Boys' Night Out!
Have you ever seen a cluster of longhorned male bees sleeping overnight on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)?
Every day around sunset, the longhorned bees, probably Melissodes agilis (tribe Eucerini), call it a day and head for their favorite flower (bedroom), which happens to be Tithonia in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. If you grow flowers for the native bees, and you wake up early in the morning before they do, you may see them, too.
The late native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor at the University of California, Davis, used to call this behavior "Boys' Night Out."
"Most frequently, the boy bee overnight clusters are single-species clusters," said Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, with UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter. He previously identified some of ours as Melissodes agilis.
In a previous Bug Squad blog, Thorp responded to a reader's inquiry about "stings" from the clustering bees. "Boy bees cannot sting," he pointed out. "They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
"Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest," Thorp answered. "Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Said Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
Longhorned bees are among the more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California. The co-authors of California Bees and Blooms focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent.
When was the last time you sighted a bumble bee? Photographed it?
It's National Pollinator Week and one of our favorite bumble bees is the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. It was also a favorite of internationally renowned bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who passed away June 7 at age 85. (See obituary)
In fact, all bumble bees were his favorite, including the elusive Franklin's bumble bee, found only in a small range in southern Oregon and northern California and now feared extinct. We remember a July 2010 interview with Thorp:
“People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee," Thorp told us. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”
“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” he said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. 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.”
Thorp treasured bumble bees and encouraged everyone else to do so, too.
The yellow-faced bumble bees are native to the west coast of North America, from Baja California to British Columbia. They're important pollinators, especially important for their buzz pollination of tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Buzz pollination occurs when they grab a blossom and shake it, dislodging the pollen. Honey bees can't do that.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently posted that one quarter (28 percent) of North American bumble bees are in some degree of extinction risk. "Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change." (See more information on bumble bees on the Xerces' site.)
Meanwhile, "across the pond," London has established a seven-mile long bee corridor of wildflowers just for pollinators.
"The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said wild mammals had declined by 82 per cent since 1980, space for natural ecosystems had halved, and one million species were now at risk of extinction as a result of human action," according to a May 7, 2019 article in The Independent newspaper. "Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Insects are required to maintain the existence of 75 per cent of crop species, 35 per cent of global crop production and up to 88 per cent of flowering plant species," reporter Harry Cockburn wrote.
Want to learn more about the bumble bees around us? A good start is to read these two books, both co-authored by Thorp in his retirement: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
And, if you would like to get involved in citizen science, Bumble Bee Watch seeks your sightings.
The distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis--he preferred to be known as “Robbin”--was a global and legendary authority on bees, an amazing person and an incredible scientist. He passed away today (Friday, June 7), surrounded by family at his home in Davis. He was 85.
Robbin, 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.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Robbin was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
As Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department said: “Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists. His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.”
And as Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, commented earlier this year: “Robbin is recognized internationally for his expertise and research on bees, especially non-Apis species, known as wild bees. I doubt that there is anyone else in the world who can compete with his expertise in the systematics of the 20,000 species of bees on this earth. He has the perfect balance of research of field research on the biology and behavior as well as laboratory research on the taxonomy of bees.” He was the go-to person to identify a bee by species.
Yes, he was.
Born Aug. 26, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Mich., Robbin Thorp received his bachelor of science degree in zoology (1955) and his master's degree in zoology (1957) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Then it was off to UC Berkeley for his doctorate in entomology, awarded in 1964, the same year he joined the UC Davis entomology faculty. He taught courses from 1970 to 2006 on insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology.
In his retirement, Robbin co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). Locally, he was active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. In his research, he monitored bees in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He established a baseline in 2008 and detected more than 80 species of bees.
On a personal note: I first met Robbin in 2005. He maintained an office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road. Although he was “officially retired,” he worked at least 40 hours a week or more--yes, every week--from the time I met him in 2005 through 2018. He'd park his white pickup truck in front of the Laidlaw facility and head eagerly to his office. The bumble bee conservationist decorated his door and office with bumble bee images and posters. He greeted everyone as his friend. After his wife, Joyce, died in December 2018, he shortened his "office hours" at the Laidlaw, but he was always available by computer or phone.
Robbin would identify native bees for everyone—from scientists to students to colleagues to journalists and, frankly, anyone with an interest in bees. And he was delighted to do it. “I enjoy it,” he once told me. And for the same reason, he'd give presentations about native bees throughout much of California and beyond. Often he'd bring along bee specimens and--if one were available--a live male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. He called this fuzzy, green-eyed blond "The Teddy Bear Bee" and urged folks to look AND touch. "Boy bees can't sting," he assured them.
