A winter pollinator garden does not buzz with bees; it crawls with earwigs, ants, roly-polys, and other insects.
Turn over a rock, a pot, or a garden sculpture and there they are.
Well, there one was.
An earwig looked up as we lifted a garden sculpture. (Initially identified later as a European earwig, Forficula auricularia, order Dermaptera but it may be another species.)
"Yecch!" you say? Not so fast. Their role in the ecosystem includes eating aphids. They join such aphid eaters as lady beetles (aka ladybugs), soldier beetles, collups beetles, long-legged flies, big-eyed bugs, lacewings, damsel flies, minute pirate bugs and syrphid flies.
European earwigs are invasive. Look at the damage they do to citrus. You've also probably found them in an ear of corn, a nectarine or a pomegranate.
"Although this is the most abundant earwig in California, it was not known to the state until 1923," according to the book, California Insects, co-authored by Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue. "The immatures and adults feed on a wide variety of substances, from flowers and green foliage near the ground to living and dead insects, including aphids."
Earwigs are readily recognizable by their cerci or pincers. They look like nature's forceps or pliers.
Or as the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program says: "The adult earwig is readily identified by a pair of prominent appendages that resemble forceps at the tail end of its body. Used for defense, the forceps are somewhat curved in the male but straighter in the female. Although earwigs can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids."
UC IPM goes on to say: "European earwigs feed on a variety of dead and living organisms, including insects, mites, and growing shoots of plants. They are voracious feeders on soft-bodied insects such as aphids and insect eggs and can exert significant biological control under some circumstances. In yards that are planted to turf and contain mature ornamental plants, damage by earwigs is unlikely to be of concern."
"European earwigs can cause substantial damage to seedling plants and soft fruit as well as to sweet corn. Damaged seedlings may be missing all or parts of their leaves and stem. Leaves on older plants, including fruit trees, have numerous irregular holes or are chewed around the edges. This damage may resemble that caused by caterpillars. Look for webbing, frass (excrement), or pupae that would indicate the presence of caterpillars."
"Earwigs may attack soft fruit such as apricots, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries but don't harm hard fruit such as apples. On stone fruit, look for shallow gouges or holes that extend deeply into the fruit. On strawberries, distinguish earwig damage from that of snails and slugs by checking for the slime trails snails and slugs leave behind. On corn, earwigs feed on silks and prevent pollination, causing poor kernel development. Earwigs may also seriously damage flowers including zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias. To confirm that earwigs are causing the damage, go out at night with a flashlight to observe the pests in action."
In her newly published book, Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving, author Frédérique Lavoipierre acknowledges their presence as "ominivores, detritivores and predators." In large numbers, however, they can be pests. "A neighbor uses empty cat-food cans baited with a dab of soy sauce and some cooking oil; they come for the soy sauce and get mired in the oil."
UC IPM points out that bacon grease or fish oil will attract them and vegetable oil will trap them.
- Trap earwigs with rolled newspaper, bamboo tubes, or short pieces of hose. Place these traps on the soil near plants just before dark, and shake accumulated earwigs into a pail of soapy water in the morning.
- Fill a low-sided can with vegetable oil and a drop of bacon grease or fish oil to attract and trap earwigs.
- Daily trapping will reduce earwig populations to tolerable levels.
But back to my sole earwig. What, no image of a bee? No butterfly? No dragonfly? Sorry, it's winter. I must be desperate for insect activity in the winter to stop, look, and photograph an earwig! Plus, nobody I know "takes portraits" of them.
Maybe it's the "yecch" factor as to why we rarely see photographers capturing images of these insects. The old wives' tail of associating earwigs with finding shelter in human ears still lurks. Also, there's that "movement factor": slow-moving photographers vs. fast-moving earwigs. Earwigs don't move at a snail's pace because they are not snails!
Remember George's grandmother in Roald Dahl's children's book, George's Marvellous Medicine? Grandma urges Boy George to eat unwashed celery, complete with earwigs:
"A big fat earwig is very tasty,' Grandma said, licking her lips. 'But you've got to be very quick, my dear, when you put one of those in your mouth. It has a pair of sharp nippers on its back end and if it grabs your tongue with those, it never lets go. So you've got to bite the earwig first, chop chop, before it bites you."
It "bites" you? Pinches!
First, emeritus Cooperative Extension specialist Vernard Lewis of UC Berkeley, highly respected as "The Termite Man," drew widespread attention on Nov. 2 when he delivered the Founders' Memorial Lecture on "The Termite Lady," Margaret James Stickland Collins (1922-1966), at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, held in Denver.
Lewis covered the life and legacy of Collins, an African-American entomologist and civil rights advocate whose termite research spanned five decades. Lewis praised her "pioneering studies on the mechanism and evolution of termite desiccation resistance across various habitats provided foundational knowledge for generations of entomologists, field biologists, and ecologists."
Did termites fade into obscurity after Lewis' heralded ESA seminar?
