While folks from Alaska to Colorado to New York to Maine are shivering in freezing temperatures, here in sunny California--well, at least parts of the Golden State are sunny--bumble bees are foraging on winter blooms.
Bumble bees? On the first day of the year?
Yes. We spotted a dozen yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring this morning in Benicia, Solano County, Calif.
They were foraging on jade at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and on rosemary at the Benicia Marina. Honey bees and syrphid flies joined them. We also saw some hungry predators--birds--chasing them.
For the last several years, several of us bumble bee aficionados--led by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis--seek to find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year.
Last year the big winner was naturalist and insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis. At 2:02 p.m., on Friday, Jan. 27, he alerted us: "Two Bombus melanopygus on manzanita just east of the redwood grove (UC Davis Arboretum)."
And then he found another melanopygus. It was a three-in-one day.
The story behind the story: Inspired by Robbin Thorp, a small group of eager bumble bee aficionados--naturalists and insect photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones of Davis, and yours truly of UC Davis--launched the First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest six years ago.
It's a take-off of Art Shapiro's "Beer for a Butterfly" contest. Shapiro, a distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, offers a pitcher of beer for the first cabbage white butterfly (Pierae rapae) of the year found in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento. He launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate.
For us bumble bee aficionados, the prize isn't a pitcher of beer. There's no prize. It's basically to provide a few more eyes to help Robbin Thorp track early-season bumble bees.
Thorp is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
Meanwhile, look around for bumble bees in your area. You won't find them in the "deep freeze" states like Alaska, North Dakota or Minnesota. And you certainly won't find them in Hettinger, N.D., where the temperature dipped to a negative 45 degrees today.
But if you're in Benicia or another sunny place, it's a Bumble Bee Kind of Day and what a way to begin the New Year!
Happy New Year!
Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, annually sponsors the "Beer for a Butterfly" contest, offering a pitcher of beer for the first cabbage white butterfly (Pierae rapae) of the year found in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento. He launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate. This year he again won the contest; he collected a newly eclosed butterfly at 1:56 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19 near the Solano Park Apartments on the UC Davis campus.
But where's the first bumble bee of the year in the Yolo county area?
At 2:02 today (Friday, Jan. 27) naturalist and insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis alerted us: "Two Bombus melanopygus on manzanita just east of the redwood grove (UC Davis Arboretum)."
And then he found another melanopygus. It was a three-in-one day.
The story behind the story: five years ago, a small group of keen-eyed bumble bee aficionados (Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide; and three naturalists and insect photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones of Davis, and yours truly of UC Davis) launched our own contest.
In an unusual twist, Jones found both genders at the same time. After finding and photographing two males just east of the Arboretum's redwood grove, he spotted and photographed a female just west of it.
"Surprising to see males this early in the season," noted Thorp, who co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. "Unusual to see males before any workers are on site. Could be from a gyne that overwintered but was not mated before she went into hibernation; or maybe the sperm she received were not viable; or maybe she was unable to release sperm from her spermatheca to some eggs as they passed through her reproductive tract."
"At any rate," Thorp told Jones, in congratulating him, "you got two firsts for the season at one time."
Great job, Allan Jones! And the bumble bee season begins...
That's the message we've all been waiting for.
Several of us bumble bee enthusiasts--Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, photographers Allan Jones and Gary Zamzow of Davis, and yours truly--have been searching for the first bumble bee of the year since...well...Jan. 1.
We've been hanging out near manzanita bushes, knowing that this is usually the place to find newly emerged bumble bees this time of year.
So today, Jones won. He headed over to "two beautiful manzanitas" near the off-ramps at Russell and Route 113, Davis, and spotted both the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and the three-banded bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. He captured these images (below) at noon.
"I believe they are also at Hutchinson and 113, but I did not need to go that far," Jones mentioned. "The bees seemed very wary and were high overhead so I was only able to get record shots."
Good job, Allan! You nailed it!
And just in time for Valentine's Day.
Note: If you want to learn more about bumble bees, check out Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) both co-authored by Robbin Thorp and other scientists.
We're almost midway through National Pollinator Week!
It's a week that we should celebrate every day.
Last weekend we spotted a newcomer to our backyard bee garden: a bumble bee species, Bombus fervidus, formerly known as Bombus californicus, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and bumble bee enthusiast Gary Zamzow of Davis.
The female was heading toward a purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, and then touched down in a "Queen-of-the-Mountain" moment.
This bumble bee species is commonly known as "the yellow bumble bee," according to the co-authors of the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide, authored by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson and Sheila Colla (Princeton University Press).
It's widely spread across the continent. "Evidence from DNA barcodes supports a close relationship between individuals with the darker color pattern in the west (named californicus) and individuals with the lighter color patterns in the east (named fervidus)," they wrote.
Who knew? DNA./span>/span>
Don't you just love watching bumble bees?
This morning we watched a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) foraging on lavender. It moved quickly from one blossom to another, barely allowing us time for a "bee shoot." It was "bee gone" every time we aimed the camera.
Finally, it cooperated.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, identified it as a male, the first (photo of a male Bombus vosnesenskii) he's seen this season.
He thinks a prize is in order.
Thorp, co-author of the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton Press), and Davis photographers Gary Zamzow and Allan Jones and yours truly usually have a friendly competition to find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year, of the month, of the day, of the minute. Well, almost. It's "Bumble Bee Alert" a lot. On Christmas Day, I managed to capture an image of a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on jade blossoms at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Solano County. (The black-tailed bumble bees emerge much earlier than the yellow-faced bumble bees.)
Now a Bumble Bee Watch group has launched a website to track bumble bee populations across the U.S. and Canada. This is a collaborative effort among several conservation groups and universities, according to the website and they need your sightings, including photos. As a spokesperson said: "The information will help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees, and help locate rare or endangered populations. They will also help with identification!"
Well, today, I watched one male Bombus vosnesenskii, and he watched me.
My prize? Just enjoying--and appreciating--nature at its finest.
(Note: How can you distinguish a male from a female Bombus vosnesenskii? Said Robbin Thorp: "Boy bumble bees have an one more segment in the antenna and the abdomen than females do. The tip of the abdomen is also more rounded. Male bees do not have any pollen transport structures. In bumble bees, this means that the hind tibia is much more slender than in females which have corbiculae (pollen baskets). In Bombus vosnesenskii there is a second partial yellow band on the abdomen on T-5."
"The most accurate test of female vs male bumble bees, is to pick up a specimen with a bare hand. If you get stung, it is a female, if not, it is a boy bee. Boy bees can't sting, because they have no stinger. But I do not recommend this test unless you already know the answer! :)"