What are the odds?
Here you are, standing in the garden section of a home improvement store, and you select a tropical milkweed to purchase. You place it on the ground and admire the brilliant yellow blossoms and luxurious green foliage. It's the best of the best. Just as you're about to pick it up and place it in a cart, a monarch lands on it and begins laying eggs.
What are the odds?
That happened to us around Wednesday noon, Sept. 4 in Vacaville as we were purchasing an end-of-the-season Asclepias curassavica.
Most likely, the plant had been in the nursery since last spring, as it was root-bound. We took it home, replanted it in a larger pot, and set it in the sun. Milkweeds like full sun. And monarchs go where their host plant is, whether it be in the wild, in your backyard, in your city park, or in a garden section of your local home improvement store.
Hopefully, the monarch eggs will hatch and this tropical milkweed will yield some caterpillars, chrysalids and adults.
Ironically, we found a monarch laying eggs in the garden section of a home improvement store!
Said entomologist David James of Washington State University, Pullman, who researches migratory monarchs: "That's an amazing story...selecting your milkweed and then having a female come over and deposit a few eggs for you!"
As an aside, as we were purchasing the milkweed, I casually asked the clerk at the check-out line "Have you seen any monarchs here?"
"Not in HERE," she said, surprised I would ask such a question. She tallied up the sale as "Mama Monarch" fluttered around her nursery, unnoticed, laying the next generation.
Curiously enough, a family member recorded a monarch laying eggs in the garden section of that same store the day before. About the same time. Maybe the same monarch. (See YouTube video)
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored all butterfly populations in the central valley for more than four decades and publishes his research on a website, says that “this is the biggest milkweed year in northern and central California in living memory. Speciosa is up to 5' tall and some fascicularis almost as big, and both are covered with both genera of Lygaeids (milkweed bugs), plus both oleander and gray aphids. But Monarchs only showed up here about two weeks ago! Lots of milkweed, no Monarchs to use it. I have seen 10 Monarchs in 2019 and have not seen a wild larva since 2017, and I am afield 260 days a year.”
Sometimes life just isn't fair. Entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, commented “Weirder and weirder. They still haven't found MY milkweed.”
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire
And your children are gone.
How many times have you heard that nursery rhyme?
Better yet, how many times have you seen a lady beetle (because they're beetles, not bugs) take off?
Look closely for lady beetles in aphid-infested milkweed plants and you might see this phenomenon. The lady beetle opens its elytra (a modified hardened protective wing case) and out pop the wings.
This lady beetle (below) was munching and crunching aphids on a tropical milkweed this afternoon in Vacaville, Calif., and then opted to take flight. Just another beneficial insect eating soft-bodied pests and then heading off to another "restaurant" that features its prey.
Goes to prove that lady beetles are garden heroes. And when they take flight, they look like super heroes: the superman/superwoman of the garden.
You can learn more about lady beetles from the Natural Enemies Gallery, part of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) website. "Although they are extremely important natural enemies of aphids, their propensity to disperse makes it difficult for them to be used in inoculative or inundative biological control programs," UC IPM points out.
Tell that to the children chanting the nursery rhyme and they'll probably grow up wanting to learn more about these amazing insects and it's not about their house being on fire: "Their propensity to disperse makes it difficult for them to be used in inoculative or inundative biological control programs."
Friday the 13th is not an unlucky day--not when migratory monarchs make a pit stop at your home on their way to their overwintering sites.
Today a male monarch fluttered into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., and sipped nectar from a tropical milkweed. We offered him a choice: Mexican sunflower, lavender, verbena, butterfly bush, sedum, lantana or the tropical milkweed.
"Make mine milk (weed)," he seemed to say as he lingered on the plants.
We're hoping his buddies will stop by, too. Any time.
Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western superstition, according to Wikipedia. "It occurs when the 13th day of the month in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, which can be the case at least once every year, and up to three times a year. In 2017, it occurs twice, on January 13 and October 13. There will be two Friday the 13ths per year until 2020, where 2021 and 2022 will have just one occurrence."
