Windy? 27 mph!
We didn't think we'd see a single bumble bee foraging on the blooming ice plants, poppies, wild radishes, or lupines, but there it was, a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, nectaring on a yellow lupine near the entrance to Doran Regional Park.
This bumble bee species is one of the earliest to emerge in the spring. We've seen it as early as Jan. 1 in Benicia. And the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, coordinates a contest to see who can find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano. This year Ria de Grassi of Davis spotted a B. melanopygus, foraging on her ceanothus plant in her backyard on Jan. 8. (See Bug Squad blog.)
But back to the Bombus at Bodega. How can a tiny bumble bee, ranging from 0.6 to 1 inch in length, withstand that 27 mph wind, which seemed near gale force? Bumble bees pay no attention to gale force, which the National Weather Service defines as between 34 and 47 knots (39 to 54 mph).
Bumble bee authority John Ascher messaged me: "Their flight and resistance to cold is amazing!" Truly!
"Powerful flight muscles are packed into their stout little bodies, which are covered in thick fur," according to an Aug. 2, 2021 post in Imprint Ecology, Chichester, West Sussex, England. "These can propel them through high winds, in comparison to honeybees and butterflies who find it difficult to get airborne in wind above 20 mph. In addition, bumblebees can dislocate their flight muscles and shiver them to keep warm which is very useful on wet, windy days. Even in winter, you can see big queen bumblebees happily foraging on gorse, heather and crocus, when no other insects are out and temperatures have barely reached double figures."
"Bumblebees evolved in the Himalayas, around 25 to 40 million years ago. They are designed to withstand bleak, windy, mountainous climates and don't actually fare very well in hot places."
The black-tailed bumble bee predominantly has pale yellow hair "with bands of black hair between the wing bases and across the middle of the abdomen," according to the quartet of UC-based scientists, Gordon Frankie, (the late) Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, in their book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
They also forage quickly, especially in a strong wind...or an uninvited gust.
The contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology memorializes Thorp (1933-2019), a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor and global expert on bumble bees who always looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee of the year.
De Grassi captured a video of a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on a prized ceanothus plant on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8 in her backyard in Davis.
She recorded the video on her cell phone at 12:32 p.m. to win the contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and memorializing global bee expert Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. (See her YouTube video)
De Grassi, a former director of federal policy, livestock, animal health and welfare for the California Farm Bureau Federation, credits the storm, the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, and her working relationships with bee scientists, including Thorp, as having a hand in either her find and/or her interest in plants and pollinators.
The three previous winners (2022 was a tie) each photographed a bumble bee in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. Ironically, de Grassi bought her prized ceanothus at an Arboretum plant sale.
“I was doing clean-up in my backyard after Saturday night's rain and a 50-plus mile-per-hour windstorm,” said de Grassi, now an agricultural policy consultant. “The wind had subsided to a breeze by then. As I walked past my Ray Hartman ceanothus—which I purchased from a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale years ago when I did a garden makeover to be pollinator-friendly—I noticed some extra-long ceanothus branches that needed to be pruned, including some with super-early blooming flowers.”
De Grassi returned with her pole trimmer and started cutting. It was then she noticed a bumble bee foraging on her ceanothus--and when she remembered the “friendly Bohart Museum contest” inviting folks to find and photograph the first bumble bee in the two-county area of Solano and Yolo.
“I fumbled to retrieve my cell phone from my pocket to record, just to get in on the fun,” said de Grassi. “These bumbles dart around a lot, they don't stay put for photo ops.”
De Grassi knew Thorp from her professional work with the California Farm Bureau Federation and from her friendship with bee scientists Timothy Lawrence and Susan Cobey, formerly of UC Davis. “Tim and Sue were active in the California Farm Bureau's statewide Bee Advisory Committee that I managed,” she said. Lawrence is now a Washington State University Extension county director (Island County) and Cobey, a WSU bee breeder geneticist.
“I love documenting nature's cool stuff and especially the surprises we uncover when we pause long enough to notice,” de Grassi commented. The caterpillars she discovered eating her coral fountain (aka “firecracker plant,” Russelia equisetiiformis) led to UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro documenting it as a butterfly larval host.
“Gardening for pollinators has become my passion pastime. I like to give native and managed bees pesticide-free forage.”
