Yes, after a l-o-n-g, cold, hard winter, bumble bees are emerging.
At least in Solano County.
At 11:20 a.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 13), we spotted a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on oxalis near downtown Benicia.
What a delight! A January bumble bee and the first one we've seen this year.
So, this is a good time to mention the inaugural Robbin Thorp First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and coordinated by Bohart director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology.
Just photograph a clearly identifiable bumble bee in the two-county area of Yolo or Solano, and submit it to email@example.com with the time, date and place. The winner receives bragging rights and a special gift from the Bohart Museum. Plans call for a Bohart coffee mug with a bumble bee image.
The contest memorializes native pollinator specialist and Bohart associate Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Professor Thorp, 85, who died June 7, 2019, was a global authority on bumble bees, and always looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee of the year. He launched an impromptu contest several years ago with a small group of bumble bee enthusiasts/photographers (including yours truly) from Yolo and Solano counties. (Note: I am not a contestant.)
Early Bumble Bees
The black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, is usually the first bumble bee to emerge in this area, Thorp used to say. It forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others. In early January, it's often seen on manzanita blossoms in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. B. vosnesenskii forages on such early bloomers as oxalis, jade, mustard and wild radish, and then on a variety of plants throughout the year. Both species are natives.
Thorp, a 30-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, from 1964-1994, co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). He achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
Ready to join the hunt for the first bumble bee of the year in Yolo and Solano counties? Camera ready? Walking shoes laced? Go!
The grant, titled "Strengthening Honey Bee Health and Crop Pollination to Safeguard Food Availability and Affordability," and headed by principal investigator Boris Baer, a UC Riverside professor of entomology, also includes Davis, San Diego and Merced campuses. “I'm very excited about so many different kinds of bee expertise joining forces through this project,” Baer said.
Honey bees pollinate more than 80 agricultural crops, including almonds, apples, blueberries and cherries. The pollination services of these tiny agricultural workers account for about a third of the American diet. However, pesticide exposure, spread of parasites and pathogens, habitat destruction and environmental changes are challenging beekeepers, resulting in decreased pollination services and increased food prices.
The grant is an important one. Co-principal investigator Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, which operates the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, says it well: "Most excitingly, this funding will not only support research that will help improve pollinator health so crucial for California's agriculture, but it will provide opportunities for training of students and postdoctoral scholars. Work focused on improving honey bee stocks via novel tools aligns well with ongoing work in the Niño lab and will further cement collaborations with beekeepers and growers.”
Niño, who works closely with California beekeepers, launched and directs the California Master Beekeeper Program, which uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
Other co-principal investigators are James Nieh and Joshua Kohn of UC San Diego, and a trio from UC Riverside: Kerry Mauck, Tsotras Vassilis, and Kim Hyoseung. At Merced, Marilia Palumbo Gaiarsa serves as a co-investigator.
The UC scientists plan a three-pronged approach to resolve the issue: develop better breeding programs, better medications and treatments, and better tools to monitor bee health in the hives. Small “listening and smelling” devices will be placed inside the hives to monitor bee health.
"Safeguarding honey bees and their pollination services requires beekeepers to be better able to manage the health and survival of colonies, which requires research into the causal factors and interactions affecting pollinator health, and the development and implementation of novel tools in close collaboration with industry partners. To do this, we will form a California wide, cross disciplinary research network and
- experimentally study the ecological and molecular factors and their interactions that affect honey bee health and their interactions to identify biomarkers of their health
- use the knowledge gained to develop and deliver new, effective solutions for stakeholders, including remote sensing of bee health, a marker-assisted breeding program, and the development of novel medications,
- build a research industry nexus to conduct collaborative research. We will also develop and deploy new extension and outreach modules that will be offered through UC Cooperative Extension statewide. We will support California beekeepers to build and maintain a sustainable and profitable beekeeping industry, which has implications for food security on a national level."
The co-principal investigators also noted in their grant proposal that "The current coronavirus pandemic and impending recession is putting more pressure on agriculture to provide sufficient and affordable food. Honey bees are key to such efforts, and supporting a California based beekeeping industry also decreases the state's dependence on managed pollination from elsewhere, thereby creating new jobs and income."
Funding also will help provide research opportunities for undergraduates, including underrepresented students, with the goal of ensuring that the pipeline of students who enter research, academia, industry, and multiple other professions reflects the diversity of the communities in which they learn and work.
