There's more to Sonoma County's Bodega Head than the stunning views, crashing waves, nesting seabirds, and bursts of flora and fauna.
The sand cliffs are also the home of a digger bee, a bumble bee mimic known as Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana.
"The species name indicates that it is a bumble bee mimic," the late Robbin Thorp, a global authority on bumble bees and a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, told us several years ago. "These bees need a source of fresh water nearby. Females suck up water, regurgitate it on the sandstone bank surface, then dig away at the soft mud. They use some of the mud to build entrance turrets, presumably to help them locate their nests within the aggregation of nests."
"The female," Thorp said, "sucks up fresh water from nearby, stores it in her crop (like honey bees store nectar) for transport to the nest. She regurgitates it on the sandstone, and excavates the moistened soil. She carries out the mud and makes the entrance turret with it."
On multiple trips to Bodega Bay over the years, we watch in fascination as the bees excavate their homes, zip in and out of their turrets, and nectar on nearby flowers.
This time (June 24) we photographed an ant and bee encounter on a turret. The ant? Formica transmontanis, according to ant specialists Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis, and UC Davis alumnus Brendon Boudinot, who recently received his doctorate from UC Davis, studying with Ward.
"The species nests on the bluffs," Ward told us.
And about that bee-ant encounter? Commented Boudinot: "I suspect the little lady was alarmed by the big bee. These ants and their relatives are rather passive scavengers except during the brooding season, when fresh meat is an order. Most entomeat for Formica tend to be free-walking insects than barricaded larvae, as probably for the bee. For these reasons I think that the encounter may be coincidental!"
Scores of UC Davis entomologists have engaged in research at Bodega Bay. Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is currently researching Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana and its nests as part of a National Science Foundation grant. Her project on solitary bee provision microbiome includes investigating the diverse community of bacteria and fungi in the provisions and brood cells.
While COVID-19 mandates and precautions hamper her research team's efforts (she's done some preliminary sampling this year and the entire team is planning to do research next year), the digger bees of Bodega Head keep digging, crafting turrets, nectaring on the nearby flora--and encountering ants.
They're all in this together.
Saul-Gershenz studies how blister beetle nest parasites mimic the sex pheromone of digger bees.
Bohart associate Emma Cluff curated the wall display, “Digger Bees and Their Nest Parasites,” which examines the life cycle, research process, results, research challenges and implications.
Saul-Gershenz, associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, at the John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis, researches the chemical ecology and parasite-host interactions of these solitary native bees and their nest parasites across the western U. S., including the coastal sand dunes of Oregon and the Mojave Desert in south-central California.
Leslie did much of her work at the Mojave National Preserve, where she tracked the solitary bee Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus.
The larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal or allomone, similar to that of a female bee's pheromone, to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee on contact and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
Leslie's experiments found the allomones “released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin (larvae) mimic the pheromones released by a specific species of Habropoda bees native to their local habitat,” Cluff wrote in the display. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.”
The M. franciscanus triungulin hatching is synchronized with the emergence of adult female Habropoda bees,” the display reads. “The triungulins aggregate on plant stems and release an allomone blend which attracts male bees. The aggregation of triungulins hop on to male bees who have chosen to investigate the allomone. Once the male bees find a real female bee, they mate in a ‘mating ball' at which time the triungulins transfer to the female. All this effort is so that the triungulins can get a free ride to the nest that the female bee lays her eggs in. Once inside the nest burrow, the triungulins will feed on the net provisions and likely the egg itself and will remain there until they emerge as adults the following winter.”
Results? “Leslie's experiments found that the allomones released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin mimic the pheromones released by a the specific species of Habropoda” Cluff wrote. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.” The research contributes to the understanding of the communication signals of bees in the genus Habropoda.
Leslie, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is currently finishing two research papers: the basic biology of digger bee Habropoda pallida, and the biology of the silver digger bee Habropoda miserabilis.
She and her husband, Norman, are the co-founders of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org. The international conservation consortium works with partners to protect ecosystems around the world.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens. It also includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. The museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., except during the holiday schedule. (See website)
The next open house, free and family friendly, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. It will showcase "the amazing insect work that graduate students are doing," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. The theme is "Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research."
Nice to see you!
In early spring and throughout most of the summer, we saw scores of digger bees, Anthophora urbana, living in our garden.
The very territorial males patrolled the flowers, trying to save them for the females (to mate with them). The boys kept dive bombing the other boys, along with assorted bees, butterflies, beetles and hover flies that had the "gall" to grab a little nectar from "their" blossoms.
We thought the Anthophora urbana season was over.
But on Tuesday, Sept. 22 we learned: "It's not!"
We saw a male Anthophora urbana buzz a monarch butterfly as it was fueling up on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Sorry, that's mine!