No. Not a chance. "Love" saw to that.
The heavy winter rains in the Bay Area, followed by warm sunny days, resulted in the timely emergence of subterranean termites "looking for love," noted University of California Urban Integrated Pest Management (IPM) advisor and urban entomologist Andrew Sutherland, who serves the San Francisco Bay Area counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara.
"Interestingly, this year's subterranean termite swarms generated way more pop media interest than usual," said Sutherland who holds a doctorate in entomology (2009) from UC Davis. "Perhaps it's because we had more people at home than in previous years (pre-COVID...also, 2019 and 2020 swarms occurred during Thanksgiving weekend, so folks may have been preoccupied or traveling)."
"Since they live underground, they have to have opportunities to meet and fall in love," Sutherland told journalist Leah Worthington of the Redwood City Pulse. "So it's kind of like a big singles bar in the air...The king and queen form what's called a nuptial pair. And that nuptial pair starts a colony, usually in a piece of wood that is partially buried in the soil."
Sutherland's program contributed to three news media pieces; a UC Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (UC ANR) blog; and a LinkedIn post:
- ABC 7 TV spot
- Redwood City Pulse story (also published in Palo Alto Online)
- San Francisco Gate story
- UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) blog post
- LinkedIn post
"Up here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we're continuing evaluations of bait station systems and investigations into the western subterranean termite species complex," Sutherland said.
In his UC ANR blog, published Oct. 21--in the midst of the fall subterranean termite swarm season--Sutherland explained the situation well:
"It's that time of year again: termite swarm season! Western subterranean termites, Reticulitermes hesperus (species complex), produce reproductive swarms during calm sunny periods immediately following the first autumn rains. This is especially pronounced in the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of the Sacramento Valley, where mature termite colonies across a broad region may swarm simultaneously en masse, filling the air with termites fluttering their gossamer wings and filling social media discussions with wonder, horror, confusion, and dread."
A Solano County homeowner witnessed the phenomenon on Oct. 27. She saw hundreds of them exiting the soil by her ailing black walnut tree on Buck Avenue, Vacaville. The insects literally carpeted the ground and sprawled out on fallen leaves. As the sun warmed their flight muscles, the winged termites took off--right into the beaks of swooping birds.
What should you do if you spot a swarm?
As Sutherland wrote in his blog: "If observing a swarm on your property, especially if near your home or other structures, you can hire a professional termite company for a detailed inspection. Make sure to photograph or otherwise note the swarm location so that the inspector can start there. Even if you don't see swarms on your property, regular (every three to five years) inspections will help detect infestations before they cause significant damage and prevent future infestations. There are several proven management strategies for termites; review UC IPM's Pest Notes: Subterranean Termites."
"For now, perhaps we can all appreciate the wonder of this natural spectacle," Sutherland wrote. "Winged termites are great sources of food for birds, lizards, other insects, and spiders. Termites also provide important ecosystem services, such as decomposition of wood and fallen leaves, contribution to soil structure formation, enhancement of water infiltration in soil, and facilitation of nutrient availability to plants. Furthermore, western subterranean termites are native to California and have been here long before we built wooden structures on top of their colonies. (Termite) love is in the air!
The UC IPM Pest Note relates that "Subterranean termites are common throughout California and can be found infesting fallen trees, stumps, or other dead wood in contact with the soil in the forest, landscape, or structural lumber in our houses...The most common subterranean termites, Reticulitermes, can be encountered in nearly all regions of the state, from the sand dunes of the coast to the upper elevations of the mountain ranges and even in some of the desert areas. The species of Reticulitermes are the most destructive termites found in California. They are small in size compared to dampwood and drywood termites, but mature colonies can contain hundreds of thousands of individuals."
Urban entomologist Thomas Chouvenc of the University of Florida wrote about controlling termites in his article, "Killing It in the Eggs: A Termite Bait Story," published Dec. 7 in ESA's Entomology Today. "Subterranean termites represent a legitimate concern for many homeowners in the United States because of their potential damage to wood structures," he began and went on to discuss chitin synthesis inhibitor (CSI) bait formulations.
CSI is something that termites looking for love want no part of.
Together they won a total of seven communication awards in a competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography;
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won two silvers for her writing and photography;
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
Ricardo Vela, Miguel Sanchez and Norma de la Vega of UC ANR's News and Information Outreach in Spanish won a bronze award for a video:
- Diversity 6, Electronic Media and Audio for Targeted Audiences, bronze award for Breakfast - Desayuno de Campeones - English and Spanish videos
The awards will be presented Wednesday, June 24 during ACE's virtual conference, which opened June 22 and continues through June 25.
ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.
- She remembers eating fried grasshoppers at a party. "They're okay with a lot of spices!"
- She remembers watching Professor Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. and his wife, Ruth, give one another bee stings on their hands at Bee Biology, now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. "I keep thinking about that as I get older!"
- She remembers learning about bees from Robbin Thorp (now a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology), who served on her thesis committee. "I still keep in touch!"
