Macro insect photographer extraordinaire Allan Jones captured an image of a female black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus on Monday, Jan. 6 on the UC Davis campus.
- The time: 1:45 p.m.
- The place: On white manzanita, just east of the 0ld Redwood Grove past the Old Davis Road/Arboretum Drive entrance, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden
- The temperature: About 56 degrees
"From the looks of her pollen load, she has been out collecting for some time now, so she must have been collecting earlier when it was colder yet," Jones reported. He saw one yesterday (Jan. 5 in Davis) west of El Macero but the bumble bee flew before he could photograph it. "I figured the black-tail ground nests were warmed up enough so they would be out early."
Jones, who worked closely with global bumble bee authority Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis, explained the warming of the nests:
"One summer while shooting bees soon after dawn at a lavender farm in the foothills, the first flight of bees were the bumble bees. Once it warmed up some, the honey bees showed up. So a few years ago I asked Robbin why on chill winter days I was seeing lots of honey bees, but no bumble bees. (Of course I was eager to win our contest.)
"He explained that bumble bees often nest facing north so that in cold mountainous climates, the warm southern sunshine does not warm their nests and lure them into a sudden drop in temperature or a snow squall that would kill them. Instead they wait for the ground and their nest to warm a bit before they venture out. It was Robbin's reasoning that lead me to believe that yesterday's B. melanopygus sighting in South Davis proved that local nests were warm enough that they would be flying with honey bees in the low '50s. A few years ago, the winner went out and got a shot on a day with very low temperatures as well, but she was on campus where buildings produce some tropical microclimates. This year I decided to get out early."
A little bit about the contest: Thorp launched the contest in 2012 with a small group of bumble bee enthusiasts/photographers: Allan Jones and Gary Zamzow of Yolo County, and yours truly of Solano County. Later UC Davis doctoral student Kim Chacon with the Geography Graduate Group (and on track to receive her doctorate in June 2020), joined the group. Chacon, who studies "habitat connectivity issues for bees at a landscape scale" (see her website on Resilient Bee Landscapes), worked closely with Thorp until his death in June 2019. She is a 2018 alumnus of The Bee Course, co-taught by Thorp.
The rules are simple: the first one who photographs the first bumble bee of the year in Yolo or Solano County wins the title! (No reward, just bragging rights)
The first bumble bee to emerge in this area is the black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. Native to western North America and found from California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho, it forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others.
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death. In 2014, during his retirement, he co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. He co-taught The Bee Course from 2002 to 2019. This is an intensive nine-day workshop affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. It's geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, spanning the 5300-acre campus, is a landmark on the UC Davis campus--and traces its beginnings to more than 80 years ago. As the website says, it includes "demonstration gardens and scientific collections as well as the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve – a rare stream and grassland ecosystem managed for teaching, research, wildlife and habitat protection."
Go visit the Arboretum--and be sure to look for the bumble bees!
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>