Let's put the "thanks" in THANKSgiving by bee-ing thankful for the honey bee, Apis mellifera...
If your table includes pumpkin, cranberries, carrots, cucumbers, onions, apples, oranges, cherries, blueberries, grapefruit, persimmons, pomegranates, pears, sunflower seeds, and almonds, thank the bees for their pollination services.
Spices? Thank the bees, too. Bees visit the plants that eventually become our spices. Among them: sage, basil, oregano and thyme.
Milk and ice cream? Yes. We remember the late UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, telling us that even milk and ice cream are linked closely to the honey bee. Cows feed on alfalfa, which is pollinated by honey bees (along with other bees).
What are you having for Thanksgiving?
Turkey and all the trimmings?
Well, this little jumping spider had his sights set on ambushing a delicious syrphid fly.
Here's the scenario: The syrphid fly, a pollinator, hovers over a zinnia, sees no danger (the spider is tucked beneath a petal) and touches down. Ms. Fly slurps the nectar--ooh, that's good--and circles the blossom for more.
Ms. Fly, so busy slurping, is unaware that danger lurks with eight legs, excellent acuity and powerful leg muscles.
In a flash, Mr. Jumping Spider leaps.
No meal today for Mr. Jumping Spider. Another day for Ms. Fly.
If you've ever been asked that, you may have responded--quite politely--"Small, thank you!"
You probably didn't thank the squash bees.
But as we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, let's remember that squash bees probably pollinated the pumpkin that ended up as a pie on your table.
The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is a specialist that pollinates only the cucurbits or squash family, Cucurbitaceae, which includes pumpkins, squash, gourds, cucumbers and zucchini. P. pruinosa is a species of solitary bee in the tribe Eucerini, the long-horned bees. There's also another genera, Xenoglossa.
Squash bees are early risers, rising before the sun does. They begin pollinating the blossoms as soon as they open. Other bee species, such as honey bees (which are non-natives), don't visit the flowers so early.
Around noon, the blossoms close for the day, so there's a limited time for pollination--and a limited time to admire and photograph them.
The females are ground nesters. "The males sleep in the blossoms at night and wait for the females to arrive," the late late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, told us.
Another attribute: The squash bee is a native of North America, unlike the honey bee.
"Before Europeans brought honey bees to the New World, squash bees were busy aiding the adoption, domestication, spread, and production of squashes and gourds by indigenous peoples throughout the Americas," according to an article by USDA research entomologist James Cane.
"Hey, there, pumpkin, do you want another piece of pie, pollinated by our native bees, the squash bees?"
Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.
The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund. See YouTube video.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.