Let's hear it for the honey bees.
Right now they're scrambling to gather nectar and pollen from the blanket flower, Gaillardia. You could say they're blanketing the flower. When resources are scarce in the fall, the blanket flower, in the sunflower family Asteraceae, draws them in. The flower reminds us of Native American Indians' brightly colored and patterned blankets.
Now let's hear it for the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA). They're delivering and gathering knowledge at their annual conference, being held Tuesday, Nov. 15 through Wednesday, Nov. 17 in the Kona Kai Resort and Spa, San Diego. They'll discuss the latest research, trade ideas with fellow beekeepers (note that "beekeepers" are "keepers") and they'll explore some of the innovative products at their trade show, a spokesperson said.
Among the speakers are two UC Davis-affiliated specialists: Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, who will key in on the research underway at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who will offer a glimpse of the present, past and future of beekeeping.
Niño's research interests encompass basic and applied approaches to understanding and improving honey bee health and particularly honey bee queen health. Ongoing research projects include understanding the synergistic effects of pesticides on queen health and adult workers in order to improve beekeeping management practice, as well as testing novel biopesticides for efficacy against varroa mites. Keep up with the Niño lab on its Facebook page. And keep up with CSBA on its Facebook page.
Mussen, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service--but maintains an office in Briggs Hall--is guaranteed to add some humor to his talk. How do we know? We saw his PowerPoint before he left Davis for San Diego. Hint: replace "dog" food with "bee" food. And the insect in his last slide doesn't look anything like the bee we know and love.
In a way, the CSBA is like the matched pair of honey bees below. There are four bees. If you think about the purposes of the CSBA, each bee can be matched with one of those purposes:
- to educate the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees
- advance research beneficial to beekeeping practices
- provide a forum for cooperation among beekeepers, and
- to support the economic and political viability of the beekeeping industry.
It's all about "bee-ing" there for the bees.
Some linger quite awhile before they buzz off.
Have you ever thought about this: Do they have taste buds?
A colleague asked that question. In fact, it was his friend's nine-year-old son who asked: "Do bees have taste buds, and if so where?"
"No," says Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service.
That's the short answer. But wait, there's more.
"Honey bees, and other insects do not have taste buds, as such," Mussen said. "They have specialized, enlarged hairs; chaetic and basiconic sensillae; that protrude from the cuticle (exoskeleton). The sensillae have gustatory receptor cells in them that sense the chemicals that are contacted by the tips of the antennae, the mouthparts, or the tarsi (feet) of the front legs. The interpretation of the chemicals takes place in the subesophageal ganglion of the bee, not in the brain. The esophageal ganglion is a very large nerve cell cluster attached beneath the brain."
It's good to see youngsters so interested in insects!
It's early evening and the bees are all over the blanket flower (Gaillardia).
But wait, if you look closely, you'll see a tiny sticklike figure on top of a seed head. It's a predator on top his world, scanning the view, feeling the buzz and looking for dinner.
The praying mantis looks too diminutive to catch a honey bee. Too minuscular. Too puny. Too much of a pint-sized predator. Maybe it should set its sights on a fruit fly or a knat.
We see you, praying mantis! Come on out, with your hands up!
Will my spiked forelegs do?
He leaps off the seed head like a frog jumping off a lily pad, but instead of a kersplash, it's a kerplop.
See ya, next time!
Dear Crab Spider,
Please don't eat the pollinators. You may help yourself to a mosquito, a crane fly, a lygus bug, an aphid, and a katydid, not necessarily in that order. And more than one if you like. In fact, how about an all-you-can-eat buffet of luscious lygus bugs? So good! Yes, you may tell all your arachnid friends about the nutritious, high-protein meals available just for the taking. Please do. Just don't eat the pollinators.
Crab spiders do not listen. They will eat what they want and when they want it. And they will gorge themselves. They are not interested in joining Weight Watchers. They are Wait Watchers.
For the past several months, crab spiders have been lurking on our blanket flower (Gaillardia). Most of the time, they just sit there, waiting patiently for dinner to arrive. Sometimes it's a long wait--longer than it takes for a waiter to return to your table during a rush-hour holiday lunch.
So, Ms. or Mr. Crab Spider--not sure of the gender, but "Predator" will do--dined recently on a sweat bee, a female Halictus tripartitus. We watched Predator lunge at a honey bee (missed!) and pursue at a male long-horned bee, probably Melissodes agilis.
Our cunning little arachnid no doubt nailed a few others--the "waistline" is a dead giveaway.
What's better than sighting a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii?
Well, a newly emerged Bombus vosnesenskii queen.
On the last day of June, we spotted this fresh queen-looking foraging on our blanket flower (Gaillardia). Her jet-black color, sunny yellow markings, and untattered wings indicated that this was one of her first flights. Queen bees are huge--about 18 to 21mm long--much larger than the other bees in her colony. Workers (females) range from 8 to 17 mm while males measure between 10 and 15mm.
The queen took a liking to the blanket flower, buzzing from blossom to blossom and sharing communal meals--sweet nectar--with honey bees, longhorned bees, and carpenter bees. A camouflaged crab spider, sprawled out on the top of a blossom, itched to get in on the feeding action by snagging an inattentive bee, but the bees buzzed right past their would-be predator. Not today!
Bombus vosnesenskii is one of only 250 species in the genus Bombus, which is Latin for "buzzing." Native to the west coast of North America, Bombus vosnesenskii is considered the most abundant bumble bee from British Columbia to Baja California. Its importance to agriculture is crucial: it's commonly invited to pollinate commercial greenhouse tomatoes, which it does very well. The next time you eat a greenhouse tomato, you should probably thank Bombus vosnesenskii.
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, is the co-author of the landmark Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (with co-authors Paul H. Williams, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla), published by Princeton University Press. It's the winner of a 2015 Outstanding Reference Sources Award, Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association.
Want to hear a bumble bee buzz? Just click this link: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide.
It's almost like bee-ing there.