What was that foraging on a pink iceplant blossom near a path to the ocean? A metallic green sweat bee, Agapostemon texanus, also called an ultra green sweat bee.
We usually don't see A. texanus unless it's spring or summer, but there it was, out of season. Or rather, there "he" was. Males and females are easily distinguishable. The female is solid green, from head to thorax to abdomen, while the green coloration on the male appears on the head and thorax.
We remember pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019) emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, talking about them. He delighted in seeing them at his monitoring site, the Department of Entomology and Nematology's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus. The Agapostemon are members of the Halictinae family. They are often called "sweat bees" because they are attracted to human sweat, probably for the salt.
Green sweat bees are among the bees featured in the book, "California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists," co-authored by the University of California team of Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley; Robbin Thorp, UC Davis; and UC Berkeley affiliates Rollin Coville (photographer and entomologist) and Barbara Ertter (plant specialist). Frankie, Thorp, Coville and Ertter (and others) also published "Native Bees Are a Rich Natural Resource in Urban California Gardens" in California Agriculture.
If you vacationed at Doran Regional Beach, Bodega Bay, on a Wednesday last year (pre-COVID-19 pandemic), chances are you saw scores of dedicated volunteers pulling out the invasive ice plant, Carpobrotus edulis, along 201 Doran Beach Road. It's hard work but it's rewarding.
Wednesday was--or is--Ice Plant Removal Day. (See the Sonoma County Regional Parks website.)
C. edulis, a succulent native to South Africa, is unwanted in Bodega Bay's wetlands because it chokes out native, endangered plants and alters the soil composition. When it's removed, native plant species return as do a diversity of wanted wildlife.
Yes, nurseries sell ice plant as a ground cover because it's hardy, easy to grow, and spreads quickly. The neon pink blossoms, in particular, are spectacular. (See photo)
C. edulis, though, is as pervasive as it is pretty. It's the flora equivalent of Public Enemy No. 1.
Nevertheless, you'll see "wanted" insects foraging on the "unwanted" plants along the Doran Beach trails. We've seen honey bee and butterflies foraging on the blossoms--including a pollen-packing bee seeking nectar--a short distance from the ice plant removal site. And once we saw a Great Blue Heron snatch a vole from the ice plant growing along the Jetty Campground, Doran Beach.
Beauty and beasts are where you find them, whether they're flora or fauna or wanted or unwanted. Take a hike. Take a camera. Or, better yet, volunteer for an Invasive Plant Removal Day. The California Native Plant Society will thank you.
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!