Dec. 22 marked the winter solstice, the first day of winter.
But don't tell that to the western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica.
It's supposed to be hibernating, not flying.
But there it is flying around--and sipping nectar--from flowering Algerian ivy climbing a fence in Vacaville, Calif.
It has company. Nearby, several other yellowjackets, honey bees and hover flies are participating in the nectar feast.
Not much is blooming this time of year!
So, what is winter solstice? According to the Farmer's Almanac, "Winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it always occurs around December 21 or 22. (In the Southern Hemisphere, it is around June 20 or 21.)"
Now the days are getting longer.
Is it spring yet?
They go together like honey bees on bee balm and bumble bees on tomatoes.
When you attend the 102nd annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 16, be sure to head over to Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive, to see the Pollinator Pavilion, which will emphasize the importance of pollinators in both natural environments and food production.
"It is often said that one in every three bites of food we take is dependent on animal pollination," said Pavilion Pollinator coordinator Margaret "Rei" Scampavia, a doctoral candidate in entomology. "While there are some foods that do not rely on animal pollination, many of the tastiest and most nutritious food does. To this end, we have a series of posters demonstrating what a meal might look like with and without foods that benefit from animal pollination."
"We are going to have a series of exhibits showcasing pollinator diversity, demonstrating their importance in natural ecosystems and food production, and providing information on what members of the general public can do to help native pollinators," Scampavia said.
"We will have information on a wide variety of animal pollinators, including butterflies, flies, wasps, birds, and even bats. But the majority of the exhibit will focus on the most abundant pollinators: native bees."
The highlight is the walk-in Pollinator Pavillion, an enclosure where visitors can "safely view live pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and flies, up close and in person," the entomologist said. "Younger guests can practice scientific observation by filling out specially provided data sheets. Some of the species present will include: blue orchard bees, Monarch butterflies, Red Admiral butterflies, and Painted Lady butterflies."
Scampavia points out that the European honey bee "is the first thing many people think of when they hear the word pollinator. But in reality, this species is only one of tens of thousands of pollinator species; there are more than 20,000 species of bee besides the honeybee, for example. We hope that visitors to this exhibit will leave with a greater appreciation of the amazingly diverse animals that pollinate flowers."
Last year scores of enthusiastic visitors packed the Pollinator Pavilion. It proved to be one of the most popular, well-crafted, well-designed Picnic Day displays. Another eagerly anticipated event awaits Saturday.
And now there's an urgency.
"Many pollinator species are experiencing alarming declines," Scampavia said. "Monarch butterflies, for example, have declined by over 90 percent in the past ten years. To promote awareness of the plight of the Monarch, we have a series of exhibits with live caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults, which also contain important information about this species and what we can do to prevent further losses. There will also be information about ways to enhance outdoor spaces to promote and sustain healthy wild, native pollinators."
You don't hear those two words often, but you'll hear them often from Amy Toth, who's hoping that the hashtag, #wasplove, will draw attention to the wonderful world of wasps.
Toth, known for her work on bee and wasp behavior,genomics, and evolution, is an assistant professor--and outspoken wasp lover--from the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames.
She delivered a presentation on honey bees at the UC Davis Bee Symposium on May 9. Then on May 13, she discussed her research on wasps at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.
The Bee Symposium showcased a "lot of bee love," and she's hoping that the same love will apply to wasps.
Indeed, folks verbally attack these social insects daily on social media. "I hate them," they say. "What good are they?" To be honest, I've witnessed European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) attacking crippled Gulf Fritillary butterflies in our bee garden, and dismembering and carrying off bits of Gulf Frit caterpillars to feed their colony. Wasps are carnivores. Honey bees are vegetarians.
So, we asked Amy Toth to list what she loves about wasps.
She eagerly obliged!
1. They are pollinators
2. They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants
3. They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
4. They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
5. They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
6. Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior, manifest in nearly constant passive-aggressive interactions between individuals.
7. They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
8. They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
9. They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
That's Amy Toth's amazing #wasplove list.
I'd like to add No. 10: They are extremely photogenic.
#wasplove! Think it will catch on?
Who would have thought?
Who would have thought that ants are more closely related to bees than they are to most wasps?
In ground-breaking research to be published Oct. 21 in Current Biology, a team of UC Davis scientists and a colleague from the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History, has found that ants and bees are more genetically related to each other than they are to social wasps such as yellow jackets and paper wasps.
"Despite great interest in the ecology and behavior of these insects, their evolutionary relationships have never been fully clarified," said senior author and noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis. "In particular, it has been uncertain how ants—the world’s most successful social insects—are related to bees and wasps. We were able to resolve this question by employing next-generation sequencing technology and advances in bioinformatics. This phylogeny, or evolutionary tree, provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of nesting, feeding and social behavior in Hymenoptera."
The researchers used state-of-the-art genome sequencing and bioinformatics to produce this significant research.
The six-member team: Ward; molecular geneticist and assistant professor Joanna Chiu; honey bee scientist and assistant professor Brian Johnson; doctoral student-researcher Marek Borowiec of the Ward lab; and postdoctoral researcher Joel Atallah of the Johnson lab, all with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and visiting scientist Ernest K. Lee of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History.
Ants, bees and stinging wasps all belong to the aculeate (stinging) Hymenoptera clade -- the group in which social behavior is most extensively developed.
Said Chiu: “With a phylogeny or evolutionary progression that we think is reliable and robust, we can now start to understand how various morphological and/or behavioral traits evolved in these groups of insects, and even examine the genetic basis of these phenotypic changes.”
Said Johnson, whose lab studies the genetics, behavior, evolution and health of honey bees: "Using transcriptomics we were able to resolve a long standing question regarding the evolutionary relationships between stinging wasps, ants, and bees. We found that ants and bees are more closely related than previously thought. This result should be important for future studies focused on eusocial evolution, as it suggests that morphology may not be a good indicator of evolutionary relatedness in these groups of organisms."
The abstract: "Eusocial behavior has arisen in few animal groups, most notably in the aculeate Hymenoptera, a clade comprising ants, bees, and stinging wasps. Phylogeny is crucial to understanding the evolution of the salient features of these insects, including eusociality. Yet the phylogenetic relationships among the major lineages of aculeate Hymenoptera remain contentious. We address this problem here by generating and analyzing genomic data for a representative series of taxa. We obtain a single well-resolved and strongly supported tree, robust to multiple methods of phylogenetic inference. Apoidea (spheciform wasps and bees) and ants are sister groups, a novel finding that contradicts earlier views that ants are closer to ectoparasitoid wasps. Vespid wasps (paper wasps, yellow jackets, and relatives) are sister to all other aculeates except chrysidoids. Thus, all eusocial species of Hymenoptera are contained within two major groups, characterized by transport of larval provisions and nest construction, likely prerequisites for the evolution of eusociality. These two lineages are interpolated among three other clades of wasps whose species are predominantly ectoparasitoids on concealed hosts, the inferred ancestral condition for aculeates. This phylogeny provides a new framework for exploring the evolution of nesting, feeding, and social behavior within the stinging Hymenoptera."