The late Robbin Thorp, the renowned UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and global bee authority who will be memorialized at a celebration of life on Friday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, began his career studying honey bees.
Professor Thorp, who served as a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death on June 7. In his retirement, he co-authored two books, both in 2014: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
Thorp was a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation and 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.
The distinguished emeritus professor was also an authority on honey bees.
Said Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus: "We should not forget that Robbin originally was hired to work on honey bees, and he did. His greatest area of expertise was the use of honey bees in almond pollination. Robbin determined that until the colonies reached the population size of six frames of bees, they did not have enough spare bees to serve as foragers (pollinate almonds) since they were all needed to keep the brood warm."
"He also noted that the amount of pollen collected by the bees in a colony was pretty much in direct proportion to colony size, peaking at between 10 and 12 frames of bees," Mussen said. "It was obvious to Robbin that the bees still visited almond blossoms for nectar, days after there was no pollen left in the flowers and the stigmata were no longer young enough to be pollinated. Other studies determined which blossoms along the branches were pollinated earlier and later during the season. All of those studies were very well designed and the results contributed significantly to our recommendations to growers and beekeepers for obtaining maximum benefit from the bees."
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.” (See more about Robbin Thorp)
Robbin Thorp was a treasure, a gem in the entomological world of bees and beyond./span>
Bumble bees foraging on almond blossoms.
Make that the yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, in Benicia.
Sunday morning as the temperatures soared to 62 degrees in the Matthew Turner Park, Benicia, near the Carquinez Straits, bumble bees competed with honey bees for a share of the golden nectar on the blossoming almond trees.
We witnessed near collisions as lumbering bumble bees lugged incredibly heavy loads while their more streamlined cousins, the honey bees, darted, ducked and dipped to avoid them. Definitely a need for air traffic controllers!
"Bumble bee, bumble bee, cleared for take-off."
"Honey bee, honey bee, stand by."
"Bumble bee, bumble bee, permission to land."
"Honey bee, honey bee, exit runway."
"Bumble bee, bumble bee, line up and wait."
"Honey bee, honey bee, cleared for take-off."
What a sight to see and what a beauty of a day to see bumble bees in Benicia.
No, it's not Valentine's Day, yet.
Yes, the almonds are blooming.
No, it's not spring.
But it looks like spring in Benicia.
The almonds are blooming in the Benicia (Calif.) State Recreation Area.
Some are on the road at the entrance to the park.
Other trees are also blooming.
Benicia resident Gordon Hough, always on the lookout for those early blooms and elusive bees, photographed a honey bee nectaring on a Bradford pear blossom (as identified by Daniel Potter, UC Davis professor of plant sciences) in the Benicia park on Monday, Jan. 21. Gorgeous image!
Benicia (or Bee-nicia?) is graced with early almond blooms. We remember heading over to the Benicia State Recreation Area on the first day of 2014 and seeing almonds in bloom. Actually, several almond trees in the parking lot were blooming on Christmas Day of 2013. (See Bug Squad)
Meanwhile, California's commercial almond pollination season usually begins around Feb. 14.
Our state has more than a million acres of almonds in production, according to Kyle Kapustka of the Almond Board of California.
The 2017 California Almond Acreage Report, from USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), released April 25, 2018, estimated
- 1,330,000 total almond acres in California
- 1,000,000 bearing acres in California
The 1.3 million acres is up 7 percent from the 2016 acreage of 1,240,000, according to the report. "Nonpareil continued to be the leading variety, followed by Monterey, Butte, Carmel and Padre. Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These five counties had 73 percent of the total bearing acreage." (See overview of the almond industry on the Almond Board of California website)
Solano County, home of seven cities, including Bee-nicia, isn't one of them.
But don't tell that to the bees.
We're accustomed to seeing honey bees pollinating the almonds.
But carpenter bees do, too.
We spotted a female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, foraging in an almond tree on Feb. 24 in a field adjacent to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Sounding like a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, this lone carpenter bee buzzed loudly as she visited one blossom after another. She was on a mission: a do-not-linger, do-not-stop-me, and get-out-of-my-way mission.
The Valley carpenter bees, about the size of bumble bees, are the largest carpenter bees in California. The girls are solid black, while the boys are blond with green eyes. We can't count how many times people think the males are "golden bumble bees."
It's rare to get an image of "a blond and a brunette" (male and female) in the same photo. Gary Park, a contributor to BugGuide.net, did just that. Check out his amazing photos of a pair mating.
Carpenter bees derive their name from drilling holes in untreated, unfinished wood to make their nests. Only the females excavate the wood. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not eat the wood. To prevent these bees from nesting in your fence posts or deck, just paint or varnish the wood. We know some folks who like having them around and leave wood untreated and unfinished.
First and foremost, however, carpenter bees are pollinators. Excellent pollinators.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor entomology at UC Davis, tries to convince people to live with these bees as “they are important pollinators in our environment and have potential as pollinators of some crops.”
Mine--well, it's not exactly mine!--is on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
It's spectacular in bloom. You can hear the buzz of honey bees, the tweeting of birds, and occasionally, an airplane droning over the field or a hog squealing from the nearby UC Davis hog farm.
But the sounds of the bees empower us and assure us that spring is coming. This particular almond tree, with its low hanging branches, is an addiction and a good place to get "a fix."
Meanwhile, 1.6 million honey bee colonies, trucked in from all over the United States, are pollinating California's 810,000 acres of almonds. Each acre requires two bee hives.
California growers produced 1.88 billion pounds of almonds for the 2012-13 crop year, according to Christine Souza's Dec. 11, 2013 article in Ag Alert. The 2013-14 crop is estimated at 1.85 billion pounds.
A little less than last year but that's a lot of almonds! And a lot of buzz in the almonds...