The excitement began when Martin Guerena, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist with the City of Davis, encountered a native bee nesting site Wednesday in front of the U.S. Bank, corner of 3rd and F streets, Davis.
Some passersby figured they were wasps and were asking bank officials to exterminate them.
Guerena contacted UC Davis officials and learned that these particular bees were sunflower bees, Svastra obliqua expurgata, nesting underground. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified them, and Katharina Ullmann, who last year received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now a crop pollination specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, circled the site with yellow caution tape today and posted an educational sign.
"This is a sunflower bee nesting site," Ullmann wrote. "These gentle bees are native and ground nesting. The females of this species are solitary bees, but like to nest near each other and often use the same nest entrance. Their nesting tunnels lead to individual chambers below the ground. Each chamber is filled with pollen, a single egg, and then closed off. These eggs will hatch, develop underground, and emerge next summer to build their nests. This sunflower bee is one of 1600 species of native bees found in California."
The sign included a "name tag" with the common name, scientific name, favorite food (pollen and nectar), favorite place to be (3rd St., Davis), favorite colors (yellow, red and orange) and favorite saying (YOLO, You Only Live Once).
Ullmann added: "Three things you can do to help this bee: (1) protect nests, (2) plant flowers and (3) use fewer insecticides.
Sunflower bees are also nesting nearby--near the Pizza Guys restaurant and the 7-Eleven parking lot. UC Davis entomology graduate student Margaret "Rei"Scampavia identified the bees as from the same genus, and also noted the presence of cuckoo bees.
Thorp says the female cuckoo bee, Triepeolus concavus, lays her eggs in the ground nests of other bees, including the sunflower bee, Svastra. Cuckoo bees are kleptoparasites, meaning that they steal the food stores provisioned by the host bee. Cuckoos lack pollen-collecting structures (scopa). So when the cuckoo bee eggs hatch, the larva will consume the pollen ball collected by the hosts, and kill and eat the host larvae. Like human kleptomanias, they've found a way to make it in this world at the expense of others.
Ullmann, who studied with pollination ecologist Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wants to protect the sunflower bees and figures an informational sign will help.
Frankly, it's quite appropriate that the sunflowers bees are nesting near the bank. They're making their own deposits--pollen!
Over at the UC Davis Arboretum GATEway Garden. off First Street in downtown Davis, sneezeweed is blooming and bees and butterflies are all over it.
We didn't see any of them "sneezing." :)
A female long-horned bee, Svastra obliqua expurgata (as identified by native pollinator expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, zipped from one blossom to another.
"It's a bee that prefers sunflower but will collect pollen from a variety of members of the Aster family," Thorp commented.
He's the co-author of the newly published book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (along with UC-affiliated colleagues Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville and Barbara Ertter), a must for everyone who wants to learn about bees and blooms.
The GATE in GATEway Project means Gardens, Arts, and The Environment. It's a portal into the UC Davis Arboretum, a welcome retreat, an enjoyable walking jogging and bicycling site, and an educational experience for UC Davis faculty, staff, students and visitors. Be sure to check out the other GATEways in the Arboretum, including the Animal Science GATEway Garden, the Geology GATEway Garden, and the Nature's Gallery Court.
And the sneezeweed? A wonderful choice. It's eye-catching to visitors and pollen-beckoning to pollinators. (And just in time for National Pollinator Week, June 15-21. It's sponsored by the National Pollinator Partnership.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service devotes a page to the sneezeweed. "Its abundant yellow blooms can be found in late summer to fall, often attracting bees and butterflies. Common sneezeweed can be found in much of the United States, in moist to wet openings, edges, shores, and thickets."
"Like other members of the aster family, the 1-2 inch sneezeweed flower is composite—with large, showy ray flowers that look like petals, and smaller disk flowers making up the center," writes Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest. She points out that thebright yellow "petals" are wedge-shaped, with three lobes on the outer end, drooping away from the central disk. The center is nearly spherical, projecting above the skirt-like whorl of petals. The center disk flowers are a duller yellow color than the petals. The plant's stem branches near the top, resulting in many flowers on each plant."
"Sneezeweed leaves are lance-shaped to narrowly oval, with a few teeth. These leaves occur alternately on the stem. They are directly attached, with the leaf base continuing down the stem as a wing. Sneezeweed stems can be slightly hairy and they can reach five feet or more in height."
If you don't want to call the yellow flower a sneezeweed, you can call it by its other common names, including Helen's flower, bitterweed, autumn sneezeweed and false sunflower.
Trull says the genus name, Helenium, "refers to the famous Helen of Troy. There is a legend that these flowers sprang from the ground where Helen's tears fell. The species name, autumnale, refers to the season of the flower's blooming—autumn. Synonyms for the scientific name include Helenium canaliculatum, H. latifolium, and H. parviflorum."
