"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>
Bohart associates sang "Happy Birthday" and cheered when he blew out a candle on the dessert plate.
For the occasion, doctoral student Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, drew two longhorned bees on his birthday card envelope--the bees replaced the "b's" in his first name. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum, coordinated the event.
Thorp actually celebrated his birthday while he was teaching Aug. 18-28 at The Bee Course, sponsored annually by the American Museum of Natural History, New York at its Southwest Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive workshop draws conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of California: An Identification Guide (2014, Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (2014, Heyday Books). both available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's gift shop.
Robbin received his bachelor and master's degrees in zoology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctorate degree in entomology from the University of California, Berkeley. He served on the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) from 1964 to 1994.
During his long and productive career, Thorp conducted research on pollination of crops pollinated by honey bees, especially almonds. His research also included the use of other bee species in crop pollination, the roles of native bees in pollination of flowers in natural ecosystems such as vernal pools, and the ecology and systematics of native bees. He taught courses at UC Davis in General Entomology, Natural History of Insects, Insect Classification, Field Entomology, California Insect Diversity, and Pollination Ecology, and has given scores of public presentations.
Thorp is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco (since 1986). Among his many awards: the distinguished team award (shared with Eric Mussen, Neal Williams, Brian Johnson and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2013 from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America for their collaborative work specializing in honey bees, wild bees and pollination issues through research, education and outreach. Their service to UC Davis at that time spanned 116 years.
Although Thorp retired in 1994, he continues to be active. For many years after his retirement, he researched ecology, systematics, biodiversity, and conservation of bees including pollen specialist bees in vernal pool ecosystems, as well as the role of native bees in crop pollination, the role of urban gardens as bee habitat, and declines in native bumble bee populations. He maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis where he continues his public service. That includes identifying bees for his colleagues. He recently served as a "bee" advisor for Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (2017) and published her first piece in the Proceedings for the Natural Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on “Deceptive Signals and Behaviors of a Cleptoparasitic Beetle Show Local Adaptation to Different Host Bee Species.”
Robbin Thorp is truly a dedicated entomologist who does the University of California proud!
- Read about his work: Robbin Thorp, Distinguished Emeritus Award
- Listen to Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen interview him about his career.
- Read what CNN wrote about him in its piece on "The Old Man and The Bee" (in pursuit of Franklin's bumble bee, now feared instinct)
Happy "b-day," Professor Thorp! That "b" can stand for bumble bees, honey bees, native bees, carpenter bees, blue orchard bees, leafcutter bees, longhorned bees and more...there are more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California.
Sometimes they barely notice you.
Such was the case of a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, spotted on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a bee worth?
If you want to learn more about bumble bees, be sure to check out the landmark book, Bumble Bees of North America, an Identification Guide, co-authored by our own Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. It's the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century.
Thorp is one of the veteran instructors at The Bee Course, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Ariz. This year's course is Aug. 20-30. (The deadline to apply was March 1.) It's a nine-day intensive workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists "who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees."
A spectacular pollinator garden that's a "must-see" is Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone.
Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author who addressed the UC Davis Bee Symposium in March on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," has created a masterpiece. And yes, the pollinator garden is open to the public--no admission fee.
We visited the garden last Saturday and saw a pipevine swallowtail nectaring on Nepeta tuberosa, yellow-faced bumble bees sipping nectar from Stachys bullata, hummingbirds scoring nectar from salvia, and honey bees foraging on everything from Scabiosa "Fama Blue" to a native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
This is a happy place.
As she told the crowd at the Bee Symposium, hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: Whether you plant them, nurture them, or walk through them, bee gardens make us happy.
Frey's sign at the Sonoma pollinator garden explains that "All the plants offer food resources of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Pollen is a protein, mineral and fat source and is primarily a larval food for bees, while nectar is composed of various sugars and is the main food for pollinators and the adult life stage of many beneficial insects. Pollinators need a continuous food source for many months of the year. This garden contains a range of plants that will bloom in succession from early spring to late fall."
Frey's sign also noted that "Pollinators all have preferred plants they feed from, and flowers cater to specific pollinators. Some flower shapes are designed to exclude unwanted pollinators. The long, constricted floral tubes of honeysuckles or many salvia exhibit their focus on hummingbirds as primary pollinators. Other flowers nectar, like coffee berry is easily accessible to all pollinators. This garden contains a wide range of plants to appear to a variety of pollinators. Over 80 percent of flowering plants require insect or animal pollination. What insects or birds do you see visiting each flower type?"
Well, let's see: bees, butterflies, and birds...Apis mellifera, Battus philenor, Bombus vosnesenskii, Papilio rutulus, Calypte anna...