This is all a win-win situation.
As Kohn said in a UC San Diego news release: “This network of bee researchers comprises a unique mixture of expertise that can apply highly multidisciplinary approaches to benefit the honey bee industry essential to the production of many of California's most economically important crops."
It's not only good news, but great news.
UC Davis Distinguished Professor Walter Leal, a chemical ecologist with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now Entomology and Nematology), says the COVID-19 saliva test he received at a UC Davis testing kiosk is fast.
"I was tested yesterday at 1:11 p.m., the result was completed at 9:20 a.m., received an email at 10:50 a.m., remarkably fast!" he tweeted today. "Could we do the same with vaccination? Please join the 373 who have already registered (for the UC Davis COVID-19 public symposium).
Leal is organizing and moderating the virtual symposium, set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, when UC Davis scientists will share information on COVID-19 saliva, hospital, and sewage surveillance tests--as well as the Healthy Davis Together program. UC Davis Chancellor Gary May will deliver the opening remarks.
Speakers will include UC Davis scientists Richard Michelmore, Nam Tram and Heather Bischel, who will explain the UC Davis COVID-19 tests and answer questions. The public is invited to submit advance questions and also may ask questions during the symposium via the Zoom chat. Registration is underway at https://bit.ly/2Li9pnV.
“This symposium will yield important information that everyone should know,” said Leal. A query from one of his students prompted the Jan. 13 symposium. (This is the fourth COVID-19 symposium he's organized and moderated since April 23.)
At specially set up kiosks on the UC Davis campus, free COVID-19 saliva tests are given, by appointment, to members of the UC Davis and Davis communities. The rapid, comprehensive laboratory-developed test detects whether a person is currently infected with the coronavirus. The UC Davis Genome Center processes the saliva samples. Technically, the test uses a high throughput, real time, quantitative polymerase chain reaction protocol run on machines repurposed from the agricultural genetics industry.
The Jan. 13th symposium also will cover COVID-19 hospital tests (given in the emergency room and bedside) and wastewater surveillance tests, also known as sewage tests.
“Healthy Davis Together” partners UC Davis with the City of Davis to prevent the spread of the virus and “to facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular city activities and reintegration of UC Davis students back into the Davis community.”
Michelmore, a UC Davis distinguished professor, directs the Genome Center, and holds joint appointments with the College of Biological Sciences, School of Medicine, and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Tram is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine who specializes in clinical chemistry and point-of-care. Bischel is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Registration is required for the symposium, even if you cannot attend the live presentation but are interested in retrieving the symposium video later,” Leal said.
- We are taking a unique, multi-disciplinary approach to screening and testing members of the UC Davis community for the coronavirus. Screening symptom-free students and employees will help better identify COVID-19 and track cases on campus.
- This COVID-19 testing uses saliva samples, is cost-free to UC Davis students and employees, and provides rapid results in 24-48 hours.
- COVID-19 testing is now available to all UC Davis students and employees and will be required on a weekly basis to access any Davis campus facility.
Learning more about insects ought to be one of your New Year's resolutions.
Here's a good place to start: read the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's Insect Information Sheets.
Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Entomology estimates the number of living species of insects at 30 million. "Insects also probably have the largest biomass of the terrestrial animals," according to the Smithsonian website. "At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive."
Some other points from the Smithsonian scientists:
- "In the United States, the number of described species is approximately 91,000. The undescribed species of insects in the United States, however, is estimated at some 73,000. The largest numbers of described species in the U.S. fall into four insect Orders: Coleoptera (beetles) at 23,700, Diptera (flies) at 19,600, Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) at 17,500, and Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) at 11,500."
- "Certain social insects have large numbers in their nests. An ant nest in Jamaica was calculated to include 630,000 individuals. A South American termite nest was found to have 3 million individuals. Locust swarms are said to hold up to one billion individuals."
- "Insects have remarkable fertility and reproductive abilities, which have usually led to the vast numbers of individuals in nature. East African termite queens have been recorded to lay an egg every two seconds, amounting to 43,000 eggs each day. To appreciate the population potentials of insects the example of the housefly is sometimes used, stating that the descendants of one pair of this insect, provided that they all survived during a five month season, would total 190 quintillion individuals."
"Recent figures indicate that there are more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet! A recent article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of human."
