Let's hear it for biocontrol.
You've seen lady beetles, aka ladybugs, preying on aphids.
But have you seen an assassin bug attack a spotted cucumber beetle?
How about a crab spider munching on a stink bug?
All biocontrol, part of integrated pest management (IPM).
If you access the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website or more specifically, this page, you'll learn that "Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a process you can use to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. IPM can be used to manage all kinds of pests anywhere–in urban, agricultural, and wildland or natural areas."
Or, UC IPM's more in-depth definition:
"IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment."
Think of biocontrol as beneficial: "Biological control is the beneficial action of predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors in controlling pests and their damage. Biological control provided by these living organisms (collectively called "natural enemies") is especially important for reducing the numbers of pest insects and mites, but biological control agents can also contribute to the control of weed, pathogen, nematode or vertebrate pests."--UC IPM
Yesterday we witnessed an incredible case of biocontrol in action.
At Bodega Bay's Doran Regional Park, Sonoma County, we spotted a great blue heron stepping stealthily through a thatch of ice plant in the Jetty campground. It was 6:30 in the morning. As campers slept in their recreational vehicles a few feet away, the great blue heron just kept stepping silently through the ice plant. One step. Another step. And another.
And then it happened. Its long sharp beak speared a rodent. Yes, they eat rodents. It crunched the body from head to toe, breaking the bones, and then swallowed it whole.
Not a pretty picture, but a simple case of biocontrol, compliments of a hungry heron.
If you're walking along the cliffs of Bodega Head, Sonoma County, you may overlook them.
While you're watching for whales, scouting for seabirds and checking out the hikers, there's a lot of movement in the seaside daises (Erigeron glaucus) and seaside woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum staechadifolium).
Green-eyed bullets with spectacular abdominal stripes zero in on the flowers, grab some food (this really is "fast food") and then take off at break-neck speed.
They're sand wasps, Bembix americana, so named because they dig nest holes in the sand. They belong to the family Crabronidae, subfamily Bembicinae, tribe Bembicini (sand wasps), subtribe Bembicina, and genus Bembix. They're quite common in North America. We've seen them from Fort Bragg to Bodega.
They're not vegetarians, like our honey bees. Like all wasps, they're carnivores. They're hunters. They're predators. They prey upon small insects, such as flies. The sand wasps then carry their prey back to their nests.
So while you're watching for whales, watch the flowers. If they move, it may be more than just the wind.
Want to read more about sand wasps? Entomologist Richard Bohart (for whom the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, is named), and his former graduate student, Arnold Menke, wrote about them in their book, "Sphecid Wasps of the World," published in 1976 by the University of California Press, Berkeley.
If you're on your way to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, stop at Bodega Head and see all the yellow-faced bumble bees on a yellow coastal plant, Eriophyllum, commonly known as the woolly sunflower.
The bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, are back and they particularly like the Eriophyllum. It's probably Eriophyllum staechadifolium, agreed Ellen Dean, curator of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity, and Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture at the UC Davis Arboretum.
According to Calflora, it's also called lizard tail andseaside golden yarrow as well as seaside woolly sunflower.
We spotted a huge orange pollen load on one yellow-faced bumble bee. Saddle bags!
But there's one thing they don't do. They don't check out the sand dunes, home of the bee villages.
Tiny holes are everywhere, yet nobody seems to notice.
They're the work of digger bees, aka faux bumble bees. These are Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana, researched by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The (female) bees suck up water nearby and then regurgitate on the (faces of the) sandstone cliffs to moisten and excavate soil for the tunnels, construct their turrets, and finally to seal the nest tunnel," Thorp says. The bees use some of the soil from the base of the turret to plug the entrance.
The bee turrets are somewhat like our gated communities! Keep out!
The digger bees have "grocery stores" all around them. You'll see the males and females foraging on the wildflowers, which include yellow and blue lupine, California golden poppies, wild radish, mustard, dandelions, and seaside daises.
If you crouch next to the bee villages, a nearby hiker is likely to ask "Lose something?"
No, we found something!
The last honey bee of 2012.
Despite the cold weather at Bodega Bay last Friday, we managed to see a few honey bees nectaring a New Zealand tea tree, aka Leptospermum scoparium.
The temperature registered 53 degrees and there they were, foraging among the dainty pink and white blossoms, as if it were spring.
As the year draws to a close, we've been inundated with words like "fiscal cliff," "spoiler alert," "bucket list" and "YOLO." (No, Yolo doesn't mean Yolo County but "You Only Live Once.")
Let's hope those words don't apply to honey bees in 2013 and the years beyond.