Did you observe World Bee Day today?
Every year on May 20, the United Nations asks us to think about this day, "to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators" and "the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development."
Some 20,000 species of bees inhabit our world, but the "poster child" is the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
"The recent COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on the beekeeping sector affecting the production, the market and as a consequence, the livelihoods of beekeepers," the World Bee Day website tells us.
"To mark the Day, a virtual event--under the theme "Bee Engaged"--highlighted the importance of traditional knowledge related to beekeeping, the use of bee-derived products and services, and their importance in achieving the SDGs. If you missed it, you can watch it here!"
"To celebrate #WorldBeeDay, renowned actors, singers, chefs and media professionals also recorded poems related to bees and beekeeping, some recalling how the behavior of bees so often mirrors that of human beings across our planet. Listen to the poems now and bee inspired."
Meanwhile, a pollen-dusted honey bee in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., totally engaged us as she foraged on Gaillardia, aka "blanket flower." Gaillardia, a member of the sunflower family Asteracae, resembles the colorful maroon and gold Native American blankets. It's named for 18th century French magistrate and botanist Maître Gaillard de Charentonneau.
This honey bee went about her bee-sy-ness and then, weighted with pollen, took flight. It's a wonder she could see to return home to her colony.
Happy World Bee Day!
So here I am, a male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, just enjoying the nectar on this tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in Vacaville, Calif.
Some folks call me "The teddy bear bee."
Yes, I like that nickname. The late Robbin Thorp (1913-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, used to call me "the teddy bear bee" and display me at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses, because, well, for one, I am "cuddly"; two, I resemble a teddy bear; and three, I don't sting.
The good professor always used to say "Boy bees don't sting." That's true, but I can bluff pretty well.
They also say I'm handsome, what with my golden blond hair and green eyes. Aww, shucks!
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" Me.
But just don't mess with me.
So here I am, as I earlier mentioned, just enjoying my share of nectar on this tower of jewels. Ooh, the nectar is divine. Divine, I say.
Wait! What's that? A honey bee, Apis mellifera, is trying to horn in on my territory.
"Hey, I was here first, Missy!"
Ms. Honey Bee shrugs. "Sorry, buddy boy, I'll take what I want."
Oh, the audacity, the audacity, I say. Doesn't she know that I'm bigger than she is? Okay, she's got a stinger, but I'm bigger and I can bluff my way out of this.
Whoops, she's moving! She's moving toward me! Oh, dear! She's closing in on me.
Umm...bye, bye, Echium wildpretii...your nectar isn't as good as I thought it would be. Not with that honey bee refusing to keep her social distance! I'm outta here!
The predator and the prey...
Or the predator-to-bee.
Currently, honey bees are foraging on our tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in our family's pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. It's a veritable tower of bees.
They're side-stepping a little brown, carefully wrapped package: a praying mantis egg case, the ootheca. But sometimes they're stepping on it.
The "baby" mantids have not emerged yet, but soon they will. The siblings will eat one another before they turn to other prey.
The growing mantids will move from flower to flower and add the honey bee to their menu. Native bees, honey bees, butterflies...and it all begins right here--right here with the ootheca.
Everybody eats in the garden. Everybody.
The ootheca is a marvelous creation. Wikipedia tells us that ootheca is a Latinized combination of oo-, meaning "egg," from the Greek word ōon (cf. Latin ovum), and theca, meaning a "cover" or "container," from the Greek theke. Ootheke is Greek for ovary.
"Oothecae are made up of structural proteins and tanning agents that cause the protein to harden around the eggs, providing protection and stability," says Wikipedia. "The production of ootheca convergently evolved across numerous insect species due to a selection for protection from parasites and other forms of predation, as the complex structure of the shell casing provides an evolutionary reproductive advantage (although the fitness and lifespan also depend on other factors such as the temperature of the incubating ootheca)."
"The ootheca protects the eggs from microorganisms, parasitoids, predators, and weather; the ootheca maintains a stable water balance through variation in its surface, as it is porous in dry climates to protect against desiccation, and smooth in wet climates to protect against oversaturation. Its composition and appearance vary depending on species and environment."
The ootheca also protects against tiptoeing bees. They are totally unaware of what's in this little brown, carefully wrapped package. Its presence is not a present.
Remember the biblical story about David and Goliath? How young David, the underdog, defeats a Philistine giant?
Sometimes you think the same kind of battle will occur in nature when a honey bee, Apis mellifera, encounters a much larger carpenter bee, the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta.
We recently spotted a female Valley carpenter bee foraging on a mustard blossom, while her smaller cousin, the honey bee buzzed in, hoping to share. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera and the family, Apidae. The carpenter bee is a native. The honey bee is not.
What happened? The honey bee discreetly moved out of the way and let the carpenter bee claim her bounty.
California has three species of carpenter bees.
- The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It's about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as "the teddy bear bee," is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It's fuzzy and does not sting--or as the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, used to say: "Boy bees don't sting."
- The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It's known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body, Thorp says. The females have dark smoky brown wings.
- The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
Still my favorite carpenter bee is the male X. varipuncta, the green-eyed blond. You don't see it as much as the female of the species, but wow! Now to photograph them in the same picture...
All hail the honey bee!
It's an immigrant, like almost all of us, except for the Native Americans.
European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to what is now the United States in 1622. Specifically, they arrived at the Jamestown colony (Virginia). The Native Americans called the honey bee "the white man's fly." California had no honey bees until 1853 when a beekeeper brought his colonies to the San Jose area.
If you're like me, you can watch honey bees for hours.
Pull up a chair near a bee-buzzing event, watch them forage, and photograph them.
Pardon me, Ms. Bee, is that mustard on your head?
It's bee-utiful to see golden pollen dusted all over their bodies from head to thorax to abdomen. Then there are those immense balls of golden pollen that weight them down and hinder their flight.
I took these images with a Nikon D500 with a macro lens, 200mm. The settings: 800 ISO, f-stop 8, and shutter speed, 1/2500.