How did it get its name, sneezeweed? "According to a 1923 publication by H. Smith of the Milwaukee Public Museum, the name given to the plant by the Menominee Indians of the Wisconsin area is 'aiatci'a ni'tcîkûn,' which means "sneezing spasmodically," Trull says.
"With its large showy flowers, insects pollinate common sneezeweed, not wind," Trull writes. "Therefore, it does not have small pollen grains, like ragweed does, which cause sneezing and other hay fever symptoms. This is not the reason for the Menominee and English names for the plant. The common name is based on historic use of the crushed dried leaves and heads to make a form of snuff that caused sneezing. In certain cultures and times, sneezing was regarded as a desirable way to rid the body of evil spirits or a way to loosen up a head cold, so that a sneeze-producing remedy was desirable. Having crushed dried sneezeweed heads to collect the seeds, the author can attest to the plant's sneeze-producing power!"
But you don't want to eat the leaves, flowers or seeds. They're poisonous if eaten in large quantities, Trull says. They cause gastric and intestinal irritation to us human beings--"which can become fatal."
You also don't want livestock, especially sheep, or Fido around them.
The poisonous substance this plant produces serves to protect the plant from pathogens and herbivores--but not from pollinators!
Rachael Long, Yolo County farm advisor and director of the Yolo County Cooperative Extension program, has lined up a group of outstanding speakers at her Pollination Workshop on Friday, Oct. 11.
Open to the public (no registration required), the event will take place from 8:30 to noon in Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland.
You'll hear how hedgerows enhance biodiversity and provide crop benefits in agricultural landscapes, how insecticides reduce honey bee visitation and pollen germination in hybrid onion seed production, and why multiple stresses are hard on honey bees. Assisting her in coordinating the workshop is Katharina Ullmann, graduate student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Those are just a few of the topics.
8:30 to 8:35
Introductions and Updates
Rachael Long, Farm Advisor/County Director, UCCE Yolo County
8:35 to 8:55
"Hedgerows Enhance Biodiversity and Provide Crop Benefits in Agricultural Landscapes"
8:55 to 9:20
"Sustainable Pollination Strategies for Specialty Crops"
Neal Williams, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
9:20 to 9:40
"Insecticides Reduce Honeybee Visitation and Pollen Germination in Hybrid Onion Seed Production"
Sandra Gillespie, postdoctoral researcher in Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
9:45 to 10:10
"Best Management Practices for Squash and Pumpkin Pollination"
Katharina Ullmann, graduate student in Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
10:10 to 10:20
10:20 to 10:45
"Native Bee Nesting in Agricultural Landscapes: Implications for Sunflower Pollination"
Hillary Sardinas, graduate student, UC Berkeley's Environmental Sciences and Policy Management
10:45 to 11:10
"Restoring Pollinator Communities and Services in California Central Valley"
Claire Kremen, professor, UC Berkeley's Environmental Sciences and Policy Management.
11:10 to 11:35
"Maintaining Honey Bee Hives for Hive Health"
Billy Synk, manager and staff research associate, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis
11:35 to Noon
"Multiple Stresses are Hard on Honey Bees"
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
For more information, contact Rachael Long at (530) 666-8734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that one of the speakers, Sandra Gillespie, will be presenting a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar next Wednesday, Oct. 16 on “Parasites and Pesticides: Indirect Effects on Pollination Service.” It will take place from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. It will be videotaped for later viewing on UCTV.
What's better than a bee threading through a flowering artichoke? Two bees, a honey bee and a long-horned sunflower bee.
Flowering 'chokes are big draws for bees. Plant 'em, let 'em flower, and they will come. Sometimes in droves. Sometimes in diversity. Always amazing.
A male sunflower bee, Svastra obliqua expurgata, aka the long-horned sunflower bee, stopped foraging to look at us with his big green eyes.
An Italian honey bee, Apis mellifera, buzzing low and packing white pollen, ignored us.
From their missions they did not stray.
So you're poking around in your garden and you see a bee on a flowering artichoke that you've never seen foraging there before.
On sunflowers, yes. On artichokes, no.
A closer look--and huge green eyes stare back at you.
Definitely not a honey bee (Apis mellifera), although its size is comparable.
This one (below) was a male long-horned sunflower bee (Svastra obliqua expurgata) as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the instructors in The Bee Course, an annual workshop that takes place at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz.
"Most males (Svastra obliqua expurgata) are more gray-eyed," he noted. "Maybe since your subject is so fresh, the eyes look more greenish."
This particular long-horned sunflower bee, tucked inside the flowering artichoke, wasn't moving. Next to it was a very dead honey bee with a hollowed-out abdomen. And next to the honey bee was a very much alive (and well-fed?) spider.
I gingerly positioned my green-eyed friend on a paper napkin for a quick catch-and-release photograph on the patio table. Indeed it was quick. A strong gust lifted both the napkin and the bee off the table. He buzzed away, the wind beneath his wings, as Bette Midler would say.
Spider didn't get him this time.