"The same plants that support pollinators," Frey indicated on the sign, "also make us happy."
They do! Happiness is a pollinator garden...
Not so with the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG) on the University of California, Davis, campus. It's a 24,000-square foot treasure, a living museum planted not only with several dozen species of heritage fruit trees, but landscaped with colorful mini-gardens.
This spring scores of wildflowers bloomed in awe-stopping glory, prompting passersby to pull out their cell phones and take selfies.
“The project began in 2010 when a group of students raised the money to convert an under-utilized lawn into a working orchard with fruits free for everyone to enjoy,” related former student project manager and now BOG volunteer Emily Dorrance. She recently graduated with a bachelor of science degree in environmental policy analysis and planning.
“Since then, the team has grown to involve many other UC Davis faculty, staff, and student groups," Dorrance said. ”Ernesto Sandoval, manager and curator of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, has been an advisor to the BOG student leadership for many years now and continues to be an important partner!”
At its core, BOG is a collaboration of students, staff and academic programs and an outdoor ecological laboratory that directly supports the university's popular Introduction to Biology course. Or, as the BOG Facebook page indicates: "An agro-biodiverse collaboration between students, staff, academic specialists and programs at UC Davis!"
BOG is located in front (or back) of the Mann Laboratory on Kleiber Hall Drive, depending on which way you're going! If you park in Lot 26, off Kleiber Hall Drive, it's a short walk down the sidewalk to BOG.
"The orchard you see today was planted two years ago," Dorrance noted. "The wildflowers were seeded four years ago and continue to self-seed, with some supplementation.We're planning on planting some more permanent plantings in the fall. The Mediterranean plots surrounding the orchard will have some more seasonal variety as well! I don't think we have any major planting plans for this summer but that could change!"
Among the flowers blooming in the Bog in the early spring, by color:
- Red: European red flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum, an annual that's native to Algeria
- Yellow: tidy tips, Layia platyglossa, an annual that's native to California
--The seep monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus, native to California
--Lupine, Lupinus, native to North America.
- Blue: Desert bell, Phacelia campanularia, an annual herb that is native to California and endemic (limited) to California.
- Lavender: Phacelia, also called Lacy phacelia, blue tansy or purple tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia), native to the southwestern United States
--Lupine: Lupinus, native to North America
- Red-Orange-Yellow: Blanket flower or Gaillardia (Gaillardia × grandiflora), native to North and South America
- Orange: California golden poppies, Eschscholtzia californica
The orchard contains heritage fruit tree varieties threatened with commercial extinction. They include the Gravenstein and Johnathan apples; the Suncrest peach; the Bleinheim apricot, the Mariposa plum and the Meyer lemon. See the full list of trees as well as some fun facts here: https://thebogatucd.wixsite.com/bogucd/single-post/2017/07/18/BOG-Fruit-Trees.
In 2013 BOG received a "Go Green" grant from the UC Davis Dining Services. Then last month, the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) awarded $19,934 to the BOG for final site development. It was a major effort. (On its Facebook page, BOG thanks Kelly Richmond and Andra George for help on the grant and supporters Geoffrey Benn, Ivana Li, Pat Randolph, Lee Anne Richmond, and Peter Hartsough.)
Future plans? According to the website: "The BOG is joining the campuswide effort in transitioning towards a landscaping genre that embraces lawn reduction and plantings more suitable for the teaching, outreach and research mission of the university and sustainability practices. The motivation for the BOG is to serve as a teaching garden for multiple university courses and provide a relaxing space to enjoy the outdoors and simply delicious fruit. The BOG's main function is to serve a demonstration of and test site for plants more suitable to the region's hot dry summers and cool wet winters, with a focus on drought tolerant plants less commonly available in the Sacramento Valley."
When we stopped by the BOG in mid-April, the Phacelia tanacetifolia proved to be a favorite: honey bees (Apis mellifera), male and female Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) and yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) were all over it. It's fairly uncommon to see male Valley carpenter bees--"teddy bear bees" or green-eyed blonds--foraging, but there they were, along with the female of the species. "The girls" are solid black in a clear-cut case of sexual diphormism.
Want to get involved? The BOG seeks volunteers, interns and donors. See its website at https://thebogatucd.wixsite.com/bogucd or its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ucdBOG or email "firstname.lastname@example.org."
You can even adopt a tree!
Or become buddies with a bee!
(Note: Most of the annual wildflowers have "passed" since our visit in mid-April, but the orchard is thriving with newly formed fruit.)/span>/span>