psychedelically painted Porsche. John Lennon of the Beatles wheeled around in a paisley Rolls Royce. (Perhaps it should have been a Volkswagen Beetle?)
The art car parked at the Berkeley marina, however, looked like a buffet of art, someone's leftovers turned into a heaping plate of static and dynamic creativity that begged attention. Put a fork in it and it's done.
We don't know where it had been or where it was going. Or, maybe it wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
That blue ant, though, made us think the cartist is an entomologist. Specifically, a mymecologist.
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, is back.
We spotted some overwintering queen bumble bees gathering nectar on a hebe bush last Sunday at the Berkeley marina.
Distinguished by their yellow faces, yellow head pile, black wings, and a bold yellow stripe on their lower abdomen, they bumbled around the hebe as if they were newbie pilots.
The warm weather invited them out of their underground nests. RSVP accepted. The hebe proved to be a good host, enticing them with the sweet scent of nectar. Soon the queens will be starting rearing a colony, and the worker bees will emerge.
Hebe (genus Hebe), a native of New Zealand, grow wells along the coast. Gardeners who tend the marinas around the San Francisco Bay seem to favor it.
So do the bumble bees.