A sign on a recycling bin near the Mann Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, clearly reads "Bottles and Cans Only."
It says nothing about wasps.
But there they were: European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) building a nest yesterday beneath the overhanging lid of a bright blue recycling bin meant for "Bottles and Cans Only."
"They make open-faced nests under eaves all over the place," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Associate professor Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, who studies European paper wasps (she's also delivered several presentations at UC Davis) says she's seen "many interesting (nest) places— in mailboxes, under the caps of metal gas cylinders, on outdoor thermometers."
They're also meat eaters. We've seen them shred adult Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) butterflies and caterpillars in our yard and fly off with the parts.
Since this is National Pollinator Week, it should be noted that European paper wasps are pollinators.
Take it from Professor Toth who loves her research subjects. It was she who coined and popularized the Twitter hashtag #wasplove.
For a previous Bug Squad blog, we asked what she loves about wasps. Her answers are worth repeating!
- They are pollinators.
- They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants.
- They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
- They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
- They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
- Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior,
- They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
- They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
- They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
That they are. However, they have never been known to read or adhere to "Bottles and Cans Only" signs--or stay away from donation boxes filled with paper bills.
A spectacular pollinator garden that's a "must-see" is Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone.
Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author who addressed the UC Davis Bee Symposium in March on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," has created a masterpiece. And yes, the pollinator garden is open to the public--no admission fee.
We visited the garden last Saturday and saw a pipevine swallowtail nectaring on Nepeta tuberosa, yellow-faced bumble bees sipping nectar from Stachys bullata, hummingbirds scoring nectar from salvia, and honey bees foraging on everything from Scabiosa "Fama Blue" to a native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
This is a happy place.
As she told the crowd at the Bee Symposium, hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: Whether you plant them, nurture them, or walk through them, bee gardens make us happy.
Frey's sign at the Sonoma pollinator garden explains that "All the plants offer food resources of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Pollen is a protein, mineral and fat source and is primarily a larval food for bees, while nectar is composed of various sugars and is the main food for pollinators and the adult life stage of many beneficial insects. Pollinators need a continuous food source for many months of the year. This garden contains a range of plants that will bloom in succession from early spring to late fall."
Frey's sign also noted that "Pollinators all have preferred plants they feed from, and flowers cater to specific pollinators. Some flower shapes are designed to exclude unwanted pollinators. The long, constricted floral tubes of honeysuckles or many salvia exhibit their focus on hummingbirds as primary pollinators. Other flowers nectar, like coffee berry is easily accessible to all pollinators. This garden contains a wide range of plants to appear to a variety of pollinators. Over 80 percent of flowering plants require insect or animal pollination. What insects or birds do you see visiting each flower type?"
Well, let's see: bees, butterflies, and birds...Apis mellifera, Battus philenor, Bombus vosnesenskii, Papilio rutulus, Calypte anna...
"The same plants that support pollinators," Frey indicated on the sign, "also make us happy."
They do! Happiness is a pollinator garden...
As noted entomologist May Berenbaum pointed out, it's "a celebration of Earth's 100,000-plus animal species that, by transporting pollen and facilitating flower fertilization, make life possible for two-thirds of the world's flowering plants."
Berenbaum wrote an excellent pollinator piece posted yesterday on the National Academy of Sciences' Facebook page. It bears repeating.
Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America, related: "Not entirely coincidentally, 2017 is an anniversary for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—it's the tenth year since the publication of the Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America report, a committee I chaired."
"My association with pollinator issues goes back to 2004, when, as Chair of the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources, I was an outspoken advocate for a study to determine whether North America's pollinator species were declining, as appeared to be happening elsewhere in the world. The committee released its findings in October 2006, among the most striking of which was a decline in the numbers of commercial honey bees such that, were the trend to continue, the U.S. apiculture industry, on which producers of over 90 crops depend, 'would vanish by 2035.' In a remarkable confluence of events, that same month, the first reports of what was later dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) surfaced; bees literally began vanishing, abandoning depleted, doomed colonies. Concern in the agricultural community and then the general public escalated and has remained high ever since. So, sadly, have losses; although CCD itself has declined, in the past year America lost one-third of its commercial colonies."
"The 2007 report also concluded that, unlike honey bees, population data for thousands of America's native pollinators (including its 4,000 native bee species) were sorely lacking and called for increasing efforts to engage the public in documenting, mitigating, and reversing declines," Berenbaum noted. "Since then, many data gaps have been filled and conservation strategies implemented. In 2014, President Obama prioritized a national strategy to promote pollinator health, including public-private partnerships to restore pollinator habitat."
