Benjamin Franklin reportedly said: "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
What about the sleeping patterns of bumble bees?
Bumble bees are definitely early risers--if the weather cooperates. They usually forage earlier than honey bees and also in cooler temperatures.
We spotted this bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, commonly known as a "black-tailed bumble bee," sleeping on a Spanish lavender blossom April 12 in a Vacaville, Calif. park.
Native to western North America and found from California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho, it forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others.
Keep your eye out for this bumble bee, which is the first species we see in this area. It will be the focus of the Robbin Thorp Memorial Bumble Bee Contest, which starts Jan. 1, 2021. The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, will sponsor the contest to see who can find the first one of the year.
Professor Thorp (1933-2019), a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death. In 2014, during his retirement, he co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. He was among the instructors (2002-2019) of The Bee Course. This is an intensive nine-day workshop affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. It's geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
For the past several years, several of us bumble bee enthusiasts, encouraged by Professor Thorp, have tried to find the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano. He always expressed delight when we reported back to him. This year Allan Jones of Davis photographed one on Jan. 6 on a white manzanita in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden (Yolo County) to win the contest. The bumble bee been found as early as Jan. 1 in Benicia (Solano County).
Still, no matter the month, it's a joy to see. This one's for you, Robbin.
The two-day fair, downsized from years past, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1. Admission is free; parking is $5 per vehicle. (See schedule.)
At McCormack Hall, youth and adult exhibitors are displaying such projects as an insect-themed afghan, photographs of insects; a photograph of a "spider girl"; and a wall hanging of a dragonfly crafted from fan blades and furniture legs.
McCormack Hall superintendent Gloria Gonzalez, a community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, marveled at a bumble bee and other patterns on a Minnesota sampler crocheted afghan, the work of Debra Holter of San Pablo.
The wall hanging of the dragonfly, the work of Tina Saravia of Suisun City, is also drawing interest. Using her imagination and recyclables, Saravia crafted it primarily with fan blades and furniture legs. It's entered in the adult recycling class,
Gary Cullen of Vallejo entered a photo that he titled "Spider Girl," of a smiling girl with a spiderish facial costume.
Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, who is enrolled in a beekeeping project, submitted a close-up image of a honey bee. Maya Prunty of Sacramento 4-H submitted an image of a moth.
Those are just a few of the arthropod-related exhibits at the fair. Some of the items are available for purchase in the fair's Competitive Exhibits Program. The highest bidder in the silent auction takes home the exhibit.
That will include the honey bee image by teenage beekeeper Ryan Anenson.
Especially when it comes to bumble bee colonies.
Postdoctoral scholar Rosemary Malfi of the Neal Williams lab, University of California, Davis, will speak on “Timing Is Everything: Bumble Bee Colony Performance in Response to Seasonal Variation in Resources” at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, May 30 in 122 Briggs Hall.
“Wild bee populations are considered to be strongly regulated by the availability of flowering resources on which they rely for food, that is, pollen and nectar, yet we lack robust, experimental data demonstrating the mechanistic connections between the floral resource environment and bee population health," Malfi says. "The temporal distribution of resources, in particular, is an understudied but potentially highly influential aspect of habitat quality affecting bees. Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are annual, euosocial insect with high conservation value. Because their colonies must grow for several weeks before reproducing the timing of within-season resource abundance and scarcity is especially likely to impact their demographic performance."
At her seminar, Malfi will describe her postdoctoral work here at UC Davis, "in which we investigated the importance of the timing of floral resource abundance for bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenkii) colony success through two large field experiments involving the manipulation of the food environment that colonies experienced. In the first study, we assessed how differences in the resource environment early in colony development affected both individual and colony level traits across the season using radio-frequency technology (RFID) and mark recapture methods. In the second study, we determine whether a pulse of food resources early in development, compared to a pulse delivered later during the 'pre-reproductive' phase, has a greater or similar impact on the peak size and reproduction of bumble bee colonies. We use a null method of exponential colony growth to explore whether resource pulses have persistent effects on colony growth after the pule itself has disappeared. Together these studies demonstrate that resource abundance early in development is critical for the success of bumble bee colonies, and this populations."
