We celebrate honey bees every day, but they are especially celebrated on May 20, World Bee Day. It's an annual day to raise awareness about the importance of bees and beekeeping. It's a day to acknowledge the industriousness of Apis mellifera, their role in our lives, and their place in our ecosystem. Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat.
A bit of history: The United Nations approved Slovenia's proposal to proclaim May 20 as World Bee Day in December of 2017. Slovenia also sought to pay tribute to noted beekeeper and native son Anton Janša (1734-1773) of Carniola (now Slovenia), a pioneer of modern apiculture, a noted painter, and an apiculture teacher at the Habsburg Court in Vienna.
Janša became a full-time beekeeper in 1769. He began by tending his father's 100 hives, but a year later, he received a royal appointment as Austria's teacher of apiculture. He kept bees in the imperial gardens (Augarten) and traveled the country, eager to present information about his beloved bees.
Janša "became famous for his lectures in which he demonstrated his knowledge of bees," according to Wikipedia. "He also wrote two books in German: Discussion on Beekeeping and A Full Guide to Beekeeping. The latter was published in 1775, after his death. In Full Guide, Janša noted: Bees are a type of fly, hardworking, created by God to provide man with all needed honey and wax. Amongst all God's beings there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee."
A tip of the veil to Anton Janša!
More locally, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, celebrated bees during the "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work" Day. UC Davis employees and their offspring visited the half-acre garden on Bee Biology Road, admiring the flowers and the six-foot-long bee sculpture, Miss Bee Haven, that anchors the garden. The ceramic-mosaic sculpture is the work of Donna Billick of Davis, a self-described "rock artist."
Anton Janša would have felt right at home!
Among the bee haven visitors that day were two beekeepers: elementary school student Adelaide Grandia of Woodland and her grandfather Dwight Grandia of Gulf Shores, Alabama, who has kept bees for 39 years. "I've had hives in the Atlanta area for 25 years and in northern Alabama for 10 years," he said. "I'm teaching my granddaughter beekeeping." He recently set up a bee hive for her.
"My grandpa is a beekeeper," Adelaide said, "and a pilot." Her mother, UC Davis Professor Liza Grandia of Native American Studies, is also interested in bees.
David Hernandez, who works in the Facilities Management Steam Shop, brought his sons, Aayden, 10, and Evan, 8. They checked out the garden, installed in the fall of 2009, and gathered for a photo behind the pollinator cut-out board, as did colleague Kris McBride of the Facilities Management Steam Shop and son, Deegan, 4-1/2.
UC Davis staff employee Xu Chunying and son, Andy, delighted in the catch-and-release activity, in which youths catch bees in a vacuumlike tube device, examine them, and then release them. Honey bees, native bees and carpenter bees are favorite subjects.
Ariel Cormier, who works in the Office of the Chancellor and Provost as manager of Budget and Financial Analysis, attended with her eight-year-old twin daughters Casey and Gabrielle. They delighted in the bees, blossoms, and the beautiful day.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Group tours are also available for a small charge. For more information, access the website.
When you're a little kid and there's a huge bee towering over you, what do you do?
You do what comes naturally.
Kids reacted differently toward the adults who donned the California Master Beekeeper Program's queen bee costume at the third annual California Honey Bee Festival last Saturday in downtown Woodland.
Some looked at Ms. Queen Bee, quite quizzically. What's that?
Others gave her the high five, a smile, a giggle, or a hug as their parents moved in closer to take photos.
But one little boy clutching a stuffed toy pink pig did three things. First he offered an outstretched hand for a high five. Then he introduced his pink pig to Ms. Queen Bee. After the proper introductions, he asked if she would remove her head so he could see her face.
Ms. Queen Bee obliged, much to his delight.
The sign in front of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), which is directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, succinctly explained what the program is all about: "Educating stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping."
Master Beekeeper Wendy Mather, program manager of CAMPB, and several others staffed the booth, while research associate Bernardo of the Niño lab opened hives inside a screened tent to show visitors what a colony looks like. Bernardo, who serves as the educational supervisor for CAMPB, introduced the crowd to the queen bee, worker bees and drones.
The California Honey Festival, sponsored by the City of Woodland and the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, included a cooking stage, a UC Davis educational stage, a kids' zone, a refreshment zone, and live entertainment.
UC Davis was well represented. Among the UC Davis attractions: the Honey and Pollinator Center offered free honey tasting; the Bohart Museum of Entomology displayed both live insects and specimens; the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven provided pollinator gardening information; the UC Davis Graduate Student Association offered t-shirts; and the UC Davis Stores offered a selection of beekeeping and bee books, including "The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees" by emeritus professor and retired bee wrangler Norm Gary.
