But have you ever seen the digger bees?
They're out there.
The sand cliffs are the home of the digger bee, a bumble bee mimic known as Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana. This bee builds turrets in the sand cliffs.
Last Thursday we watched several digger bees warm their flight muscles, take flight, and forage on the lupine, wild radish, and seaside daisy. Then we saw the females zipping in and out of their turrets: their cozy castles in the sand.
As the late Robbin Thorp, a global authority on bumble bees and a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, told us several years ago: "The species name indicates that it is a bumble bee mimic. These bees need a source of fresh water nearby. Females suck up water, regurgitate it on the sandstone bank surface, then dig away at the soft mud. They use some of the mud to build entrance turrets, presumably to help them locate their nests within the aggregation of nests."
"The female," Thorp said, "sucks up fresh water from nearby, stores it in her crop (like honey bees store nectar) for transport to the nest. She regurgitates it on the sandstone, and excavates the moistened soil. She carries out the mud and makes the entrance turret with it."
As part of a National Science Foundation grant, community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is teaming with other colleagues, including pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann, to research these digger bees and their nests.
It's a big beautiful bee world out there.
Early scientists figured it was aerodynamically impossible for bumble bees to fly due to their size, weight and shape of their bodies in relation to their total wingspan. And then there were those air resistance issues.
“Antoine Magnan, a French zoologist, in 1934 made some very careful studies of bumble bee flight and came to the conclusion that bumble bees cannot fly at all! Fortunately, the bumble bees never heard this bit of news and so went on flying as usual.”—Ross E. Hutchins, Insects, p. 68 (1968). Magnan's 1934 work, Le Vol des Insectes (vol. 1 of La Locomotion Chez les Animaux).
But bumble bees fly quite well, thank you--and can do so with a heavy load of pollen.
Ever watched the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, in flight?
We watched B. vosnesenskii foraging on yellow lupine (Lupinus arboreus) last Thursday, June 10 at the Doran Regional Park, Bodega Bay. They went about their bees-ness, ignoring the photographer who was trying capture a few images of them. Hint: they do not brake for photographers.
The red pollen looked too massive to carry, but the bumbles--as entomologists call them--lumbered right along. Who says we can't fly?
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Read California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014), the work of University of California scientists Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter. Legendary bee expert Robbin Thorp (1933-2009) emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014).
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.