An authority on Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), Robbin began monitoring the franklini population in 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He last saw it in 2006 and was instrumental in placing it on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Folks took notice of his scientific and public awareness efforts. In August of 2016, a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter, followed him to a meadow where Robbin last saw Franklin's bumble bee. Sutter wrote about Robbin, then 82, in a piece titled "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
Next, Robbin sought to place the bumble bee and others on the Endangered Species List. Just last month Fish and Wildlife emailed us that this might occur. Meetings are underway for four petitioned species (B. occidentalis, B. crotchii, B. franklini, and B. suckleyi).
Highly honored by his peers, Robbin was named a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco in 1986; recipient of the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship of UC Davis in 2010; and recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. Other honors included: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he was a past president (2010-2011) of the Davis Botanical Society, and former chair (1992-2011) of the Advisory Committee for the Jepson Prairie Reserve, UC Davis/Natural Reserve System.
In an email today to colleagues, UC Davis doctoral alumnus Leslie Saul-Gershenz, associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, praised his "kindness, his support and his tremendous depth of knowledge. We will all miss the privilege of his friendship and joy of his buoyant personality."
Indeed, we will all miss Dr. Robbin Thorp, scientist extraordinaire, an absolute genius about “everything bees.” But he was much more than that. He was kind, gracious and caring. He was curious, knowledgeable and inspirational. He was the best of the best.
Toward the end of his life, his family read him accolades from his colleagues, researchers, alumni, students and citizenry, and he acknowledged each and every one, smiling. Did he know how much he was loved and appreciated? He did.
The boys are back in town.
After the long winter and rainy spring, the boys are back in town.
That would be the male Valley carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, or what Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls "the teddy bear bees."
They're fuzzy green-eyed blonds, while the female of the species is a solid black, a good example of sexual dimorphism.
You've heard folks say of dogs: "Their bark is worse than their bite?" Well, these bees can't sting ("boy bees don't sting"), but they're good bluffers as they buzz around you. They're also good pollinators.
We saw this one nectaring on our tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. He lingered among the honey bees and syrphid flies, and then buzzed off.
He will return.
Seeking more information about California's bees? Read the landmark book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press), the work of UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertte. The book is available online and at numerous other sites. At UC Davis, you can find it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (and with other bee books at UC Davis Stores)./span>
Next week promises to be memorable week for entomologists at the University of California, Davis.
Oh, how they wish they could clone themselves so they could be in two places at the same time: in San Diego and on the UC Davis campus.
First off is the 103rd annual meeting of the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) meeting in San Diego, which begins Sunday, March 31 and ends Wednesday, April 3. It will take place in the Hyatt Regency Mission bay Spa and Marina. (See schedule.)
Then there's the Entomology Alumni Reunion, with the participants arriving Sunday, March 31 and conferring all-day Monday and Tuesday, April 1-2 for camaraderie and tours. (See schedule.)
At the PBESA meeting, four UC Davis entomologists will be honored at the awards ceremony on Tuesday from 1 to 1:30 in the Regatta Pavillion:
- Molecular geneticist/physiologist Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who will receive the Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award
- Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor, the Plant-Insect Ecosystems AwardD
- Doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, the John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award; and
- Postdoctoral researcher Jessica Gillung (she received her doctorate from UC Davis in Decemberr, studying with major professor Lynn Kimsey), the Early Career Award. Gillung joined the Bryan Danforth Lab, Cornell University in January. (See news story.)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp of UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology will be honored at a special PBESA symposium, set from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2 in Bayview 1. Neal Williams is organizing the event. (See news story.)
The national championship UC Linnaean Games Team, comprised of UC Berkeley and UC Davis graduate students, is scheduled to compete, with the winner and second-place finisher qualified to compete in the nationals, to be held during the Entomological Society of America meeting in November in St. Louis. The UC team includes captain Ralph Washington Jr., who holds an entomology degree from UC Davis and is now a graduate student at UC Berkeley; and doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot and graduate student Zachary Griebenow, both of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis. The Linnaean Games are lively college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. (See news story)
Entomology Alumni Reunion
The third UC Davis Entomology Alumni Reunion is co-chaired by Will Crites and Arnold Menke. Forensic entomologist and adjunct professor Robert Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will keynote the banquet on Tuesday, April 2 in the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. He is known as "The Fly Man of Alcatraz" for his entomological research on the island. (See news story.) Kimsey serves as the advisor of the UC Davis Entomology Club.
The alumni will tour several campus facilities, including the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and the Shrem Museum of Art. (See updated agenda)
Department One of Best in the World
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is one of the best in the world. The most recent rankings by the Times Higher Education's Center for World University Rankings shows UC Davis as No. 7 globally.
Number of entomology faculty: 19
Number of nematology faculty: 3
Number of students enrolled in the doctorate program: 33
Number of students in the master's program: 4
Students enrolled in the entomology major: 38
Number of staff: 73
New to the department, as of March, is nematologist and assistant professor Shahid Siddique, from Iowa State University's Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. His areas of expertise include molecular plant-nematode interactions, plant parasitic nematodes.
Professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, joined the faculty in mid-2018. He is known for his expertise on spiders./span>