The contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology memorializes Thorp (1933-2019), a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor and global expert on bumble bees who always looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee of the year.
De Grassi captured a video of a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on a prized ceanothus plant on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8 in her backyard in Davis.
She recorded the video on her cell phone at 12:32 p.m. to win the contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and memorializing global bee expert Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. (See her YouTube video)
De Grassi, a former director of federal policy, livestock, animal health and welfare for the California Farm Bureau Federation, credits the storm, the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, and her working relationships with bee scientists, including Thorp, as having a hand in either her find and/or her interest in plants and pollinators.
The three previous winners (2022 was a tie) each photographed a bumble bee in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. Ironically, de Grassi bought her prized ceanothus at an Arboretum plant sale.
“I was doing clean-up in my backyard after Saturday night's rain and a 50-plus mile-per-hour windstorm,” said de Grassi, now an agricultural policy consultant. “The wind had subsided to a breeze by then. As I walked past my Ray Hartman ceanothus—which I purchased from a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale years ago when I did a garden makeover to be pollinator-friendly—I noticed some extra-long ceanothus branches that needed to be pruned, including some with super-early blooming flowers.”
De Grassi returned with her pole trimmer and started cutting. It was then she noticed a bumble bee foraging on her ceanothus--and when she remembered the “friendly Bohart Museum contest” inviting folks to find and photograph the first bumble bee in the two-county area of Solano and Yolo.
“I fumbled to retrieve my cell phone from my pocket to record, just to get in on the fun,” said de Grassi. “These bumbles dart around a lot, they don't stay put for photo ops.”
De Grassi knew Thorp from her professional work with the California Farm Bureau Federation and from her friendship with bee scientists Timothy Lawrence and Susan Cobey, formerly of UC Davis. “Tim and Sue were active in the California Farm Bureau's statewide Bee Advisory Committee that I managed,” she said. Lawrence is now a Washington State University Extension county director (Island County) and Cobey, a WSU bee breeder geneticist.
“I love documenting nature's cool stuff and especially the surprises we uncover when we pause long enough to notice,” de Grassi commented. The caterpillars she discovered eating her coral fountain (aka “firecracker plant,” Russelia equisetiiformis) led to UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro documenting it as a butterfly larval host.
“Gardening for pollinators has become my passion pastime. I like to give native and managed bees pesticide-free forage.”
As her prizes, de Grassi received a Franklin's bumble bee coffee cup from the Bohart Museum and handmade bee gifts (including a zippered bee-motif bag and bee-motif soaps) from Teresa Hickman of Vacaville, owner of "Handmade by Teresa."
De Grassi holds two degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's degree in agricultural science and management and a master's degree in animal science. She is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science Development Board, and a former member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association Board and the UC Davis Foundation Board of Trustees.
The Davis resident is no stranger to the UC Davis Arboretum (site of the previous winners). “I've walked the Arboretum since the time I was an undergrad here. It's my favorite place on campus and was absolutely my inspiration for plant choices in my urban garden makeover.”
Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson of the Neal Williams lab and the Elina Lastro Niño lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the 2021 contest by photographing a B. melanopygus at 3:10 p.m., Jan. 14 in a manzanita patch in the Arboretum.
UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, tied for first in the 2022 contest by each photographing a bumble bee foraging on manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in the Arboretum at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1.
Page, who now holds a doctorate in entomology, photographed a B. melanopygus, while Zagory captured an image of the yellow-faced bumble bee, B. vosnesenskii.
Thorp, a 30-year member of the UC Davis faculty, and a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, retired in 1994, but he continued working until several weeks before his death on June 7, 2019 at age 85. In 2014, he co-authored two books: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University,) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
She was all bees-ness, this yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii.
There she was, foraging in a bed of steely blue-purple flowers, Eryngium amethystinum, a genus that belongs to the carrot family, Apiaceae.
A native bee on a non-native plant.
It was Saturday, Nov. 19 and the temperature hovered at a unseasonable 64 degrees in the Sunset Gardens, Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, Calif.
Unseasonable weather and an unseasonable bumble bee.
B. vosnesenskii are spring bees, and this time of year, the queen is usually hibernating, according to the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and a global authority on bees. In his retirement, he co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
“Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination," he told us several years before his passing. "This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Professor Thorp would have loved to see this bumble bee in Sonoma. He also would have loved to know that the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis launched the annual Robbin Thorp Memorial First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest in 2021.
Contest coordinator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, seeks the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo or Solano. The rules are simple: photograph it, record the time and date, and email the image to the Bohart Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coincidentally, this year UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden each took their images at exactly 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 in the Arboretum to share the award.
Page captured her image of B. melanopygus, considered the earliest Bombus species to emerge in this area, and Zagory, of B. vosnesenskii. (See Jan. 3, 2022 Bug Squad blog)
And fittingly, they both knew and worked with Professor Thorp.
Their prize? Each receive a coffee cup designed with the endangered Franklin's bumble bee, a bee that Thorp closely monitored in its small range at the California-Oregon border. The cup features an image of a bee specimen, photographed by Bohart scientist Brennen Dyer, and designed by UC Davis doctoral alumnus Fran Keller, professor at Folsom Lake College.