This year the rusty-patched bumblebee "became the first continental bee to be protected under the Endangered Species Act," Berenbaum wrote.
Let's hope there will be many others.
Background on the rusty-patched bumble bee: Among those credited with sounding the alarm was Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. It was a long, dedicated and challenging effort by many people who care. In 2010 Thorp co-authored a petition sent to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The petition was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013. In 2015, agency officials agreed to consider it. In 2016, they proposed protection. Then on Jan. 10, 2017, the agency listed the rusty-patched bumble bee as an endangered species.
Other key players in making this all happen included natural history photographer/filmmaker Clay Bolt and his friends at the Day's Edge Productions, which created the award-winning film, A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee with support from the Xerces Society and others. The result: nearly 200,000 persons signed a petition seeking endangered status for the bee.
Thorp, co-author of Bumble Bees of North America, An Identification Guide. continues to sound the alarm on the declining bumble bee population, especially Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), found only in a five-county area of northern California and southern Oregon.
He's been monitoring the elusive bee since 1998, but sadly, hasn't seen it since Aug. 9, 2006 when he spotted it in a meadow near Mt. Ashland. (See Bug Squad)
Thorp helped place Franklin's bumble bee on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). "Bombus franklini occurs only in the USA," IUCN relates. "It is found only from southern Oregon to northern California between the Coast and Sierra-Cascade Ranges, in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine and Siskiyou and Trinity counties in Oregon and California, respectively. This area is around 190 miles in the north-south direction (40º58' to 43º30'N latitude) and 70 miles from east to west (122º to 124ºW longitude)."
Franklin's bumble bee is named in 1921 for Henry J. Franklin, who monographed the bumble bees of North and South America in 1912-13. During its flight season, from mid-May through September, Franklin's bumble bee frequents California poppies, lupines, vetch, wild roses, blackberries, clover, sweet pea, horsemint and mountain penny royal. It collects pollen primarily from lupines and poppies, and gathers nectar mainly from mints.
As the end of the 10th annual National Pollination Week nears, there is so much more to be done to understand, protect and celebrate our pollinators to ensure that they don't "end."
As May Berenbaum said: "A week hardly seems long enough for the celebration!"/span>
“I'd love to attract honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators, but what can I do?" you ask. "Where do I start?"
So we asked world-class garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, a two-time gold medal winner at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London, co-founder of the American Garden School, and co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University) for her advice.
Few people are as passionate about pollinators and pollinator gardens as Kate Frey.
We heard her speak at the Native Bees Workshop last September at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, Mendocino County, and we tagged along on her guided tour of her one-acre spectacular garden at her Hopland home, where she and husband Ben and assorted pets reside. We also heard her speak on "Gardening for Bees, Beauty and Diversity" May 14 at Annie's Annuals and Perennials, Richmond.
Kate is highly sought as a speaker, whether it be at sustainable landscape programs, gardening seminars, or at UC workshops. Among her affiliates: University of California entomologists Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis, and Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley. (Read what Frankie has to say about native bees.)
So, what to do first? Kate offers these tips:
- Create healthy gardens that require no pesticides by using the right plant, right place approach, add quality compost to all plants and irrigate adequately.
- Choose appropriate plants for your water, soils, exposure, climate, and if annuals, season!
- Think in terms of abundance, not minimalism. Plant at least a 3-x-3 foot area of each plant, or repeat the same plant throughout your garden. Each honey bee colony needs an estimated one-acre of flowers to support it.
- Goal: 12 months of bloom. Plants can be annuals, perennials, shrubs or trees.
- Make sure plants do offer floral resources, as many landscape plants don't.
- Have patches or repeated plants of the same flower. Honey bees practice floral constancy.
- Include water for honey bees
- Sunny spaces are the best.
- Provide bee-block nests and mulch-free nest sites for native bees.
All great advice! Indeed, we should think of pollinators as not mere "visitors," but permanent residents. Plant what they like and they will come. To ensure that they will stay stay, leave soil bare for ground-nesting bees, such as bumble bees. And don't forget those bee-block nests, or bee condos, for leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees.
- Asclepias milkweeds, all
- Asters, Aster x frikartii 'Monch' A. ericoides ‘Monte Casino', A. laterifolius Lady in Black'
- Agastache, ‘Black Adder' ‘'Purple Haze' Rosy Giant' ‘Tutti Frutti' and many more
- Arbutus unedo, Strawberry tree
- Arctostaphylos, most Manzanita
- Calamentha nepetoides, Calamentha
- Ceanothus, all California lilac
- Epilobium, California fuchsia. There are many good cultivars
- Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat
- Gaillardia, Blanket flower
- Helianthus bolanderi, native shrubby sunflower
- Monardella villosa, Coyote mint
- Nepeta faassenii, all nepetas, Catmint
- Origanum, flowering oregano, all. Origanum 'Santa Cruz' and 'Bristol Cross' are good.
