The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund. See YouTube video.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.
If you attended the Lavender Festival last weekend at the six-acre Araceli Farms at 7389 Pitt School Road, Dixon, you were in for a real treat.
Planted in April 2017, the fields glowed with seven varieties of lavender: Grosso, Provence, White Spike, Royal Velvet, Violet Intrigue, Folgate, and Melissa.
This is a family-owned business: parents Robert and Araceli and daughter Justina grow pesticide-free lavender and produce handmade, all natural products. They also host lavender festivals, lavender U-Pick, events, and workshops. (See the family's website and Facebook page.)
Last Saturday the lavender fields buzzed with honey bees from "Clay's Bees," belonging to Clay Ford, who owns the Pleasants Valley Honey Company. He and his wife, Karen, sell their honey at Farmers' Markets in Vacaville and Fairfield and other venues. Soon they'll be adding lavender honey.
But back to the fields: visitors delighted in wreathing lavender around their heads and necks, purchasing lavender products, and photographing one another in the fields. They came with tripods, professional cameras, and cell phones. But most of all, with smiles!
A day in the country with rows and rows of aromatic lavender definitely yields lots of smiles, joy and laughter.
Virtually unnoticed were the insects: Cordovan honey bees, the color of pure gold, rushed to gather the pollen and nectar, as if they knew the fields would be harvested Monday, June 24. We spotted a few yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii), cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae), and scores of migratory painted ladies (Vanessa cardui). "This is the second post-desert generation (Vanessa cardui), so altogether three generations have been involved," butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, told us Sunday, June 23. "The flight began here March 17--so today is the 98th day!"
Visitors browsed the vendor booths, all offering products or information. Drawing bee enthusiasts was Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse, a Bay Area-based organization that she and Terry Smith founded in Oakland in 2013 to create pollinator-friendly landscaping in urban settings and to foster appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action. Rocha, a retired Oakland parks supervisor, says that eco-friendly landscape techniques are at the heart of their work. They envision a day "when life-enhancing, thought-inspiring green spaces will grace every corner of the city and the world beyond." And spaces filled with bee condos for native bees! They make and sell AirBeeNBees for leafcutter bees and mason bees. (Check out their Facebook page.)
The owners of Araceli Farms love being lavender farmers. "Like anything in life, there wasn't a linear path to this," Justina relates on her blog. "Looking back on it now, I see how I was being prepped for this role, but I had no idea. After college, I landed a highly-sought after job with tons of prestige; it was incredible and I was so excited, but after some time I knew it wasn't my future. It didn't spark passion nor fuel my envisioned."
The lavender farm does.
One of the Araceli Farms employees, Maria Gonzalez of Dixon, sporting a curved harvesting knife, a wide-brimmed hat and an even wider smile, said she's been working the fields for two years.
And lovin' the lavender.
It's easy to love.
Sunday afternoon, Jan. 21 promises to be a day of inspiration, creativity and delight when the Bohart Museum of Entomology hosts an open house, "Bug-Art@The Bohart" from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane.
On the other side of campus, the Design Museum exhibition, It's Bugged: Insects' Role in Design will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 124 of Cruess Hall, off California Avenue.
At the Bohart, UC Davis undergradauate student and artist Karissa Merritt will be on-hand sketching insects for all to see, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. Other activities/focal points at the open house:
- Art display from the collection of the late Mary Foley Bensen, a former Smithsonian Institution scientific illustrator who lived the last years of her life in Davis, and who worked for entomology faculty
- Art display from Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, who illustrated under her maiden name Lynn Siri
- Art display by Charlotte Herbert, Ph.D. student; and UC Davis alumnus Ivana Li and Nicole Tam, who hold degrees in entomology from UC Davis
- Exhibit of "insect wedding photography" by Bohart associates Greg Kareofelas and Kathy Keatley Garvey
Open house attendees are invited to wear insect-themed attire, including dresses, ties, and jewelry. A contest will take place at 3 p.m. for the best insect-themed outfit, and for the best insect-themed tattoo (tattoo must be in a family friendly location).
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth collection at the Bohart and is newly returned from a collecting trip to Belize, will be on hand to show the Bohart collection.