So, if you weighed all the bugs of the world, they would weigh much more than all the people in the world. (See fivethirtyeight.com)
The Bohart Museum information sheets will inform you about ants, beetles, wasps, bees, mites, ticks, flies, butterflies, moths, true bugs, praying mantids, Jerusalem crickets (aka potato bugs), earwigs, booklice, and additional home pests (no, not the permanent occupants of your home).
The fact sheets also cover such non-insects as spiders (arachnids), house centipedes, springtails, sowbugs, scorpions, lawn shrimp, and earthworms and the like (if you don't like them, you can at least appreciate them).
One of the bees featured is the European wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum. It's a "species of European megachilid bee that has successfully colonized North America," Kimsey writes. "However, North America isn't the only place these bees have invaded. They are now found in north Africa, South America, Asia the Canary Islands and even New Zealand."
The bee, introduced into the United States from Europe in the early 1960s, was first detected in New York state "but has rapidly spread throughout North America since then," Kimsey points out. "The first California collection was in the early 2000's and the bee had reached Davis by 2007."
"Wool carder females are particularly fond of lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and as a result this is often where males are found. Females use their jaws to scrape, or card the hairy leaves to collect fibers. They can be pretty entertaining if they decide that wool socks are good sources of fibers, too" (as what happened to Bohart associate Tom Zavortink.)
Male wool carder bees are aggressively territorial. They'll attack other bees, including honey bees and carpenter bees, "and even small birds, like hummingbirds," Kimsey says.
Photographer Allan Jones of Davis calls the male wool carder bees "bonker bees," because they bonk or bop off would-be competitors from floral resources--or they try to.
The wonderful world of insects...
No suds for a bug in 2021.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, won't be hosting his annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest, which he launched in 1972 as part of his scientific research to determine the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae.
Or, as he says, the contest is in "diapause."
The traditional rules: if you collect the first live cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo, and deliver it to 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis campus, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday (and detail the exact time, date and location of your capture), and it's judged the winner, you win a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
Who won in 2020? Technically, there was no winner, as Shapiro didn't collect the one he spotted in Winters at 11:16 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2020 at the Putah Creek Nature Park. "It flew back and forth across Putah Creek and then departed the area, flying out of reach above the trees," he noted. He waited around for 90 minutes to see if it would return. It did not.
No one else came forth with a cabbage white so the date of Jan. 30 stands as the first of 2020.
The point of the contest "is to get the earliest possible flight date for statistical purposes," the professor related. "The rules require that the animal be captured and brought in alive to be verified. That way no one can falsely claim to have seen one, or misidentify something else as a cabbage white."
Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students: Jacob Montgomery in 2016; Adam Porter in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each defeated him in the late 1990s.
In 2019. Shapiro collected the first cabbage white butterfly near the Suisun Yacht Club, Suisun City, Solano County, at 1:12 p.m., Friday, Jan. 25. "It was the earliest recorded in Suisun City in 47 seasons."
In recent years, most winners collected the butterflies in Yolo County:
- 2018: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento, Yolo County
- 2017: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner on the UC Davis campus
- 2016: Jan. 16: Jacob Montgomery, UC Davis graduate student, collected the winner in west Davis
- 2015: Jan. 26: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2014: Jan. 14: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2013: Jan. 21: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2012: Jan. 8: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2011: Jan. 31: Shapiro collected the winner in Suisun, Solano County
- 2010: Jan. 27: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
The butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedymustards, grow. In its larval stage, it's known as the importedcabbageworm, and is a major pest of cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. The larvae "chew large, irregular holes in leaves, bore into heads, and drop greenish brown fecal pellets that may contaminate the marketed product, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) Pest Management Guidelines. "Seedlings may be damaged, but most losses are due to damage to marketed parts of the plant."
"The adult cabbage butterfly is white with one to four black spots on the wings; they are often seen fluttering around the fields," UC IPM says. "The whitish, rocket-shaped eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves. The cabbageworm is active throughout the year in California."
Bottom line: COVID canceled the 2021 scientific contest for Pieris rapae ("on your mark, get set, don't go!) but it can't cancel an adult's preference for beer. A beer for no butterfly?
And by the way, Professor Shapiro says "I will gladly accept records. I will neither sample nor go out for a beer until I'm vaccinated." (Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)