Then it headed toward an English lavender. Yes, that's mine, too!
Native pollinate specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and a co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, said "it seems rather late for a male of the species to be flying. Especially since he looks so fresh, hair and wing margin not showing signs of aging. But this has been a strange year for bee and flower phenologies."
California Bees and Blooms, the work of UC scientists, relates that many Anthophora are examples of California's early spring-to-summer "univoltine" bee species. They define "univoltine" as producing one generation per year. Compare that to bivoltine (two generations) and multivoltine (more).
The book is a dazzling wealth of information, and opens up the incredible world of insect treasures in your garden and what to plant to attract them. California is home to some 1600 species of bees, and Anthophora is just one of them.
However, there may be sad ending...more about that later.
Members and their guests will gather Nov. 7 at 9:15 a.m. at their meeting site, the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District conference room, 155 Mason Circle, Concord. for coffee and registration.
Then, at 9:30 a.m., Saul-Gershenz will discuss “Meloid Parasites of Solitary Bees." A graduate student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a co-founder of SaveNature.Org, Saul-Gershenz researches a solitary ground-nesting bee, Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, found in the Mojave National Preserve.
She is the lead author of “Blister Beetle Nest Parasites Cooperate to Mimic the Sex Pheromone of the Solitary Bee Habropoda pallida (Hymenoptera: Apidae)," co-authored by professor Jocelyn G. Millar and staff research associate J. Steven McElfresh, both of UC Riverside. The Mojave National Preserve Science News published the peer-reviewed research in its April 2012 edition.
"The solitary bee is the first native bee to emerge in the spring on the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve," said Saul-Gershenz. “The adult beetles emerge on the dunes in the winter months at Kelso Dunes and feed exclusively on the leaves of Astragalus lentiginosus, which leafs out in January."
The bee's emergence is generally synchronized with the onset of blooms of the Borrego milkvetch, which is the sole host plant of adults of the blister beetle at Kelso Dunes.
The UC Davis ecologist said the larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical cue or a pheromone similar to that of a female solitary bee to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
The work of Saul-Gershenz, Millar and McElfresh appears in a newly published academic book, Sensory Ecology, Behaviour, and Evolution (Oxford University Press) by Martin Stevens. Another book, pending publication in December, also will contain their work: the second edition of Pheromones and Animal Behaviour (Cambridge University) by Tristram Wyatt.
Previously, three other books summarized their research:
Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by Laurence Packer and published in 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd.
Cuticular Hydrocarbons: Biology, Biochemistry and Chemical Ecology by editors A. Bagnères-Urbany and G. Bloomquist and published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press.
The Other Insect Societies by James T. Costa, and published in 2006 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Now, back to what may be a sad ending.
Following Saul-Gershenz' one-hour talk, the Nor Cal Entomology Society members will discuss the future of the organization, founded in 1930. Then it was known as the Northern California Entomology Club. Membership continues to be open to all interested persons, with dues at $10 a year. Currently the society meets three times a year: in Sacramento, at UC Davis, and in Concord.
Nor Cal Entomology president Robert Dowell of the California Department of Food and Agriculture will moderate the disussion.
“We have reached a critical juncture in the existence of the organization,” secretary-treasurer Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wrote to the members in an email. “At its beginning, the society served as the meeting place for entomologists mostly from UC Berkeley and UC Davis, as well as other members who appreciated their lively discussions of research and pest control. Representatives from industry and regulatory establishments also participated. A revolving system of society chairs was instituted and membership was good.”
“Over time, the climate has changed. UC Berkeley no longer has an entomology department or hardly any entomologists anymore,” said Mussen, who will retire from UC Davis in June 2014.
Those planning to attend to hear the talk and discuss the future of the organization should contact Mussen at email@example.com or telephone him at (530) 753-0472 by Nov. 1. And oh, yes, there's a luncheon to be served by Kinder's Meats. Mussen is taking reservations (and payment) for that, too.
But there's one thing they don't do. They don't check out the sand dunes, home of the bee villages.
Tiny holes are everywhere, yet nobody seems to notice.
They're the work of digger bees, aka faux bumble bees. These are Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana, researched by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The (female) bees suck up water nearby and then regurgitate on the (faces of the) sandstone cliffs to moisten and excavate soil for the tunnels, construct their turrets, and finally to seal the nest tunnel," Thorp says. The bees use some of the soil from the base of the turret to plug the entrance.
The bee turrets are somewhat like our gated communities! Keep out!
The digger bees have "grocery stores" all around them. You'll see the males and females foraging on the wildflowers, which include yellow and blue lupine, California golden poppies, wild radish, mustard, dandelions, and seaside daises.
If you crouch next to the bee villages, a nearby hiker is likely to ask "Lose something?"
No, we found something!