On Oct. 17?
But there he was, the familiar golden bee with green eyes, robbing nectar from a Mexican petunia, Ruellia simplex, in a Vacaville, Calif., garden.
"Nectar robbing" occurs when a bee bypasses the pollination process and "cheats" by entering a flower from the outside to steal the nectar. This one proved to be a good robber, as he buzzed from blossom to blossom to drill holes in the corolla and sip the nectar.
This is the bee that the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, called "the teddy bear bee." It looks fluffy and cuddly and it doesn't sting. Or as Thorp used to say, "Boy bees don't sting." Often he would show a newly collected male Valley carpenter bee to youngsters at a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house (in the spring) and encourage them to hold him. You could see the utter delight on their faces.
Valley carpenter bees are a perfect example of sexual dimorphism. The females are solid black and the males are golden with green eyes. (See more information about wild bees in the book California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by University of California-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter.)
As Thorp told us several years ago for a news story: This Valley carpenter bee (formerly known as as Xylocopa varipuncta) "occurs in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee), with all black females and golden/buff-colored males with green eyes. Females have dark wings with violet reflections."?
Some folks think it's a pest. It's not. It's a pollinator.
And if you spot a male in October, just call it "Mr. October." Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson probably wouldn't mind.
Honey bees absolutely love African blue basil. If there ever were a "bee magnet," this plant is it.
We first learned of African blue basil, (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal'), through Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor and the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. They co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists with Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
We plant it every year in our pollinator garden. Wikipedia calls African blue basil "a cross between camphor basil and dark opal basil. "African blue basil plants are sterile, unable to produce seeds of their own, and can only be propagated by cuttings.
"All parts of the flower, leaves and stems are edible; although some might find the camphor scent too strong for use in the kitchen, the herb reportedly yields a tasty pesto with a 'rich, mellow flavor' and can be used as a seasoning in soups and salads, particularly those featuring tomato, green beans, chicken, etc.," Wikipedia tells us. "The leaves of African blue basil start out purple when young, only growing green as the given leaf grows to its full size, and even then retaining purple veins. Based on other purple basils, the color is from anthocyanins, especially cyanidin-3-(di-p-coumarylglucoside)-5-glucoside, but also other cyanidin-based and peonidin-based compounds."
A final note that Wikipedia relates: It "blooms profusely like an annual, but being sterile can never go to seed. It is also taller than many basil cultivars. These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Right. "These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Wikipedia forgot to mention that blooms are "very good at attracting predators," like praying mantids. They go where the bees are, and the bees are in the African blue basil.
Can you find the mantis in the image below?
The good news? That the iconic monarch landed on the Red List, which means opening safeguards to protect it.
The bad news? Being on the list means that it's closer to extinction. The other bad news? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has not yet listed it as endangered or threatened, only that it's a candidate for its list of endangered and threatened wildlife.
The sad news? The IUCN Red List now includes 147,517 species, of which 41,459 are threatened with extinction.
IUCN, the global network conservation authority based in Switzerland, is comprised of more than 1,400 member organizations, with input from some 15,000 experts.
Percentages punctuate the story of the declining monarch population. "The western population is at greatest risk of extinction, having declined by an estimated 99.9%, from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021," according to the IUCN news release. "The larger eastern population also shrunk by 84% from 1996 to 2014. Concern remains as to whether enough butterflies survive to maintain the populations and prevent extinction."
IUCN fittingly called attention to climate change, pointing out that "climate change has significantly impacted the migratory monarch butterfly and is a fast-growing threat; drought limits the growth of milkweed and increases the frequency of catastrophic wildfires, temperature extremes trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is available, while severe weather has killed millions of butterflies."
So here we are, our favorite butterfly "teetering on the edge of collapse," as IUCN monarch butterfly assessment leader Anna Walker so accurately put it. Yet, Walker, a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Butterfly and Moth Specialist Group and Species Survival Officer at the New Mexico BioPark Society, sees signs of hope, as people and organizations come together to try to protect the monarch and its habitats.
So much to do...
Meanwhile, have you seen any monarchs lately?
You can participate in the sixth annual International Monarch Monitoring Blitz, set from July 29 to Aug. 7. You're invited to look for milkweed plants and report their observations of monarchs (eggs. caterpillars, chrysalids and adults) to Journey North:
- Learn how to participate: view and download our instructional flyer»
- Read the press release»
- Learn more about the Monarch Blitz»
Over the last several years, we've seen dozens of monarchs in our family's pollinator garden in Vacaville. In 2020, we observed some 300 eggs and caterpillars. So far this year: Zero, zip, nada.
Let's hope that the monarch doesn't go the way of Franklin's bumble bee, the bee that Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, monitored for decades in its small range of southern Oregon and northern California. He was instrumental in placing the bumble bee, Bombus franklini. on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2008. He also worked to place it on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species List, which occurred in 2021.
Thorp, the last known person to see Franklin's bumble bee in its native habitat, spotted it in 2006 near Mt. Ashland. The bee inhabits--or did--a 13,300-square-mile area confined to five counties--Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California; and Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon. Every year biologists, citizen scientists, volunteers, landowners and students form a search party to look for it. This year more than 70 people participated. Sadly, it's feared extinct.