The boys are back in town.
After the long winter and rainy spring, the boys are back in town.
That would be the male Valley carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, or what Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls "the teddy bear bees."
They're fuzzy green-eyed blonds, while the female of the species is a solid black, a good example of sexual dimorphism.
You've heard folks say of dogs: "Their bark is worse than their bite?" Well, these bees can't sting ("boy bees don't sting"), but they're good bluffers as they buzz around you. They're also good pollinators.
We saw this one nectaring on our tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. He lingered among the honey bees and syrphid flies, and then buzzed off.
He will return.
Seeking more information about California's bees? Read the landmark book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press), the work of UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertte. The book is available online and at numerous other sites. At UC Davis, you can find it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (and with other bee books at UC Davis Stores)./span>
When a house is a home...
Take the case of a syrphid fly, aka hover fly or flower fly. It's a cold and windy day, and it's tucked in the folds of a rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora, in Vacaville, Calif.
It's sipping nectar, and rotating its colorful little body to gather more nectar and glean more sun.
The syrphid fly is often mistaken for a honey bee. Both are pollinators.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
Last year Joanna Klein posted an interactive feature in the New York Times, wondering how we can save the bees if we don't recognize them. She asked "Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?" and posted an image of bees and wanna-be bees.
Find the flies.
And then access a PDF on flower flies on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website to learn more about them. Authored by lead author/entomologist Robert Bugg, it's titled "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops."/span>
You may have noticed this little floral visitor in your garden.
It might appear to be a bee, a common mistake to the untrained eye or those who think that all floral visitors are bees.
But it's a fly, and flies are pollinators, too!
This fly, from the genus Eristalis, family Syrphidae (hover flies), order Diptera, is probably Eristalis stipator, says fly expert Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In its larval form, Eristalis, found in aquatic habitats, is known as a rat-tailed maggot, due to its appendage that resembles a snorkel.
Next time you see this little fly on a flower, you can tell your friends "In its larval stage, it's a rat-tailed maggot."
As they widen their eyes and raise their eyebrows, you can add: "But in its adult stage, it's a pollinator."
The rain and wind took turns destroying the flowers in our garden last Sunday in a siege not unlike a scene from The Wrestler.
The rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) took a beating, but like Mickey Rourke, it will return.
Last year the blossoms drew honey bees, native bees and hover flies--and, one spotted cucumber beetle.
The blossoms were simply gorgeous. With the warmth of the morning sun, the magenta petals peeked open and then unfolded to the tune of Vivaldi's Spring. Or maybe it just seemed like it.
This is a perennial that welcomes all visitors. "When you're here, you're family." Roll out the magenta carpet. No guest list. No engraved invitation. No RSVP.
And no gift for the hostess.
The visitors ARE the gift.