As her prizes, de Grassi received a Franklin's bumble bee coffee cup from the Bohart Museum and handmade bee gifts (including a zippered bee-motif bag and bee-motif soaps) from Teresa Hickman of Vacaville, owner of "Handmade by Teresa."
De Grassi holds two degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's degree in agricultural science and management and a master's degree in animal science. She is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science Development Board, and a former member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association Board and the UC Davis Foundation Board of Trustees.
The Davis resident is no stranger to the UC Davis Arboretum (site of the previous winners). “I've walked the Arboretum since the time I was an undergrad here. It's my favorite place on campus and was absolutely my inspiration for plant choices in my urban garden makeover.”
Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson of the Neal Williams lab and the Elina Lastro Niño lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the 2021 contest by photographing a B. melanopygus at 3:10 p.m., Jan. 14 in a manzanita patch in the Arboretum.
UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, tied for first in the 2022 contest by each photographing a bumble bee foraging on manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in the Arboretum at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1.
Page, who now holds a doctorate in entomology, photographed a B. melanopygus, while Zagory captured an image of the yellow-faced bumble bee, B. vosnesenskii.
Thorp, a 30-year member of the UC Davis faculty, and a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, retired in 1994, but he continued working until several weeks before his death on June 7, 2019 at age 85. In 2014, he co-authored two books: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University,) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
As of 4 p.m. today (Jan. 6), the two UC Davis "bug contests" underway--one, to collect the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano, and two, to photograph the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano--have yielded no winners.
UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro, who sponsors the "Beer for a Butterfly" Contest (he'll trade you a pitcher of beer or its equivalent if you collect the first cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae), blames it on the rain. And more to come.
Shapiro was out looking for P. rapae today and "got wet and muddy but no bugs." He celebrated anyway with a beer. After all, today is his birthday!
And the rain?
"This may be the end of the world," he wrote in a group email (subject: "GLUB") on Jan. 5. "Periods of rain are expected every day through perhaps the 19th, with heavy rain and high winds on several occasions, beginning early next week. At least 6" more of rain can be expected in the Valley through Friday the 13th, with 10-20" on the west slopes of the Sierra and Coast Range. A megaflood scenario a la 1861-62 is unlikely-- but not out of the question. No discharges are yet expected into the Yolo Bypass, but that will probably change next week. Do not expect any butterfly records any time soon. Everybody stay safe and prepared for whatever may eventuate."
The barometer dropped to 29.54" on Wednesday morning, he added. "It's nowhere near a record but quite low."
Cabbage White Butterfly Contest
Shapiro, a member of the Department of Evolution and Ecology faculty, has sponsored the “Suds for a Bug” contest since 1972 to determine the butterfly's first flight of the year. He launched the contest as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate change.
P. rapae is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, said Shapiro. "Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20."
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the Department of Evolution and Ecology office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and the contact information of the collector (address, phone number and/or e-mail.) The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If it's collected on a weekend or holiday, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days--do not freeze it.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
The professor said P. rapae inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. The male is white. The female is often slightly buffy; the "underside of the hindwing and apex of the forewing may be distinctly yellow and normally have a gray cast,” Shapiro said. “The black dots and apical spot on the upperside tend to be faint or even to disappear really early in the season.” In its caterpillar stage, it is a pest commonly called "cabbageworm."
Shapiro, who monitors butterfly populations in the field for more than 200 days of the year and posts information on his research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/, usually wins the contest. He has been defeated only four times and those were by UC Davis graduate students. Adam Porter won in 1983; Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s; and Jacob Montgomery in 2016. The first three were his own graduate students.
Shapiro is the author of A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, illustrated by Tim Manolis and published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
The Robbin Thorp Memorial First-Bumble Bee-of-the-Year Contest, the third annual, is sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology. The first person to photograph a bumble bee in either Yolo or Solano and email the image to the sponsor, will receive a coffee cup designed with the endangered Franklin's bumble bee, the bee that Thorp monitored on the California-Oregon border for decades.
Contest coordinator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, said the image must be taken in the wild and emailed to email@example.com, with the time, date and place. The image must be recognizable as a bumble bee.
The first bumble bees to emerge in this area are the black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and the yellow-faced bumble bee, B. vosnesenskii.