More than 30,000 people attend the festival every year. Its mission: to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping. Through lectures and demonstrations, the crowd can learn about bees and how to keep them healthy. Issues facing the bees include pests, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition, and climate changes.
And sometimes understanding honey bees all begins when a little kid can engage with a smiling, costumed queen bee--and she obligingly removes her head!
Just check out the Bohart Museum of Entomology's newly published calendar.
"Mr. January" is a locust sitting quite comfortably in a chair--a swivel chair at that--and eagerly accessing a dating site. "You've got a match!" the screen informs him.
Yippee! You can almost hear him yelling "Yippee."
The caption reads: "Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction."
The rest of the story: Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and longtime professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, collects unusual answers on the student tests she administers. You can imagine how many sentences comprise her collection: she joined the faculty back in 1989!
The "dating locust" is one of 12 from the Lynn Kimsey Prized Collection that made it into the Bohart's first-ever calendar. UC Davis entomology major Karissa Merritt, a talented artist and scientist known for her creativity and sense of humor, interpreted and illustrated all the sentences.
The calendar, a project of the non-profit Bohart Museum Society, sells for $12, plus tax, at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. (More information is available on the website or by contacting email@example.com or (530) 753-0493.) It's also available in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology administration office in 367 Briggs Hall.
Those who contribute $50 or more to the Bohart Museum Society will receive a calendar with their donation. All proceeds are earmarked for research, education and outreach projects.
Merritt says insects fascinate her. She's amazed at how "alien their biology and morphology are as compared to vertebrates." She's also drawn to their beauty and diversity.
Professor Kimsey, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, directs the world-renowned Bohart Museum, home of eight million specimens, a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo" which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. She specializes in bees, wasps and insect diversity.
And collecting sentences--many apparently from sleep- or caffeine-deprived students.
"Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction."
Ever seen the male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) protecting its turf?
It's "no-holds barred" on our blue spike sage (Salvia uliginosa) and frankly, it's a delight to see and photograph.
The highly territorial male body-slams all floral visitors, including honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and butterflies that are trying to seek a little nectar, too.
The wool carder bee (so named because the female scrapes or cards leaf fuzz for her nest) is an Old World bee belonging to the family Megachilidae (which also includes leafcutter and mason bees, among others). Accidentally introduced into the United States from Europe, this pollinator was first discovered in New York State in 1963, and then spread across the continent. Scientists found it in Davis, Calif. in 2007.
In size, wool carder bees are comparable to honey bees. They're readily distinguished, however, by their striking yellow markings on their black abdomens, and yellow faces. Males are considerably larger than females, and have a spine on either side of the last two abdominal segments and three spines on the last segment, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis. Those spines have been mistaken for stingers, but only females have stingers.
One thing's for sure: their highly aggressive behavior tends to make honey bees forage faster! They don't want to get bonked! (Davis insect photographer Allan Jones aptly calls them "bonker bees.")
In our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., European wool carder bees seem to prefer blue flowers, especially our blue spike sage.
In fact, noted entomologist George Eickwort, writing in 1980 in the journal Psyche, observed that they seem to prefer "blue flowers with a relatively long throat."
We've seen the male carder bees protect patches of lamb's ear, foxgloves, catmint, oregano, cosmos, African blue basil, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
However, they seem to go "bonkers" over bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) and blue spike sage (Salvia uliginosa).
A blue plate special...
The Anise Swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, fluttered into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the Verbena.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, identified the gender: "it's a girl."
The Anise Swallowtail, our first sighting of the season, bypassed the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii.
But she'll be back--hopefully to gather some more nectar and lay her eggs on our fennel.
The Verbena patch was a little too populated for her liking--honey bees and yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, wanted their share of the nectar, too.
"The Anise Swallowtail is a complex set of ecological races, or 'ecotypes,' whose seasonality has been adjusted by natural selection to match that of their host plants," says Shapiro on his research website. He's studied butterfly populations in central California since 1972.
"In multivoltine populations the spring brood is typically small, pale, heavily marked with blue and with narrow dark borders on all wings. Summer individuals are larger, with richer yellow color, broader black borders and little or no blue in males. Univoltine populations tend to be intermediate between these extremes. The small larvae resemble bird droppings. Large larvae are pale green with black bands containing orange spots; in hot, dry sites there is more green and less black, while under cool, humid conditions the green may even disappear! The pupae may be brown or green."
Read more about the swallowtail, including its food sources, on Shapiro's web page.
Meanwhile, whether you see your first Anise Swallowtail of the season or the last of the season, you'll want to see more of this yellow-mellow butterfly!