When was the last time you sighted a bumble bee? Photographed it?
It's National Pollinator Week and one of our favorite bumble bees is the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. It was also a favorite of internationally renowned bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who passed away June 7 at age 85. (See obituary)
In fact, all bumble bees were his favorite, including the elusive Franklin's bumble bee, found only in a small range in southern Oregon and northern California and now feared extinct. We remember a July 2010 interview with Thorp:
“People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee," Thorp told us. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”
“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” he said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Thorp treasured bumble bees and encouraged everyone else to do so, too.
The yellow-faced bumble bees are native to the west coast of North America, from Baja California to British Columbia. They're important pollinators, especially important for their buzz pollination of tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Buzz pollination occurs when they grab a blossom and shake it, dislodging the pollen. Honey bees can't do that.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently posted that one quarter (28 percent) of North American bumble bees are in some degree of extinction risk. "Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change." (See more information on bumble bees on the Xerces' site.)
Meanwhile, "across the pond," London has established a seven-mile long bee corridor of wildflowers just for pollinators.
"The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said wild mammals had declined by 82 per cent since 1980, space for natural ecosystems had halved, and one million species were now at risk of extinction as a result of human action," according to a May 7, 2019 article in The Independent newspaper. "Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Insects are required to maintain the existence of 75 per cent of crop species, 35 per cent of global crop production and up to 88 per cent of flowering plant species," reporter Harry Cockburn wrote.
Want to learn more about the bumble bees around us? A good start is to read these two books, both co-authored by Thorp in his retirement: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
And, if you would like to get involved in citizen science, Bumble Bee Watch seeks your sightings.
Salivating over salvia?
You can see, salivate--and purchase--salvias and more at the spring premiere plant sale sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden on Saturday, April 6.
They'll offer everything from "Bee's Bliss" to "Black Lace" to "Blaze" to "Brilliance." Among the many others: "Whirly Blue, "Pozo Blue," "Marine Blue," "Little Kiss," "Midnight," "Pink Cadillac" and "Hot Lips."
The plant sale, open to the public, is set from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the one-acre Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. It's a great place to buy plants to attract our pollinators: bees, butterflies, birds, beetles and bats. Not to mention syrphid flies, aka hover flies/flower flies!
You can download the plant sale inventory on the website. Favorites include the Arboretum All-Stars and California native plants, as well as herbs, perennials, shade plants, bushes, trees, vines and more.
Can't make it on Saturday, April 6? Plant sales are also scheduled Saturday, April 27 and Saturday, May 11.
Happy spring! Happy salivating! And happy/hungry pollinators!
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.
It was the morning of Jan. 1, 2018, a year and four days ago.
While strolling the grounds of the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, we captured images of yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on jade, Crassula ovata. They were packing cream-colored pollen from the jade. The same day, we spotted the same species nectaring on rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, by the Benicia marina, but packing orange pollen, probably from the nearby California golden poppies.
Thus began our Year of the Insects.
So far this year, we haven't spotted a single bumble bee in Solano or Yolo counties. It's too early in the season (except for hot spots in Benicia, Solano County, where even some almond trees bloom on Jan. 1!)
Nowadays, though, the talk isn't just about "bumble Bees," the insect, but "Bumblebee," the movie, as in the 2018 American science fiction action film. It's about a Transformers' character of the same name, described as "battle-scarred and broken."
Why is the insect spelled "bumble bee," two words? The Entomological Association of America (ESA), in its newsletter, Entomology Today, explains: "...entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists--house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies --their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word." (Check out the ESA Comman Names of Insects Database.)
So there you have it: bumble bee, the insect, and Bumblebee, the movie.
And sometimes there's a serendipity moment when the two meet.
We remember back in April of 2017 when native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Nematology and Nematology, was displaying bumble bees at a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house.
Thorp, a global authority on bumble bees, is the author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
So was he ever surprised when in a defining moment, 6-year-old Adne Burruss of Irvine (his mother, Sigrid, is a geneticist and UC Davis alumna) walked up to him wearing a Bumblebee t-shirt. Adne wanted to look at the "other" bumble bees.
So do we! So do we!
"Black Friday" means different things to each of us, but when I think of "Black Friday," I think of black bumble bees nectaring on blackberry blossoms in Berkeley.
Bumble bees on blackberry blossoms in Berkeley. Talk about alliteration!
Specifically, I think of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, the bee I photographed on a Friday last spring in Berkeley.
Bombus vosnesenskii is among the bees featured in the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, (Heyday Press). It's the work of entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville and plant scientist Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authoredBumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
Bumble bees are in trouble. Many populations are declining, threatened or endangered. Take the case of critically endangered--or maybe extinct--Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), which has probably the most restricted or narrowest range of any bumble bee in the world, according to Thorp, who has been monitoring its population--or trying to--since the 1990s. Its habitat is--or was--a small area of southern Oregon (Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties) and northern California (Siskiyou and Trinity counties). It frequents California poppies, lupines, vetch, wild roses, blackberries, clover, sweet peas, horsemint and mountain penny royal during its flight season, from mid-May through September.
Thorp hasn't seen it for 12 years. He sighted a total of 94 Bombus franklini in 1998; 20 in 1999; 9 in 2000 and only 1 in 2001. Sightings increased slightly to 20 in 2002, but dropped to 3 in 2003. Thorp saw none in 2004 and 2005; one in 2006; and none since. (See his photo of Franklin's bumble bee.)
In a UC Davis interview in July 2010, Thorp told us: “People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee. In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless."
"Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” Thorp said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Many factors, including loss of habitat, are involved. Pesticides must share some of the blame. Interesting that researchers at Worchester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute recently found that bumble bee exposure to neonicotinoids may be contributing to their decline across America. Even small doses, the researchers discovered, reduce the survival of queen and male bees, which are critical to the survival of wild population. (See Worchester Polytechnic Institute news story.)
Bottom line: if bumble bees disappeared, it would not only be a Black Friday, but a Black Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday./span>