The contest memorializes Professor Thorp (1933-2019), a global authority on bees and a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, who died June 7, 2019 at age 85. A 30-year member of the UC Davis faculty, he retired in 1994 but continued working until several weeks before his death. Every year he looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee in the area.
Two scientists shared the 2022 prize: UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology (who now holds a Ph.D) and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. They each photographed a bumble bee foraging on manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in the 100-acre Arboretum at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1.
Page photographed a B. melanopygus, while Zagory captured an image B. vosnesenskii. Fittingly, they both knew and worked with Thorp, a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation and the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
This marked the second consecutive win for a member of the Williams lab. Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson of the Williams lab and the Elina Lastro Niño lab, won the 2021 contest by photographing a B. melanopygus at 3:10 p.m., Jan. 14 in a manzanita patch in the Arboretum.
Both Page and Nicholson are alumni of The Bee Course, which Thorp co-taught from 2002-2018. Page completed the course in 2018, and Nicholson in 2015. In July 2016, Page participated in a "Bumble Bee Blitz" organized by Thorp and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Mt. Ashland, where, she said, "we searched for Bombus franklini and Bombus occidentalis--two very rare west coast bee species. We unfortunately did not find B. franklini, which is now recognized as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.”
The prized coffee cup features an image of the bee specimen, photographed by Bohart scientist Brennen Dyer, now collections manager, and designed by UC Davis doctoral alumnus Fran Keller, a professor at Folsom Lake College. Previous winners are ineligible to win the prize.
The bumble bee contest originated as an impromptu contest in 2012 as a little rivalry between the late Professor Thorp and his "posse"--three of his bumble bee aficionados: Allan Jones, Gary Zamzow, and Kathy Keatley Garvey.
What's it all about? The Bohart Museum of Entomology is launching its second annual Robbin Thorp Memorial Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest to see who can find and photograph the first bumble bee of 2022 in Yolo or Solano counties.
Participants are to capture an image of a bumble bee in the wild in either of the two counties and email the image to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the details of time, date and place. The image must be recognizable as a bumble bee, said contest coordinator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology.
The winner will receive a coffee cup designed with the endangered bumble bee that the late Robbin Thorp closely monitored—Franklin's bumble bee, Bombus franklini, known to exist in a small area by the California-Oregon border. UC Davis doctoral alumnus Fran Keller, a professor at Folsom Lake College and a Bohart Museum scientist, designed the cup. Bohart scientist Brennen Dyer photographed the specimen.
Thorp, a global authority on bees and a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, always looked forward to finding or seeing the first bumble bee of the year in the area.
The native black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, is the first bumble bee to emerge in the area, according to Thorp. It forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers, and sages, among others.
Thorp served on the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964 to 1994. Although he achieved emeritus status in 1994, he continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death on June 7, 2019 at age 85 at his home in Davis.
Nicholson, a researcher in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology labs of Professor Neal Williams, a pollination ecologist, and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, is a 2015 alumnus of The Bee Course, where Thorp taught from 2002 through 2018. The nine-day intensive workshop, geared for conservation biologists and pollination ecologists and considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, takes place annually in Portal, Ariz., at the Southwestern Research Station, part of the American Museum of Natural History, N.Y.
Kimsey praised Thorp for his expertise, generosity and kindness. Kimsey, who first met Thorp when she was a graduate student at UC Davis, said that although he wasn't her major professor, “my project was on bees and he was incredibly helpful and supportive. His enthusiasm about pollinators and bees in particular actually grew after he retired, and he continued helping students and researchers and was the backbone of so much research. His support and kindness was matched by his undemanding assistance and expertise.”
In 2014, Thorp co-authored two books, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
Thorp, the last known person to see Franklin's bumble bee in its native habitat, spotted it in 2006 near Mt. Ashland. The bee inhabits--or did--a 13,300-square-mile area within the five-county area of Siskiyou and Trinity in California; and Jackson, Douglas and Josephine in Oregon.
Thorp sighted 94 Franklin's bumble bees in that area in 1998, but by 2003, the tally had dropped to three. Thorp saw none in 2004 and 2005; one in 2006; and none since. Thorp's determined hunt for the bumble bee resulted in the CNN publication of "The Old Man and the Bee," a spin-off of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
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.