Have you checked to see what's foraging on your early spring blooms?
Our cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) are blooming and the Andrena (mining) bees are zooming. These fast-moving bees are solitary ground-nesting bees that are early spring bees, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. The males emerge first.
"Females emerge several days later and, with only a few short weeks to live, waste no time with polite introductions," write and Thorp (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley) and UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie in California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. The book is also co-authored by UC Berkeley affiliates: entomologist/photographer Rollin E. Coville and botany specialist Barbara Ertter.
"Mating is first on their agenda, followed by a quick meal of pollen to build up their ovaries," Thorp and Frankie point out. "They then dig or forage for materials to construct their nests, and for food for their offspring. At the end of the short flight season, the adults die and the new generation's life cycle continues inside the nest."
Thorp identified the bees below as two females: Andrena candida and A. nigrocaerulea. He and several colleagues teach The Bee Course, "an annual workshop for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees." It's held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., and this year's dates are Aug. 21-Aug. 31.
"Most North American Andrena species are black, dull metallic blue, or green and moderately hairy, with bands of pale hair on their abdomens," according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "Females have large, velvety facial depressions (foveae) that look like eyebrows and large pollen-collecting hairs (scopae) on the upper part of their hind legs, seemingly in their 'armpits.' Despite a variety of striking colorations, Andrenan species are difficult to tell part."
If you have sandy soil and shrubs, that's ideal for them. You'll be the landlord and they'll be your tenants. "They nest in the ground, typically in sandy soil and often near or under shrubs. The nest entrance is usually marked by a small mound (tumulus) of soil."--Xerces Society.
Andrena is the largest genus in the family Andrenidae, with more than 1300 species, and about 261 in California. They occur nearly worldwide (Americas, Eurasia and the Old World tropics). The tiniest of the Andrena are only 7 millimeters long.
You may not see them. They're as tiny as they are fast, and they don't stop for photographs!
Sometimes you get lucky...
At first glance, it appeared to be a gnat circling our head.
Then it landed on our passionflower vine (Passiflora). It cooperatively stayed still for a photo (taken with a Nikon D800 mounted with a 105mm macro lens) and then returned to its nest, a hole in the ground.
A tiny bee, but what bee?
"A female sweat bee in the genus Lasioglossum, subgenus Evylaeus which are the tiny black species in this large and diverse genus," said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who maintains an office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Lasioglossum, found worldwide, is the largest of all bee genera, containing more than 1700 species in numerous subgenera.
Bee identification is so intricate. This little sweat bee is similar to Halictus. "Lasioglossum differ from Halictus in the position of the hair bands on the abdomen," Thorp noted. "Halictus have well defined hair bands that are at the apex (end) of each tergite. In Lasioglossum, when hair bands are present, they are at the bases of the tergites."
Thorp is a veteran instructor at The Bee Course, affiliated with the American Natural History. An annual course held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., it's offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees, according to the organizers, Jerome Rozen Jr., American Museum of Natural History, and Ronald McGinley of Roseville.
Many UC students and faculty have attended the course, which draws participants throughout the world. This year's course runs from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.
Want to apply to attend The Bee Course? Applications are now being sought. Check out the website for more information.
It's an annual workshop held at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) in Portal, Ariz. for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists "who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees," according to organizer Jerome Rozen Jr. of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York.
AMNH launched the course at SWRS in 1999. This year's nine-day workshop will take place Aug. 25-Sept. 4.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, has been teaching at the workshop since 2002. Thorp, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, served on the UC Davis faculty from 1964 to 1994, but although he officially "retired" in 1994, he never really did. He continues his research, writings and bee identification at his office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Frankly, we at UC Davis don't know what we'd do without him. Thorp maintains a massive educational, research and public service work that brings national and worldwide pride and distinction to UC Davis. No one can say “pollinators” without thinking of Thorp. For example, MacArthur Foundation Fellow Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist with the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, said she would never have attempted her much-cited Yolo County pollinator project without his expertise. He not only helped develop the protocol, but he identifies all the species—about 60,000 of them since 1999.
Robbin Thorp will turn 80 years young during The Bee Course. Shhh--don't tell anyone. (P.S., he says it's okay to "tell.")
Thorp and his colleague John Ascher, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore and research associate at the American of Natural History, New York, and a key scientist at BugGuide.Net, were working today at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis. We captured a quick image of them (below).
Ascher, who received his doctorate in entomology from Cornell University, has taught at The Bee Course since 2004.
The Bee Course textbook is The Bee Genera of North and Central America, Michener, C.D., R.J. McGinley and B.N. Danforth, 1994, Smithsonian Press.