A native of Philadelphia, Rosemary received her bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College, an all-women's liberal arts school in the greater metro area, and worked two years at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as a lab manager for the in-house Patrick Center for Environmental Research.
Mali holds a doctorate in environmental science (ecology) from the University of Virginia in 2015 , studying with major professor T'ai Roulston. She focused her doctoral research on the influence that flower (i.e. food) availability and parasitism have on bumble bee (Bombus spp.) population dynamics, and how risks associated with these factors vary among species within a community. In her work, integrating field observations, parasite analysis, colony manipulations, the use of radio frequency technology, and simulation modeling, she investigated these sources of environmental influence independently and interactively through studies that focus on bumble bee populations and environmental risks present in northern Virginia.
Among the bumble bee parasites Malfi has studied: Nosema bombi, a pathogenic fungus implicated in "the precipitous and rapid decline of several bumble bee species across North America." During her graduate studies, she became especially interested in the interaction between bumble bees and one of their parasitoids, the conopid fly. "Although the basic biology of this interaction has been described," she says, "little is currently known about the ecology of this host-parasitoid relationship, particularly in North America." Malfi discussed her work on the conopid fly at the January 2016 open house of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis.
Malfi's postdoctoral position at UC Davis ends in September, and then she will be moving to Massachusetts with her family. She will be working in the lab of Lynn Adler at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to carry out research on the influence of diet on bumble bee colony development and health.
Career plans? "For now, my career plans are to continue pursuing research on wild bee population health," she says. "In my next position at UMass Amherst, I'll be focusing on how the diet of bumble bees may mediate the influence of pathogenic parasites on individual- and colony-level performance."
The black-tailed bumble bee wasn't flying very well.
You wouldn't, either, if you were trying to fly with a backpack on your back.
Except this wasn't a backpack but sticky pollen.
The bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, was foraging in our Spanish lavender last weekend when we noticed something unusual: a sort of hump on the back, a reddish coloration.
"That mass on the rear of the Bombus melanopygus thorax is a load of pollen," said Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. "A larger lump than most that I have seen before. Deposited from several visits to some 'nototribic' flower. Nototribic flowers are those that deposit pollen on the upper side of visitors. Like salvias with their anthers at the top of the tube."
Biologist Africa Gomez of the UK writes about it in her abugblog: "Some bees...specialize on collecting pollen from flowers with raised anthers, which touch over the bee's head or thorax when bees land on them. These are called nototribic flowers and include species from the Lamiaceae (the mint family) and Scrophulariaceae (the figwort family)."
"Although bee-pollinated plants benefit from bees taking nectar--exchanging nectar for inadvertent pollination- they do not benefit when potential pollinators efficiently gather the pollen for their offspring consumptions instead," Gomez points out in her blog. "Nototribic plants in response to specialised pollen gathering by bees, have flowers that make pollen hard to collect, even when they have plentiful nectar. Only bees equipped with either specialised behaviour or morphological modifications, or both can effectively make use of their pollen."
As for the bumble bee foraging on our Spanish lavender, it eventually bumbled off with that heavy load, taking flight like a weighted Spruce Goose.
Might As Well Be Spring
"I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm
I'm as jumpy as puppet on a string
I'd say that I had spring fever
But I know it isn't spring."--Frank Sinatra
Wait, it is spring!
Today is the day we've all be waiting for--the first day of spring.
If you're lucky, you'll see bumble bees nectaring on spring flowers, including nectarine blossoms.
We spotted this bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, also known as a black-tailed bumble bee, heading toward our nectarine tree and foraging on the blossoms.
This is one of the 27 species of bumble bees in California. We frequently see the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and sometimes Bombus californicus, aka the California bumble bee.
Our little buddy, Bombus melanopygus, appears to be nesting nearby due to her frequent visits to the nectarine blossoms. Hmm, wonder if she is occupying a rodent hole or maybe an old birdhouse....
If you're interested in learning more about bumble bees, check out the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, the work of UC Davis and UC Berkeley scientists, including Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who is also the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide.