Windy? 27 mph!
We didn't think we'd see a single bumble bee foraging on the blooming ice plants, poppies, wild radishes, or lupines, but there it was, a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, nectaring on a yellow lupine near the entrance to Doran Regional Park.
This bumble bee species is one of the earliest to emerge in the spring. We've seen it as early as Jan. 1 in Benicia. And the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, coordinates a contest to see who can find and photograph the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano. This year Ria de Grassi of Davis spotted a B. melanopygus, foraging on her ceanothus plant in her backyard on Jan. 8. (See Bug Squad blog.)
But back to the Bombus at Bodega. How can a tiny bumble bee, ranging from 0.6 to 1 inch in length, withstand that 27 mph wind, which seemed near gale force? Bumble bees pay no attention to gale force, which the National Weather Service defines as between 34 and 47 knots (39 to 54 mph).
Bumble bee authority John Ascher messaged me: "Their flight and resistance to cold is amazing!" Truly!
"Powerful flight muscles are packed into their stout little bodies, which are covered in thick fur," according to an Aug. 2, 2021 post in Imprint Ecology, Chichester, West Sussex, England. "These can propel them through high winds, in comparison to honeybees and butterflies who find it difficult to get airborne in wind above 20 mph. In addition, bumblebees can dislocate their flight muscles and shiver them to keep warm which is very useful on wet, windy days. Even in winter, you can see big queen bumblebees happily foraging on gorse, heather and crocus, when no other insects are out and temperatures have barely reached double figures."
"Bumblebees evolved in the Himalayas, around 25 to 40 million years ago. They are designed to withstand bleak, windy, mountainous climates and don't actually fare very well in hot places."
The black-tailed bumble bee predominantly has pale yellow hair "with bands of black hair between the wing bases and across the middle of the abdomen," according to the quartet of UC-based scientists, Gordon Frankie, (the late) Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, in their book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
They also forage quickly, especially in a strong wind...or an uninvited gust.
Early scientists figured it was aerodynamically impossible for bumble bees to fly due to their size, weight and shape of their bodies in relation to their total wingspan. And then there were those air resistance issues.
“Antoine Magnan, a French zoologist, in 1934 made some very careful studies of bumble bee flight and came to the conclusion that bumble bees cannot fly at all! Fortunately, the bumble bees never heard this bit of news and so went on flying as usual.”—Ross E. Hutchins, Insects, p. 68 (1968). Magnan's 1934 work, Le Vol des Insectes (vol. 1 of La Locomotion Chez les Animaux).
But bumble bees fly quite well, thank you--and can do so with a heavy load of pollen.
Ever watched the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, in flight?
We watched B. vosnesenskii foraging on yellow lupine (Lupinus arboreus) last Thursday, June 10 at the Doran Regional Park, Bodega Bay. They went about their bees-ness, ignoring the photographer who was trying capture a few images of them. Hint: they do not brake for photographers.
The red pollen looked too massive to carry, but the bumbles--as entomologists call them--lumbered right along. Who says we can't fly?
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Read California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014), the work of University of California scientists Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter. Legendary bee expert Robbin Thorp (1933-2009) emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014).
If you've ever visited UC Berkeley's Hastings Natural History Reserve in the upper Carmel Valley, Monterey County, and admired the yellow-faced bumble bees and other native bees foraging on vetch and lupine in the meadows, that's a scene you'll never forget.
But did you know that a UC Berkeley-based entomology team provides workshops there on California's native bees?
This year the team of Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Distinguished Emeritus Professor Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, and UC Berkeley-affiliated trio of Sara Leon Guerrero, Jaime Pawelek, and Rollin Coville, will offer a workshop June 1-5 on "California's Native Bees: Ecology and Identification."
You'll learn about many of California's 1600 species of native bees. Extremely diverse, they "are critical for providing ecosystem services not only in wild habitats but also in agricultural and urban settings," the instructors said.
"This course will provide basic information about native bee biology and ecology with a specific focus on identification to the generic level. Course participants will spend time collecting in the field at the UC Hastings Reserve and at a nearby diverse garden in Carmel Valley. They will also spend time in the lab viewing and keying collected specimens. Evening lectures on a variety of related topics will add to the field experiences. This workshop is an extension of the previously offered weekend bee workshop, with more focus on bee identification."
"Bee collections from the Hastings Reserve date back several decades, so knowledge of important bee-flower relationships are well known for this site. Participants will learn about bees' flower preferences, how to collect bees using several different methods, information on how to create a bee-friendly garden, bee photography techniques, and bee identification using generic keys and microscopes."
Participants also will have the opportunity to purchase the book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, authored by Frankie, Thorp, Coville, and Barbara Ertter.
The workshop is in a rural setting, with a picturesque barn--built in 1863 by homesteader John Scott--dominating the landscape. Accommodations are in dormitory-style rooms with twin or bunk-style beds. There's also space outside for camping. Meals are provided from dinner on Wednesday through lunch on Sunday. Workshop fee: $695/$720.
It's a given: Honey bees love lupine.
We watched them buzzing around a flower patch of blue (lupine) and gold (California poppies) today along Hopkins Road, University of California, Davis, west of the central campus.
Those are Aggie colors: blue and gold. And those are Aggie bees, from the nearby Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on Bee Biology Road.
Speaking of bees, the Bohart Museum of Entomology is hosting an open house, themed "Pollination Nation," from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 14 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane.
“It will be about bees, bees, bees,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. The event is free and open to the public. Visitors can converse with bee specialists and view displays of bees from all over the world. Family activities are also planned.
Of the 20,000 bee species identified worldwide, some 4000 are found in the United States, and 1600 in California. The most recognizable, of course, is the honey bee, but it is not a native. European colonists brought it here (Jamestown colony) in 1622. The honey bee didn't arrive in California until 1853.
Bees play a profound role in shaping the world we live in, but many species remain strangers to us, according to native pollinator specialist and Bohart Museum associate 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.
Copies of the California Bees and Blooms (Heyday Books) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton Press), also co-authored by Thorp, will be available in the gift shop.
“Nature has programmed bees to build nests and supply their young with nutritious pollen and nectar, and their unique methods for collecting these resources are fascinating to observe, the authors wrote. "Their lives are dictated by season, weather and access to preferred flower types and nesting habitat.”
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) may be one of the most underappreciated pollinators.
You see it buzzing around lavender, lupine, California poppies, mustard and other plants.
But a Xerces Society study of organic farms in Yolo County found that it was one of the most important of the native bees visiting the Sungold cherry tomatoes.
The study, titled “Native Bee Pollination of Cherry Tomatoes,” was based on research by Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis and Sarah Greenleaf, California State University, Sacramento, all members of Xerces.
“Recent studies demonstrate that tomatoes pollinated by native bees produce larger and more numerous fruits,” the authors wrote. “Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes because they cannot get the pollen and the flowers do not produce nectar. With no reward, honey bees will not visit the flower. Many native bees, however, know the trick to extracting tomato pollen and are, therefore, valuable pollinators.
"Although the tomato plant is self-fertile, flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. To achieve the most effective pollination, the flower must be vibrated at a specific frequency to release the pollen. Honey bees are unable to vibrate the tomato flower in this way, but bumble bees and other native species can.
The Xerces Society offers a great resource on how to attract bumble bees: see Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.
In some respects, the yellow-faced bumble bee resembles a cuddly teddy bear. It's big and bumbly, as a bumble bee should be.
From behind, however, its heavy load of pollen looks for all the world like saddlebags on a trail horse.