Seen any bumble bees lately?
No? Me, neither.
It's almost the first day of spring, and bumble bees are as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth. (Hens have no teeth, y'know.)
We've been watching our nectarine tree bloom. It's drawing honey bees, but no bumble bees.
Back on March 18, 2018, we spotted a number of bumble bees, including Bombus melanopygus, also known as the black-tailed bumble bee. This is one of the 27 species of bumble bees in California. We frequently see the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and sometimes Bombus californicus, aka the California bumble bee.
Our March 18, 2018 "poster child" on our nectarine tree, Bombus melanopygus, appeared to be nesting nearby, due to her frequent visits.
National Public Radio reported on Feb. 6, 2020 that bumble bees are declining because of the extreme heat: "Extreme temperatures are driving a dramatic decline in bumble bees across North America and Europe, according to a new study, in yet another way climate change is putting ecosystems at risk.
"Researchers looked at half a million records showing where bumble bees have been found since 1901, across 66 different species. They found that in places where bumblebees have lived in North America, you're about half as likely to see one today. The decline is especially pronounced in Mexico, where bumble bees once lived in abundance."
Pesticides and habitat loss are also key factors. Says National Geographic in a Feb. 6, 2020 article titled Bumble Bees Are Going Extinct in a Time of 'Climate Chaos': "Climate change is not the only factor behind the insects' decline. They are also threatened by pesticides like neonicotinoids—which are extremely toxic to all bees—destruction of habitat by development and conversion of wildlands into agriculture, the spread of pathogens, and the release of non-native bees for commercial pollination."
If you're interested in learning more about bumble bees, check out the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, the work of UC Davis and UC Berkeley scientists, including Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide.
And if you see any bumble bees in your backyard in your yard between July 23 and Aug. 1, join the Third Annual Backyard Bumble Bee Count at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/backyard-bumble-bee-count
As inaturalist.org says on its website: "Each bumble bee record submitted during the Backyard Bumble Bee Count helps researchers learn more about how bumble bees are doing and how to protect them and the environment we share. All observations collected July 23- August 1 will be included. For more information, including instructions, go to: https://backyardbbcount.wixsite.com/bumblebeecount."
It's tough being a bee--especially when you have work to do and the rain won't let you out of your hive.
But when there's a sun break, it's gangbusters.
To put it in alliteration, we spotted a bevy of boisterous bees networking in the nectarine blossoms in between the springlike rains this week. What a treat!
Nectarines are a favorite fruit of California and beyond. In fact, according to the UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research and Information website, "California leads the nation in production of peach and nectarine (Prunus persica). In 2013, 24,000 acres of California clingstone peaches produced a crop of 368,000 tons of fruit valued at $133,865,000; 22,000 acres of California freestone peaches produced a crop of 280,000 tons valued at $144,418,000. This California crop of 648,000 tons represents 70% of the national peach production. Nectarines on 18,000 acres in the state produced a crop of 150,000 tons with a value of $117,000,000.(USDA 2014),"
Some folks prefer the necatarine over a peach. A nectarine or "fuzzless" peach tends to have sweeter flesh than the more acidic peach, according to the Fruit and Nut Research and Information website. "The lack of pubescent skin is the result of a recessive gene. Nectarine gained popularity in the 1950's when breeding allowed for firmer flesh and better post-harvest handling and longevity."
The foraging bees don't care whether the blossoms are nectarine or peach.
It's food for the hive.
Except for a little liquid sunshine.
Unexpected rain, however, won't deter beekeepers, bee scientists and other bee enthusiasts from gathering in the UC Davis Conference Center on Alumni Drive at 8:30 a.m. for the all-day conference. They'll wear their rain gear and wield their umbrellas.
One thing, however, has changed. the outdoor reception planned for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, has been moved indoors to the Sensory Building, Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road.
Keynote speaker is noted bee scientist/professor/author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who will speak on "Darwinian Beekeeping."
The daylong event "is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees," said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. "In addition to our speakers, there will be lobby displays featuring, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants, and much more."
As of today (March 1), 25 more attendees can be accommodated.
The conference begins with registration and a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., with welcomes and introductions at 9 a.m., by Amina Harris and Neal Williams, UC Davis professor of entomology and faculty co-director of the center. Seeley's keynote address at 9:15 a.m. follows.
10:15 a.m. The Evolution and Chemical Ecology of Orchid Bees
Santiago Ramírez, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology
10:45 a.m. Break
Graduate student posters available for viewing
11 a.m. Understanding the Nuances of Honey: An Educational Tasting
Amina Harris, director, Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, UC Davis
12 Noon. Master Beekeeper Program
Honoring the Apprentice Level Master Beekeepers—Pin Ceremony
Elina Lastro Niño, Extension Apiculturist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Bernardo Niño, staff research associate, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
12:30 p.m. Lunch
Graduate student poster presentations
2 p.m. An Update from Project Apis m
Danielle Downey, executive director, Project Apis m
2:45 p.m. Designing Bee-Friendly Gardens
Kate Frey of Hopland, Calif., ecological garden designer, consultant and columnist, and co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with Gretchen LeBuhn, professor of biology, San Francisco State University). The book won the American Horticultural Society 2017 Book Award.
3:30 p.m. Break
3:30 p.m. Lightning Round
4 to 6-minute presentations about many different programs in the world of beekeeping followed by a question and answer session
4:30 p.m. Winners of the Graduate Student Poster Competition Announced
4:45 p.m. Close
Reception in the Sensory Building, Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, Old Davis Road
To register for one of the 25 spots available, just access the Honey and Pollination Center website. For more information, contact Amina Harris at email@example.com or Liz Luu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a golden moment.
The honey bees that collected pollen from our nectarine trees today looked as if they were lugging gold nuggets left over from the California Gold Rush. Struggling with the heavy pollen loads, some of the bees crashed to the ground.
The nectarine trees burst into bloom last weekend but the bees seemed to pay no attention to them until today, Presidents' Day. The queen (bee) probably had something to do with it! "Hey, girls, if I'm going to be laying 1500 to 2000 eggs a day, we need some food."
If you look at peach and nectarine blossoms, you probably couldn't distinguish between the two. Nectarines are actually a cultivar of peaches (Prunus persica). The peach tree, native to China, sports "fuzzy" fruit, while you could say the nectarines are "clean-shaven."
No one knows when nectarine varieties first surfaced, but according to Wikipedia, "the first recorded mention in English is from 1616." Pomologists figure that the peach was probably grown much earlier, though, in its native range.
One thing's for certain: thanks to a mild winter and early spring, our nectarine trees are blooming a couple weeks earlier this year than last year.
Cool temperatures and honey bees do not a good team make.
Since honey bees don't forage until temperatures hit 50 to 55 degrees, we haven't seen many bees gathering pollen from our nectarine trees.
If you love nectarines, there's a lot to love. California boasts some 29,300 bearing acres of nectarines, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's down slightly from the 30,300 acres tallied in 2009.
Although acreage is down, yields are up. The 2010 crop totaled 8.03 tons, up slightly from the 7.25 tons harvested in 2009.
Meanwhile, pollen-packin' honey bees turned out in force last Sunday to forage on the pink blossoms of our two nectarine trees.