A gravid praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, crawls out of a patch of African blue basil, and begins checking out the honey bees.
Decisions. Decisions. Dozens of them are buzzing around, gathering nectar for their colony. They are not aware she is there.
Finally, the mantis, her abdomen bulging with a future ootheca, spots a bee just above her head.
She knows the ambush move well. Soon spiked forelegs grip the bee, her dinner.
It was a good day for a praying mantis. It was not a good day for a bee.
Have you ever pulled up a chair in your garden and watched honey bees foraging?
They are so intent on their "bees-ness" that they don't know you're there. It's a great opportunity to photograph them.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, they'll buzz over your head on their way back to their colony, and you'll see:
- The three main body parts: head, thorax and abdomen
- The two pairs of wings
- The three pairs of legs
- The pair of antennae
Such was the case in Vacaville this week when we were watching honey bees forage in our African blue basil, a bee magnet that we plant annually. We first learned of African blue basil, (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal'), through Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor and the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. They co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Books) with Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Want to know more about honey bees? Be sure to read the newly published The Art of the Honey Bee; Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies (Oxford University Press) by noted bee geneticist and biologist Robert E. Page Jr., who maintains strong ties to UC Davis and Arizona State University (ASU). Also learn about honey bee anatomy on ASU's web page, "Ask a Biologist."
Page, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. In 2004, Arizona State University (ASU) recruited him for what would become a series of top-level administrative roles. He advanced from director of the School of Life Sciences to dean of Life Sciences; vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and university provost. Today he holds the titles of provost emeritus of ASU and Regents professor emeritus, as well as UC Davis department chair emeritus, professor emeritus, and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor.
Did you know a bee has a tool kit? Page lists the tool kit in his book, The Art of the Bee: a compass, an odometer and a path integrator.
'As 'central place foragers,' bees fly out from the nest site and explore the surrounding environment in search of food resources," writes Page, renowned for his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. "They return to the nest with the resources they collect. To do this, they need to be able to navigate out and find their way back. To aid them, they have a toolkit of navigation mechanisms."
One tool in their tool kit is their internal compass that depends on the location of the sun.
"As light from the sun passes through the atmosphere, it becomes polarized," Page writes. "The pattern of polarized light in the sky depends on the angle of the sun relative to where you are looking. Bees have special sensors in their eyes for detecting the polarized light patterns. On cloudy days, they can't see the sky; but they can still locate the sun using ultraviolet light detectors. Ultraviolet light penetrates cloud cover, allowing bees to use the location of the sun as a navigational marker. With heavy clouds, bees can get to and from a resource by relying solely on landmarks that they learn; otherwise, they stay home until the weather changes. However, as the earth turns, the sun is always changing location relative to the horizon, making it an unreliable marker unless you know the time of day, and bees do. They learn the movement of the sun across the sky and reference it to an internal clock. We know they have the clock because we can train them to forage at specific times of day. If you anesthetize a bee, you can stop her clock. When she awakens and takes a foraging trip to a learned foraging station, her flight path will be offset by the amount of time lost. In other words, she will misinterpret the direction based on the current location of the sun by the amount of time she was anesthetized."
"The odometer plus the ability to determine a flight vector (direction and distance) from a given landmark along a resource flight path, using their sun compass and internal clock, give bees the basic tools for navigation," Page writes. "The last tool in the toolkit is a path integrator that combines the compass and odometer information."
It's a fascinating book by Page, whose most salient contributions to science include constructing the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.
Meanwhile, take the challenge. Pull up a chair in your garden and watch and photograph the bees going about their "bees-ness."
It is not a "pretty sight," as Ernest Hemingway might have said, to see a honey bee stuck like glue--nature's "gorilla glue?"-in the reproductive chamber of a milkweed.
It's a trap, a floral trap.
If you've never seen this, this is how it works: milkweed produces pollinia, a sticky structure or packet of pollen grains originating from a single anther (male part). During the flower's complex pollination process, the mass is transferred as a single unit and looks like a yellow wishbone dangling on a honey bee's legs or other parts of her anatomy. It's a devious way for the milkweed to force insects to help them reproduce--in exchange for the sweet nectar reward. (Orchids produce pollinia, too.)
Oh, the nectar is so enticing! Honey bees (and other insects) literally make a bee-line for the it. They buzz and bump around as they await a vacancy. The scenario almost calls for crowd control or at least traffic lights.
But it's a trap, a floral trap. Sometimes you'll see frenzied bees struggling to free themselves from the sticky nectar trough. They are not always successful. Return to the scene of the grime and you'll see insect parts or whole insects trapped in the sticky mass. Dead.
The two honey bees below experienced different fates on this narrow-leafed milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis. One managed to free her leg from the grip of the milkweed reproductive chamber and return to her colony, complete with the precious nectar--and legs intact. The other did not. The meal was her last.
We knew her initially as the wife of emeritus professor Charles "Charlie" Judson (1926-2015) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, a noted insect physiologist, mosquito researcher and teacher who served as a member of the faculty for three decades. He died July 26, 2015 at age 88.
