Yes, I'll have some mustard, please.
Yes, both the pollen and the nectar, thank you.
We watched a honey bee buzz into our little mustard patch, her proboscis (tongue) extended, and pollen weighting her down. If she were at the airport, someone would have volunteered to carry her bags.
But there she was, determined to bring back both pollen and nectar to her colony. It's nature's equivalent of gold. It's spring and time for the colony build-up.
In peak season, the queen bee lays 1500 to 2000 eggs a day. Everyone has a job to do, and if you're a bee scientist or a beekeeper, you'll see them all: nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.
What's thrilling this time of year, though, are the worker bees bringing home the mustard.
Want to learn more about bees? Be sure to stop by Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, on Saturday, April 13 during the campuswide 105th annual UC Davis Picnic Day. You'll see a bee observation hive, as well as smokers, hive tools and veils, all part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology displays. You can talk to the bee scientists. And you can sample many different varietals of honey.
Briggs Hall also will feature cockroach races, maggot art, t-shirt sales, face-painting, aquatic insects, forensic entomology, Integrated Pest Management Program display, fly-tying and much more. It's free and family friendly.
And over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, more entomological excitements await. It's the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a gift shop and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects (walking sticks), tarantulas and praying mantids. Stay tuned!
The phrase "can't cut the mustard" (not able to handle the job) doesn't apply to honey bees. It's spring and honey bees are emerging en force from their hives to collect nectar and pollen to feed their colonies.
The fields are awash with mustard.
By the way, O. Henry, in his collection of short stories, The Heart of the West, was apparently the first known person to use the phrase, "Cut the mustard." He wrote: "I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard."
Today we hear the more negative version, "can't cut the mustard."
Meanwhile, it's a joy to see a bee swathed in gold dust from the mustard. In doing so, our bee is akin to the kid with a milk mustache. Life is good!
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," UC Davis emeritus professor and retired bee wrangler Norman Gary writes in the newly published second edition of his book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae. During an entire year a typical bee colony gathers and consumes around 71 pounds (35 kg) of pollen."
The next time you see honey bees collecting pollen, think of a colony gathering 71 pounds of pollen a year!
If you can't chew gum and walk at the same time, think about the multi-tasking honey bee.
Have you ever seen a worker bee engaging in three tasks simultaneously: flying, adjusting her pollen load, and cleaning her tongue?
We recently spotted a honey bee packing what seemed like a bowling ball-size load as she headed toward the mustard in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. She took the opportunity to clean her tongue or proboscis. There's a reason they're called worker bees!
This time of year, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, is also engaging in multi-tasking as she plans the second annual California Honey Festival in partnership with Woodland city officials. It's set for Saturday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown historical Woodland. It's a free, family event that promises to be both educational and entertaining.
"The California Honey Festival's mission is to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public," Harris says on her website. "Through lectures and demonstrations, the festival will help develop an interest in beekeeping by the younger generation. Attendees will learn about the myriad of issues that confront honey bees including pesticide use, diseases and even the weather! In addition, attendees can learn how to creatively plant their gardens to help feed all of our pollinators. It is important for the community to appreciate and understand the importance of bees as the lead pollinator of many of our crops adding to the food diversity we have come to enjoy."
The California Honey Festival benefits "select bee and pollinator non-profits doing the hard work of research and education to ensure bee health worldwide," Harris says.
At the inaugural festival last year, Harris was expecting a crowd of 3000. Surprise! Surprise! More than 20,000 attended. With all the buzz about the bees and the crucial need to protect them, the attendees turned into "bee-lievers." And there's more in store this year.
Among the speakers are Gene Brandi, past president of the American Beekeeping Federation; Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; John Mola, UC Davis graduate student and the winner of the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium graduate student poster competition; Kate Frey of Hopland, noted garden designer, consultant, columnist and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden; and Billy Synk, director of pollination programs with Project Apis m., and formerly with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will present its insect petting zoo (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, tarantulas and praying mantids) and educational displays.
Wait, there's more. And more. and more. Check out the California Honey Festival's schedule of events.
Ever seen this mottled brownish/blackish/grayish moth around lately? The alfalfa looper moth, Autographa californica?
We spotted this moth, as identified by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and photographer, nectaring on mustard blossoms last weekend in Vacaville, Calif.
It was flying during the day. "They are semi- to quite diurnal," says Shapiro, who has been seeing "a lot of them" lately, including at his research field site in Gates Canyon, Vacaville. "The caterpillars are semiloopers and feed a great variety of herbaceous plants."
A moth of the Noctuidae family, it's found from Southern British Columbia to Baja California and to Manitoba, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, according to Wikipedia.
The caterpillars can be troublesome, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. The 'cats feed on the leaves of many plants, including agricultural crops such as dry beans, lettuce, artichoke, cotton, and tomatoes. They are often mistaken for their fellow leaf eaters, the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni.
"Alfalfa and cabbage loopers are quite similar in appearance," UC IPM says on its website. "The greenish larvae crawl by arching their bodies and are 1 to 1.5 inches long when mature. Looper eggs are similar to those of the bollworm in that they are spherical with vertical ridges from top to bottom. However, looper eggs are more flattened and have finer ridges. Alfalfa looper is usually found in May and early June while cabbage looper appears in late June through September."
The adult Autographa californica stopped by for about five minutes for a little food, and then it was off, flying awkwardly. It would have been easy prey for a hungry bird. Or a not-so-hungry bird.
A little drama in the mustard patch...
A honey bee is foraging head-first in the mustard. She's collecting nectar and pollen. She does not see the lady beetle, aka ladybug, thrust head-first above her.
The honey bee is dusted with yellow pollen. The ladybug, not so much.
The bee moves closer. The ladybug does not move.
If there were any conversations between the two beneficial insects, it might go like this:
Honey Bee: "Hi, ladybug. Let's share the mustard, okay? You take the aphids--I don't eat aphids--and I'll take the nectar and pollen. Is that all right with you?"
The ladybug does not move. She neither sees nor hears her buzzing companion.
The honey creeps closer.
Honey Bee, louder: "I said, is that okay, ladybug? I'm here for the nectar and pollen! I don't want your aphids!"
Ladybug, mumbling: "Aphids? Don't even think about eating my aphids. Buzz off, will ya?"
The honey bee buzzes off--to find more nectar and pollen.
The drama ends as quickly as it begins.
Another day in the mustard patch.