At the Design Museum, among the work that visitors can view are the beetle gallery sculptures and hornet nest paper art of Ann Savageau, professor emeritus of the Department of Design; bee, butterfly and beetle specimens from the Bohart Museum; and images by UC Davis alumnus and noted insect photographer Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin. Wild received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2005, studying with major professor Phil Ward.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold some of the arthropods and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum holds special open houses throughout the academic year. Its regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com or Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And you won't want to miss it.
If you head over to the 69th annual Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo, between now and Sunday, July 31, you'll see lots of bees, butterflies, lady beetles, dragonflies, ants and other insects in McCormack Hall. They're depicted in photos and drawings, and on display boards, quilts, cakes, muffins, China plate paintings and more.
Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall, and her crew assembled the last of the displays earlier this week, just in time for the opening on Wednesday, July 27. The fair is open weekdays until 11 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31, from noon to 11 p.m.
Fairs are educational, informative, and entertaining, and the Solano County Fair, launched in 1949, is no exception. This year's theme is "Play It Again, Solano!"
But, back to the insects. Most of the exhibits in McCormack, of course, do not showcase insects, but many do! And they are amazing!
Have you ever seen a honey bee on a rock? Andrew Donato of Vallejo, has. In fact, he painted a bee on a rock and entered it in the 9-10 age graphic arts category. It's a winner!
Lexi Haddon Mendes of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, entered a decorated cake, "Flowers and Bees," in her age division, 9-10. She knows bees; she's a beekeeper and her father heads the club's beekeeping project.
Madeline Giron of Benicia entered muffins decorated with colorful ladybugs, aka lady beetles, in her 11-13 age division. Judges said "Yum!" and "Beautiful!" and "Blue Ribbon!"
Joseph Garrett of Fairfield entered several mounted insect specimens--along with a wolf spider (spiders are not insects)--in the science project division, ages 5-8. Is Joseph an entomologist-to-be?
The work of the adults is also incredible!
- Laquita Cumings of Rodeo entered a quilt of the most colorful butterflies you've ever seen. Best of show!
- Kim English of Fairfield entered a "Dresden design" China painting, adorned with flowers, butterflies and a bee.
- Celia Weller of American Canyon crafted a machine-quilted wall hanging adorned with flowers and an exotic butterfly not found in nature--but found at McCormack Hall.
- Beverly O'Hara of Benicia appliqued a quilt with ants and called it "Ant-titude." Clever! It features ants enjoying a picnic. What's a picnic without ants?
- Anita Jessop of Benicia imagined a field of flowers, and quilted a "Sunny Field of Flowers" wall hanging, complete with a hummingbird and dragonflies.
- Laura Ryan of Benicia entered a fan needlepoint anchored with a delightful blue butterfly. Reminds us of the blue morpho!
Those are just some of the prize-winning exhibits by youth and adults displayed at McCormack Hall. Be sure to check out the other buildings as well for an overall look at what the fair offers. The fair ends on Sunday, July 31 at 11 p.m.
Gloria Gonzalez, a longtime 4-H volunteer, has worked on the McCormack Hall displays for 11 years and has served as the superintendent for three years. She's the community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, a position she's held for eight years.
The veteran 4-H adult volunteer has served as a project leader in the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club for 18 years. Many of the folks who crew McCormack Hall are also 4-H'ers, including Sharon Payne, a past president of the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council; and longtime 4-H'ers turned leaders, Angelina Gonzalez and Julianna Payne, all of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club.
Xena the Warrior Princess, a 16-year-old tuxedo cat that we rescued from the pound, crossed the Rainbow Bridge today in a local veterinarian's office. We had her 16 years, or if cats have staff, we were her staff for 16 years. She allowed us to feed her, pet her, and love her.
A black outline of a butterfly adorned her left hind leg, the mark of a pollinator partner. She followed me from blossom to blossom as I captured images of bees, butterflies, dragonflies, sweat bees, spiders, praying mantids and every other little critter imaginable in our pollinator garden. She'd sit beneath my garden chair, just glad to be there, just glad to be alive.
That's what a Pollinator Partner does.
Xena the Warrior Princess was part warrior and part princess: a cunning predator and a purring princess. A predator that would delight in showing us her trophies, and a princess that loved to snuggle.
Then on Leap Year Day, Feb. 29, 2016, Xena the Warrior Princess suffered a debilitating stroke. Sixteen short years, and she's gone. She didn't want to go and we didn't want her to leave.
Rest in peace, Pollinator Partner.