"Bee gardens make people happy," Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn write in their book. "Whether you enjoy a brilliant chorus of saturated color, a tranquil sanctuary from the busy world, or a hardworking edible garden, there is a glorious, flower-filled bee garden waiting for you."
Yes, we all need a happy place. And so, too, do the pollinators.
This is Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as "the teddy bear bee."
It's a green-eyed blond and as fuzzy as any teddy bear you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls them "teddy bear bees" and the name has stuck. (And being "boy bees," they cannot sting. See close-up photo on Bug Squad.)
Scampavia, who is studying how farming practices affect bee nesting for her doctorate in entomology, recently won the top graduate student poster award at the first-ever UC Davis Bee Symposium, and provided the popular “Pollinator Pavilion” at the UC Davis Picnic Day.
She urges us to all pitch in and protect the pollinators. Good advice.
Scampavia, who studies with major professors Neal Williams and Ed Lewis of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and anticipates receiving her Ph.D. in 2016, lists three ways to “save the pollinators."
1. Provide food: Plant a variety of trees, shrubs and annual flower with blooms that differ in size, shape, color and flowering time. Planting native milkweeds also can help support monarch butterfly populations. Hummingbird and butterfly feeders can also provide additional food sources, but make sure to clean and disinfect your feeders regularly, as they can accumulate toxic fungi.
2. Provide homes: Bees can be limited by food or nesting opportunities. Native bees are usually not aggressive and unlikely to sting. A patch of bare soil can provide valuable nest sites for soil-nesting bees, particularly if the soil is loose and slightly damp. A dead stump or log, or shrubs with hollow stems, such as raspberry or elderberry, can also provide nests for cavity-nesting bees. “You can also make or order a ‘bee condo,' or a block of wood with holes of varying diameter,” she says. “Line these holes with paper tubes to make them easy to clean between years. Some bee species line their nests with rose, wisteria or fuzzy plants such as lamb's ear leaves, so growing these plants can help these bees, too.”
3. Provide pesticide shelters. As much as possible, try to reduce pesticide use in your garden, or use less toxic pesticides, such as soap sand oils. If you spray, do so when pollinators are not active--after dusk to before dawn. Try to avoid spraying flowers directly. Create a pesticide-free source of water and mud for bees and butterflies, such as a dripping faucet or a bird.
Her display showcased numerous live pollinators, including bees, butterflies and flies. She also drew in the crowds with informational posters on pollinators. The posters detailed how individuals can help support healthy pollinator populations.
Visitors could walk inside the zipped enclosure and be one-on-one with the pollinators, including the monarchs, blue orchard bees, and syprhid flies. Many took photos of the monarchs on their hands or arms. Younger visitors were encouraged to practice observing pollinators by filling out a data sheet counting the number of each type of pollinator they saw.
Scampavia recently won the top prize at the Bee Symposium with her poster, “Farming Practices Affect Nest Site Selection of Native Ground Nesting Bees.”
"Rei is mutli-talented: she is able to both conduct high quality research and communicate information about pollinators in engaging and effective ways," said Katharina Ullmann who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (Neal Williams lab) and is now a crop pollination specialist for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "Anyone who saw her award-winning poster at the Bee Symposium or who experience the pollinator pavilion at Picnic day knows that pollinators are lucky to have Rei working for them!"
Scampavia received her bachelor's degree in biology in 2008 from Mills College, Oakland. She began her doctoral studies at UC Davis in 2011. She earlier served as a biological science technician (plants) for the U.S. Forest Service, Groveland, Calif., and ; a research consultant for BMP Ecosciences in San Francisco.
Active in the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Scampavia was a member of the 2014 UC Davis Student Debate Team that won first place in the nationals. She also was a member of the 2013 UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won second at the annual meeting of the Pacific Branch of ESA.
If you want to meet Rei Scampavia and "talk bees," she'll be volunteering at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Friday, June 19. The haven, managed by staff director Chris Casey and faculty director Elina Niño, Extension apiculturist, is located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.
The half-acre bee garden, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is filled with blooms, bees and butterflies! The open house, free and open to the public, will include bee observation and identification, honey tasting, sales of native bee houses to support the haven, and information about low-water plants.
The garden is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.