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 email@example.com 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).
The highly respected California Academy of Sciences greeted its 2019 Class of Fellows on Oct. 15, and one of them is a pollination ecologist from the University of California, Davis.
Professor Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology was inducted into the scientific organization at the annual Bay Area gathering of the Fellows. The group includes more than 450 distinguished scientists who have made notable contributions to science.
Fellows nominate others for the high honor, and then the California Academy of Sciences' Board of Trustees votes on the nominees. James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, nominated Williams, with Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley, seconding the nomination. Maverakis was nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
The UC Davis professor served as co-chair (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño) of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, a four-day conference held July 17-20 on the UC Davis campus. The global conference focused on pollinator biology health and policy.
In his work--a labor of love--Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year the UC Davis professor speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project, which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017.
His honors and awards are numerous. Williams was part of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) in 2013. In 2015, he was named a five-year Chancellor's Fellow, receiving $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. And then earlier this year, Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
In addition to Carey, five others affiliated with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are Fellows of the California Academy of Sciences:
- Professor Phil Ward, ant specialist
- Frank Zalom, integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. He is a past president of the Entomological Society of America
- Robert E. Page Jr., bee scientist and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor. He is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and provost emeritus of Arizona State University
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department; and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the UC Davis entomology department include Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.
Remember receiving valentine cards that read "Bee My Valentine?"
Well, every day can be Valentine's Day when there are bees in your garden.
We captured this image several years ago of a queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). She had just emerged from her winter hibernation on a sunny day in November. The site: the Sonoma Cornerstone pollinator garden of Kate Frey. She's the co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn), and a world-class garden designer and pollinator advocate.
It wasn't Valentine's Day, but then again, yes, it was!
Every day is Valentine's Day when there are bees in your garden.
Bee my valentine!