Marilyn Judson died July 7, 2020 at age 91.
Her death saddens us, but her contributions, her generosity and her joy live on.
The obituary in the Davis Enterprise began:
"On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, Marilyn Wilburn Judson died peacefully at the age of 91. Her dear friend Kitty Liebhardt described her best: 'She was a little lady who was big in many lives. Not loud or showy. Just quiet, accomplished and steady, secure in her competency, not only a creative artist, but a creative problem solver as well; a smile for the troubled, a hand for the needy, and pick me up for the weary and a calm antidote for the ruffled.'"
Judson, a native of Washington state, met her husband-to-be in Riverside where she was attending college. The couple married in 1950 and moved to Davis where they raised their children. (See obituary)
"It wouldn't be unusual for her to put out a demand to her family that she needed a picture of a stalk of wheat, a California poppy or a mosquito on which to model her work — she was able to find beauty and art in the everyday," the obituary indicated.
Yes, she found beauty and art every day and she shared it at art shows and classes.
"In addition to creating art, Marilyn shared her passion by teaching calligraphy classes at the Davis adult school. She co-authored and illustrated a book about making musical instruments with former neighbor Eileen Hunter, and also developed a small embroidery kit business called Dandelion with friends Pat Carmen and Jody House."
"She supported her community by involvement with the Davis Art Center and Pence Gallery. She volunteered with the Davis Friends of the Library and loved frequent coffee gatherings at Fluffy Donuts with dear friends."
"Charlie Judson radiated graciousness, trust and respect, and personified everything good in a university scientist, mentor, and teacher," recalled distinguished professor of entomology James R. Carey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "He not only helped shape our department in its early days, but also set a very high bar for personal decency and professional integrity. Colleagues like Charlie are hard to find, difficult to lose, and impossible to forget."
Our tribute to Professor Judson resulted in a number of emails, including one from former graduate student Benito O. de Lumen. His comments speak volumes of the Judsons' generosity: "I was a graduate student in Agric Chemistry- Biochemistry when my wife Helen, served as a research associate with Professor Judson, in the 1970s. I usually visit my wife in Judson's lab and helped in feeding his mosquitoes by poking my hand into the mosquito chamber. It itched initially, then I could not feel the pain anymore. Helen and I were invited into their home a number of times and when Helen visited the Philippines, Charles and Marilyn graciously, invited me for dinner, by myself."
It's the little things we remember, but it's the little things that mean the most.
Comments from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility Facebook Page:
Barb Laidlaw Murphy
This makes me quite sad. The Judsons lived close to us and when I was in high school and college I used to go over and talk for hours about art with Marilyn. Mom would have to call and have her send me home for dinner. She and Charles were wonderful to my parents in their final years.
Marilyn Anne Love
a beautiful life, lived well
Oh wow, I'm so sorry to hear this. She was part of the Bees at the Bee thing I put together. I think she did paper sculpture of bees for that one. I remember a really lovely, kind hearted person who made me feel very welcome. I'm sure she's left that legacy of good feelings all over her friends and family. That sounds like good fun well done.
I am so sorry to hear this. I knew the Judsons when I was growing up. Charles and my dad were colleagues. When my dad went to the hospital, she was the first person there to comfort me.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) targets the yellow starthistle on its "How to Manage Pests; Pests in Gardens and Landscapes" site.
But in the opinion of many a honey connoisseur (including Eric Mussen, emeritus Extension apiculturist, UC Davis), starthistle makes one of the best honeys.
What about the mead (honey wine) made from starthistle? What's that like?
You can find out at the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's "Mead Making 201" course, where you'll taste "Star Thistle Ambrosia," from St. Ambrose Cellars, Beulah, Mich.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, says you can take take Mead Making 201 "in the comforts of your own home." The online course covers core information including guided tastings with selected meads and honey. "Each participant will go on virtual meadery tours and get to directly ask our mead makers questions."
The online course is scheduled June 22-23 and June 25-26, from 8 a.m. to noon each day, Pacific Daylight Time. The deadline to register is June 1.
The course, sensory-driven to help mead makers learn more about their craft, is designed for mead makers who have made six more fermentations and "have a lot of questions about how to improve," the officials related. "This mead maker knows that it isn't always beginner's luck and needs to do much more work to learn how to be successful each and every time."
The full-bottled meads to be featured:
- Blackberry - Schramm's Mead
- Statement - Schramm's Mead
- John Lemon - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Razzputin - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Tom Cat: Gin Barrel - Sap House Meadery
- Echoes: Rye Barrel - Sap House Meadery
- Coveters B2 - Lost Cause Meadery
- Snow Melt - Superstition
- Star Thistle Ambrosia - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Melia - Rabbit's Foot Meadery
Other items on the agenda:
- Spiked mead samples for defect tasting
- Mead Tasting Wheel
- Honeys for Honey to Mead Tasting
- UC Davis Aroma and Flavor Honey Wheel
All you mead is love--plus a little money (well-spent) and the time (well spent) to learn more about how to craft the world's oldest alcoholic beverage.