Why in Portal, Ariz.? It's one of the richest bee faunas in North America.
All the instructors are volunteers. In addition to Rozen, Thorp and Ascher, the 2013 team includes Stephen Buchmann of Tucson, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis; James H. Cane and Terry Griswold of the USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab at Utah State University, Logan; Lawrence Packer of York University, Toronto, Canada; and UC Davis alumnus Ronald McGinley of Dewey, Ill. (he obtained his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and then worked at Harvard University and the Smithsonian before joining the Illinois Natural History Survey).
The participants, usually around 22, come from all over the world. They will return home with a collection of properly labeled bee specimens--and a comprehensive knowledge about bees.
From the website: The course "emphasizes the classification and identification of more than sixty bee genera of North and Central America (both temperate and tropical), and the general information provided is applicable to the global bee fauna. Lectures include background information on the biologies of bees, their floral relationships, their importance in maintaining and/or improving floral diversity, inventory strategies, and the significance of oligolecty (i.e., taxonomic floral specialization). Field trips acquaint participants with collecting and sampling techniques; associated lab work provides instruction on specimen identification, preparation and labeling."
And the course significance: "The field of pollination ecology explores the reproductive biology of plants in general, including the biotic and abiotic agents associated with pollination and seed-set. This is of interest for basic research and understanding of world communities and also has significant practical impact as it relates to pollination of economically important crop plants, to survival of endangered plants, and to plant reproduction in threatened habitats. Pollen is moved between receptive flowers by wind, water, birds, bats, beetles, flies, etc., but the 20,000 species of bees worldwide play a dominant role in the sexual reproduction of most plant communities. This course will empower students with 1) the confident use of The Bee Genera of North and Central America, 2) an appreciation for the biological diversity of bees, and 3) sufficient background to learn more about bees and investigate pollination and conservation problems with greater insight."
Said Thorp: "It is a great experience for students to interact with instructors and especially with their peers from around the world. Instructors all donate their time to teach in the course, but benefit from the chance to get together with colleagues and a new cohort of interesting students each year. Every class is different. that is, it takes on its own personality, and each student brings something new and different to the mix."
When you visit the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, you might just see a cuckoo bee.
The cuckoo bee (see below) is a male Triepeolus concavus, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who maintains an office in the adjacent Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Thorp has been monitoring the garden not only since it was planted--in the fall of 2009--but BEFORE it was planted, to collect the baseline data. To date, he's detected more than 80 species of bees, "and counting."
The cuckoo bee, nectaring on a blanket flower (Gaillardia), is just one of the species he's found in the garden.
The female cuckoo bee 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.
Thorp annually teaches at The Bee Course, described as a "workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees," and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. This year's dates are Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. The workshop attracts people from all over the world, including dozens from the UC system.
Folks accustomed to seeing only honey bees (which are non-natives) buzzing around their yard probably aren't aware that in the United States alone there are some 4000 identified species of native bees.
And they probably aren't aware of The Bee Course.
That's a workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. It's held annually in Portal, Ariz. in the Chiricahua Mountains at the Southwest Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). This year's dates are Aug. 22-Sept. 1.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and active in the Xerces Society, has taught at The Bee Course since 2002.
The course, led by Jerry Rozen of AMNH, has been operating continuously since 1999, Thorp said, and UC Davis graduates are very much involved. Steve Buchmann who received his Ph.D. at UC Davis in 1978, is one of the instructors. Ron McGinley who received his undergraduate degree at UC Davis, does most of the initial student contact and scheduling for the course, Thorp said.
"There are usually about eight instructors and 22 participants for the 10- day course," Thorp said. "Most of the time is spent in the lab identifying bees to genus. At least three days are spent in the field so students can see various bees doing their thing, collect them and bring them back to the lab to ID them. It is a great experience for students to interact with instructors and especially with their peers from round the world."
"Instructors all donate their time to teach in the course, but benefit from the chance to get together with colleagues and a new cohort of interesting students each year. Every class is different--that is, it takes on its own personality--and each student brings something new and different to the mix."
More locally, Thorp will speak Sunday, March 7 on the amazing diversity of native bees at the 2010 Bee Symposium, sponsored by the Santa Rosa-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP). He'll discuss their nesting habits and nest site requirements. The symposium takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Subud Center, 234 Hutchins Ave., Sebastopol.
The fourth annual conference will offer updates and new perspectives on honey bees and native pollinators, according to PFSP executive director Kathy Kellison.
It's good to see the focus on native bees as well as honey bees. For more information on native bees, be sure to check out the Xerces Society Web site and UC Berkeley's Native Bee Gardens.