In its online entry, Wikipedia outdoes itself. It lists all the Friday the 13ths that have occurred since 1900, and will occur until 2100.
There's even a special name for it: "paraskevidekatriaphobia." That's Greek. Paraskeví means Friday, and dekatreís, 13. American psychotherapist Donald E. Dossey (1934-2016), who specializied in phobias and stress management, coined the term in the early nineties. He reportedly claimed that anyone able to pronounce the word would be cured of it.
"Paraskevidekatriaphobia" does not exist in our household. Indeed, Friday the 13th is a lucky number. Our son is a Friday the 13th baby. So when that day rolls around--no matter how many times a year--we rejoice.
It's a bonus when monarchs flutter into our yard.
You could call it a slacker, a deadbeat, a moocher, a sponger, or a loafer.
Or you could call it a cuckoo bee.
Take the cuckoo bee, Xeromelecta californica, a parasite of the digger bee, Anthophora.
When the female Anthophora leaves its nest to collect more pollen, the female cuckoo bee sneaks in and lays an egg.
"When the host female seals her nest, it seals the doom of her own offspring," distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology told the crowd at last week's 40th annual Western Apicultural Society meeting, held at UC Davis. They eat the provisions, a pollen ball meant for the host offspring, and kill and eat the host larvae.
The cuckoo bee offspring emerge.
Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, also called attention to their "pointy abdomen" and "wasp-looking appearance."
But they are bees--cuckoo bees. They're also called parasitic bees or "kleptoparasites" or "cleptoparasitises."
They have no pollen-carrying/collecting apparatus, like a scopa, because they don't need any, Thorp said, just as they do not construct their own nests.
If you look around a pollinator garden, you just might sight some cuckoo bees. Last week we saw a Xeromelecta californica (as identified by Thorp and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology). It was sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
We've also spotted Anthophora urbana nectaring on our lavender.
One thing's for certain: a cuckoo bee didn't lay its eggs in the Anthophora nest that time or the urbana wouldn't have been there.
You'll learn all about top-bar hives when Les Crowder of Austin, Texas, discusses "Major Considerations in Top Bar Hive Management" at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, set Sept. 5-8 at the University of California, Davis.
Crowder will speak at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 7 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). Registration is still open to attend the conference. See registration.
A top-bar hive is described as a single-story frameless bee hive with the comb hanging from removable bars.
Crowder and Heather Harrell co-authored the book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co. in 2012 and soon to be published in Spanish. He continues to teach and advocate nontoxic management of beehives.
Crowder says he began keeping bees--or the bees began keeping him--in Bernalillo, N.M., more than 40 years ago. "I began began looking for ways to raise bees without antibiotics in my teenage years and have been breeding honey bees for disease and parasite resistance since then. I also began early on to search for ways to regularly renew the combs in beehives because research indicated that old cocoon laden combs become havens for pathogenic fungi and bacteria that stress the bees' resistance to disease."
He built his first top-bar hive in 1979 and eventually begin using them exclusively for his 100-200 hive honey and beeswax business.
In his talk, Crowder will cover spring buildup, swarm prevention and making divides as a topbar beekeeper. In addition, he will compare and contrast top-bar hives with Langstroth hives.
Crowder served as president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association for many years. His credentials also include honey bee inspector for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and beekeeping instructor "in many parts of the world for more than 30 years."
"There's a lot of interest in top-bar hives," said Western Apicultural Society president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus based at UC Davis. He expects an enthusiastic crowd at the four-day conference, which will include a variety of speakers, tours, networking, and a silent auction. See schedule.
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization geared toward the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America, Mussen said. The group encourages membership from all over the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. Contact Mussen at email@example.com for more information.
- YouTube videos on Top-Bar Hives:
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Hearther Harrell (Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)
- Bee Culture journal article on top-bar beekeeping