What's better than seeing a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on an neon pink ice plant at Bodega Bay?
Seeing two bumble bees on the same flower.
That's what we observed on a recent trip to Doran Regional Park, Bodega Bay, Sonoma County. It was bumble bee heaven. While conservationists are removing ice plant in one area of the park, bumble bees are foraging on the flowers in another area.
B. vosnesenskii is a native. The ice plant, Carpobrotus edulis, is not. It's from South Africa. Conservationists are removing the invasive ice plant "to allow native, endangered plants to repopulate the area and wildlife to thrive."
But meanwhile, this Bombus keeps buzzing and foraging. (Bombus is derived from a Latin word meaning "buzzing.")
Bumble bees are important pollinators (think "buzz pollination" on tomatoes) but we haven't seen them much around Solano and Yolo counties this year.
Sonoma County, yes! Bodega Bay seems to be an oasis.
And speaking of bumble bees, the Bohart Museum of Entomology sponsors an annual Robbin Thorp Memorial First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest to see who can find the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano.The first to photograph one and email to the Bohart Museum wins. This year UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, photographed B. melanopygus with her cell phone camera, and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, photographed B. vosnesenskii with her Sony camera.
Coincidentally, they each took their photos at exactly 2:30 p.m., Jan. 1 in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden as the bees foraged on manzanita.
They represented "a double," too--a double win.
Ever watched a bumble bee ballet?
Bumble bees may look clumsy in flight, but they get the job done.
We recently marveled at the yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on lacy phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia, on the UC Davis campus.
This is a native bumble bee and a native plant.
Bumble bees do love Phacelia (think of Cecelia when you're pronouncing it--and there's probably a Cecelia out there who loves Phacelia as much as bumble bees do.)
B. vosnesenskii is native to the west coast of North America, and its range spans from British Columbia to Baja California. "The genus name Bombus--the bumblebee--comes from the Latin word which means a buzzing or humming sound, according to Wikipedia. "There are 250 species split into 38 subgenera within the genus Bombus."
Phacelia, a species in the borage family, Boraginaceae, is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In Greek, its name means means "bundle," in reference to its clustered flowers, according to Wikipedia, while tanacetifolia means "with leaves resembling those of Tanacetum."
Plant Phacelia and you'll be graced with bumble bee ballets. No ballet lessons required.
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).
Yes, after a l-o-n-g, cold, hard winter, bumble bees are emerging.
At least in Solano County.
At 11:20 a.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 13), we spotted a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on oxalis near downtown Benicia.
What a delight! A January bumble bee and the first one we've seen this year.
So, this is a good time to mention the inaugural Robbin Thorp First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and coordinated by Bohart director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology.
Just photograph a clearly identifiable bumble bee in the two-county area of Yolo or Solano, and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the time, date and place. The winner receives bragging rights and a special gift from the Bohart Museum. Plans call for a Bohart coffee mug with a bumble bee image.
The contest memorializes native pollinator specialist and Bohart associate Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Professor Thorp, 85, who died June 7, 2019, was a global authority on bumble bees, and always looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee of the year. He launched an impromptu contest several years ago with a small group of bumble bee enthusiasts/photographers (including yours truly) from Yolo and Solano counties. (Note: I am not a contestant.)
Early Bumble Bees
The black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, is usually the first bumble bee to emerge in this area, Thorp used to say. It forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others. In early January, it's often seen on manzanita blossoms in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. B. vosnesenskii forages on such early bloomers as oxalis, jade, mustard and wild radish, and then on a variety of plants throughout the year. Both species are natives.
Thorp, a 30-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, from 1964-1994, co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). He achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
Ready to join the hunt for the first bumble bee of the year in Yolo and Solano counties? Camera ready? Walking shoes laced? Go!
Have you ever seen a bumble bee sleeping?
If you slip out to your garden at night or early morning, you might find the male bumble bees asleep in, on or around the flowers.
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, frequents our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. By day, the bumble bees nectar on African blue basil, Mexican sunflower, lavender, salvia, foxgloves, catmint, honeysuckle, milkweed, California golden poppies and the like. Then at night, when the females return to their nests, the males find a cozy place to sleep.
They may cushion their heads on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) or straddle a lavender (Lavendula), holding on with their legs or mandibles.
Oftentimes they'll sleep safely and securely inside a flower that closes at night, such as a California poppy or a torch cactus.
Our Bombus residents seem to prefer the Mexican sunflowers and lavender.
Nighty-night. Sleep tight. Don't let the praying mantids and spiders bite.
Interested in bumble bees? Be sure to read the landmark book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). the work of UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, (the late) Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertte.
Thorp (1933-2019), a distinguished emeritus professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press).