Benjamin Franklin reportedly said: "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
What about the sleeping patterns of bumble bees?
Bumble bees are definitely early risers--if the weather cooperates. They usually forage earlier than honey bees and also in cooler temperatures.
We spotted this bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, commonly known as a "black-tailed bumble bee," sleeping on a Spanish lavender blossom April 12 in a Vacaville, Calif. park.
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.
Keep your eye out for this bumble bee, which is the first species we see in this area. It will be the focus of the Robbin Thorp Memorial Bumble Bee Contest, which starts Jan. 1, 2021. The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, will sponsor the contest to see who can find the first one of the year.
Professor Thorp (1933-2019), 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 was among the instructors (2002-2019) of The Bee Course. 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.
For the past several years, several of us bumble bee enthusiasts, encouraged by Professor Thorp, have tried to find the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano. He always expressed delight when we reported back to him. This year Allan Jones of Davis photographed one on Jan. 6 on a white manzanita in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden (Yolo County) to win the contest. The bumble bee been found as early as Jan. 1 in Benicia (Solano County).
Still, no matter the month, it's a joy to see. This one's for you, Robbin.
Think bees. Think butterflies. Think plants that will attract them.
Members (you can join online or at the gate) can peruse and purchase plants from 9 to 11 a.m., and the general public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Members save 10 percent off their plant purchases, while new members receive an additional $10 off as a thank-you gift.
You can chat with the Arboretum folks to pick out that special plant you're seeking. They also provide an online list of available plants and/or you can download The Life After Lawn: Garden Gems Plant List.
Many of the plants at the sale are All-Stars. What's an All-Star? The Arboretum horticultural staff has identified "100 tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don't need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden." Many are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Most All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California.
If you miss the Oct. 7th sale, not to worry. There are two more fall plant sales:
Saturday, Oct. 21
Open to the Public: 9 a.m - 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 4
Public Clearance Sale: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
It's a good idea to BYOB (Bring Your Own Box), BYOW (Bring Your Own Wagon) or BYOC (Bring Your Own Cart).
While you're there, check out the 100-acre Arboretum, including the nearby Ruth Risdon Storer Garden (aka Storer Garden), a Valley-wise garden,and the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo (aka White Garden). Have you seen all of the 17 special gardens and collections?
They're called "living museums" because that's what they are. Living museums. And especially when they attract pollinators!
Here's the scenario: Our pollinator garden is buzzing with the sights and sounds of honey bees. Ah, spring! A few feet away, California scrub jays are nesting in the cherry laurel hedges. They leave periodically to gather food for their young. Dozens of honey bees are foraging in the Spanish lavender. They leave periodically to deliver nectar and pollen to their colonies.
It's Saturday, April 22, and I leave to cover the 103rd UC Davis Picnic Day. I am unaware that the scrub jays are having a picnic of their own in our Spanish lavender.
Scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica) eat bees. Honey bees. And lots of other insects, too, plus frogs, lizards, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. And yes, they will raid bird nests, eating the eggs AND the young.
But back to the bees. Our resident scrub jays seem to like our tenant honey bees a lot more than they should! We've seen them pick off a foraging bee, thrash it on the sidewalk, and decapitate it, leaving behind the bee abdomen (complete with stinger).
Scrub jays are intelligent. Never denigrate a scrub jay by calling it a "bird brain."
But what happened in our pollinator garden Saturday afternoon was totally unexpected.
Yours truly, shoeless but not sockless, walks out the back door and into the pollinator garden. I pad past the year-around bird feeder filled with seeds. (Our birds never go hungry!) I walk along the cement sidewalk separating the pollinator garden from the bed of Spanish lavender. And then...Ouch! What was that? Intense pain shoots up my foot. Feels like a barbed hook. A venomous barbed hook.
When that happens, it's important to remove the stinger (apiculturists call it a "sting") or the venom will keep pumping. We do and it doesn't.
Then, being the curious sort, I walk back to the sidewalk--this time wearing shoes!--and see dozens of headless bees. A veritable carnage. I pick one up for closer investigation, and I get stung again. On my hand. By a dead bee.
What are the odds? Well, it happens. Dead bees can sting.
“As you are aware, the nervous system of insects is quite a bit more decentralized than is our own,” says UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who completed 38 years of service in 2014 but continues to maintain an office in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
“A honey bee sting, even when detached from the bee body--particularly the brain, from a mammalian point of view--can continue to operate: dig the sting in deeper and pump in the venom,” he says. "So, the still fresh and functional abdomens of decapitated honey bees can function just as they do when ripped from the body by stinging. It doesn't matter how the sting gets into your tissue, the exoskeleton, muscles, nerve ganglion, and venom sac act just like they would from a real sting. The trick, in your case, was to step on the abdomen at the perfect angle to push the sting into your skin. From then on, nature took over."
"Have I heard of people being stung by excised bee stings before?" Mussen asks. "No, I haven't, but it makes perfect sense to me that it happened."
The next day, I walk into the yard, and I see and photograph a scrub jay decapitating a bee, discarding the abdomen. It has apparently learned not to mess with the business end of a bee.
As for me, I have learned not to go shoeless in the pollinator garden...or I may get the business end of a dead bee.
Ol' Blue Eyes.
What a treat to see. No, not an old movie starring Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), but the blue-eyed darner, the Rhionaeschna multicolor blue-eyed darner, Aeshna multicolor.
Like a spinning helicopter struggling in a brisk breeze, the dragonfly circled our Spanish lavender patch in our bee friendly (and dragonfly friendly) garden in Vacaville, Calif. for just the right spot. It finally landed its 2.6-inch frame on one of the outside blossoms.
Hey, here I am! Take my picture!
So, I did.
Then it flew over the fish pond and it was over and out.
The blue-eyed darner is one of California's earliest emerging spring dragonflies and what a beauty. Its distribution, according to Odonatocentral.org: "Central and western North America from southern Alberta and British Columbia to Texas and California southward to Morelos, Mexico."
"This is a common, predominately blue western species," according to Odonatocentral.org. "The face, eyes and pale spots are all brilliant blue...There are the usual pale blue spots throughout its length. The male cerci are forked. Females may have blue or yellow-green thoracic stripes and abdominal spots."
This is our first dragonfly sighting of the season.
The welcome mat is out.
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you go hungry.
Take the case of the huge jumping spider (a female Phidippus audax or bold jumping spider, as identified by Wade Spencer of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology) hanging out in our Spanish lavender. Hey, pretend I'm not here! It stealthily crawls up and down the stems, blending into the shadows. It summits the flowers, looking for bees. Where are the bees? Where is my dinner?
The predator and the prey. The hunter and the hunted. The jumping spider, with four pairs of eyes. The honey bee with five eyes (two large compound eyes and three smaller ocelli eyes). The jumping spider's bite is venom. The honey bee's sting is venom.
If they meet, it will be deadly. The spider will shoot venom in the bee, paralyzing it.
Meanwhile, the honey bees are buzzing from flower to flower, some oblivious to the dark shadow lurking near them. No ambush today.
Sometimes you go hungry.