- And she remembers the time that a professor sparked her interest in biocontrol. Professor Les Ehler (1946-2016) "took a leaf out of his lunch cooler and held it in the air to show us some aphids on it, and a wasp appeared and parasitized them." He laughed and said "That's how it's done!"
"Wow! Cool!" she thought as the wasp parasitized the aphids.
Rachael went on to receive her master's degree in entomology in 1987 (studying with major professor James R. Carey); to join the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) farm adviser for field crops and pest management for the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento; and to develop and share her interests in biocontrol and other topics.
And this week the UC Davis alumnus-UCCE farm adviser was named the recipient of the 2019 Bradford Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award. She will receive the award at a presentation at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 28 in the Alpha Gamma Rho Hall (AGR) room of the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. A reception begins at 4.
The award presentation prefaces the Agricultural Sustainability Institute's Distinguished Speakers' Seminar, “Building a Better World, the Opportunity to Achieve Climate Drawdown and a Safe Future" by environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, executive director of Drawdown. Foley, ranked by Thomas Reuters as among the top 1 percent of the most cited global scientists, will address the crowd from 5 to 6 p.m.
Rachael is a native of Berkeley and the daughter of a UC Berkeley biology professor. She received her bachelor's degree in biology from UC Berkeley.
In 1992 she accepted a position as a pest management, low input systems UCCE adviser for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. This was one of the first sustainable agricultural adviser positions within UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), with a focus on developing programs to manage pests in field crops with minimal impacts to the environment.
When Rachael started her projects 27 years ago, her ideas were considered “way outside the box and on the fringe,” she recalled. Now her work is mainstream with the UC Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) guidelines incorporating the value of habitat planting for enhancing natural enemies and pollinators on farms for better pollination and biocontrol of crop pests.
Long's research focuses on enhancing natural enemies for better biocontrol of crop pests. "Hedgerows are important for enhancing beneficial insects, including bees and natural enemies, for better biocontrol and crop pollination in adjacent field crops, with measurable economic benefits," she says. "Hedgerows can pay off after 16 years for pest control and seven ears if pollination benefits are added in for bees. Bats and birds associated with habitat likewise have economic benefits for helping to control key codling moth pests in walnut orchards."
Long, who worked closely with Charlie Rominger, commented: “I think Charlie would have been excited by this work. When I first started my job, we spent time in the field looking at field edge habitat and all the birds and beneficial insect activity and wondered about their benefits to crop production. Now we know! Lots of positive ecosystem services associated with habitat! Eric Bradford would have likewise been impressed with work that involved 20 plus years of meticulous research work by strong teams committed to data collection, to document the benefits of field edge habitat to agriculture.”
She and her colleagues have published 14 peer-reviewed papers on hedgerow research. Her work, with colleagues Kelly Garbach of Point Blue Conservation Science, and Lora Morandin of the Pollinator Partnership, can be summarized in their research article, "Hedgerow Benefits Align with Food Production and Sustainability Goals," published in September 2017 in California Agriculture. Her most recent paper appeared in UC ANR's special global food initiative edition of California Agriculture.
In addition to her research, Long has delivered hundreds of presentations about the importance of hedgerows on farms; conducted and published surveys on how to better reach out to the grower community to enhance the adoption of hedgerow plantings, as well as the importance of bats, birds, and raptors on farms; and has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students.
Long brings teams of researchers together to work on projects focusing on agriculture and ecosystem services, which lead to enhanced conservation on farms. In 2013, she and her colleagues received the California epartment of Pesticide Regulation IPM Innovator Award for work on hedgerows and pest management. She was also a pioneer in developing practices for protecting water quality from non-point source pollution from agricultural runoff in the early 2000s.
Long is also a children's book author of the Black Rock Desert Trilogy (three books): “Gold Fever,” “Valley of Fire” and “River of No Return,” works published by Yorkshire Publishing. They are the end result of telling stories to her son, Eugene, about an adventuresome, kind-hearted, wildlife-loving boy named Jack and three of his friends--a bat named Pinta, a coyote named Sonny and a crow named Midas. She dedicated the books to Eugene ("he heard the stories first") and her husband, David ("for always being there.") (See Bug Squad blog)
The May 28 event is free and open to the public. For reservations, access this website.
When a house is a home...
Take the case of a syrphid fly, aka hover fly or flower fly. It's a cold and windy day, and it's tucked in the folds of a rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora, in Vacaville, Calif.
It's sipping nectar, and rotating its colorful little body to gather more nectar and glean more sun.
The syrphid fly is often mistaken for a honey bee. Both are pollinators.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
Last year Joanna Klein posted an interactive feature in the New York Times, wondering how we can save the bees if we don't recognize them. She asked "Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?" and posted an image of bees and wanna-be bees.
Find the flies.
And then access a PDF on flower flies on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website to learn more about them. Authored by lead author/entomologist Robert Bugg, it's titled "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops."/span>