Backyard Orchard News
Catching up with the carpenters is not always easy.
Not the construction workers--the carpenter bees.
They move fast as they buzz from flower to flower.
California is home to three carpenter bee species, says native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
You can find Xylocopa varipuncta in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are all black, while the miles are golden/buff-colored with green eyes. The males are commonly known as "teddy bears."
X. californica is right at home in the foothills surrounding the Central Valley, the Transverse Ranges (Los Angeles) of southern California, and areas of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. They are large, nearly the size of X. varipuncta, but with distinctive bluish metallic reflections on their body. Females have dark smokey brown wings.
X. tabaniformis orpifex resides in most of the same areas as X. californica, but extends more into the center of the Central Valley. It is the smallest of the three species--about half the size of the other two carpenter bees. Females are all black with light smokey-colored wings. The males have light yellow hair on their face and thorax.
Carpenter bees, so named for their ability to tunnel through wood to make their nests, carve with their mandibles (jaws) but do not ingest the wood.
Thorp says he tries to convince people to learn to live with these bees as “they are important pollinators in our environment and have potential as pollinators of some crops.”
“Carpenter bees are beneficial in that they pollinate flowers in native plant communities and gardens. That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
“These bees are not currently managed for crop pollination,” Thorp said, “but there have been some recent studies of their potential for pollination of greenhouse tomatoes. They are good at buzz pollination and can be managed by providing suitable nest materials.”
Due to their large size, carpenter bees cannot enter tubelike blossoms such as sage, so they slit the base of corolla, a practice known as “robbing the nectar” (without pollinating the flower).
We caught up with two carpenter bees (below) robbing nectar.
Male Carpenter Bee
Female Carpenter Bee
Thar’s gold in them thar hills.
And also bumble bees.
If you visit the Sonoma County coastal town of Bodega Bay, and drive up to Bodega Head overlooking the ocean, you’ll see a carpet of gold flowers known as coastal goldfields or Lasthenia minor.
And you’re certain to see bumble bees nectaring those flowers.
Noted bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor at UC Davis, says the most common species of bumble bee at Bodega is the yellow face bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. The second most common? Bombus bifarius.
Goldfields are natives and so are bumble bees. Goldfields belong to the Asteraceae family, also known as the aster, daisy or sunflower family.
Want to learn more about bumble bees? Bumble bees are very much in the news. Thorp wrote a piece for a UC Berkeley publication. He recently addressed the Smithsonian Institute on the plight of the Western bumble bees and gave a Webinar at the UC Davis Department of Entomology on Franklin's bumble bee, an insect he fears may be extinct.
Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp and colleagues also wrote the lead story on native bees, featured in the latest edition of California Agriculture.
It's good to see the plight of the bumble bees drawing so much interest and it's good to see all the bumble bees at Bodega Bay.
BB at BB.
Windswept Bumble Bee
Male Bumble Bee
The Eyes Have It
Oh, to be a queen bee...
Her Royal Highness (HRH) is quite pampered. She's always surrounded by her royal attendants, called the retinue. They tend to her every need. They feed and groom her. They keep her warm or cool, depending on the temperature inside the hive.
They know it's her and not an imposter. Her Excellency releases a pheromone (chemical) that identifies her.
The retinue--with attendants circling the queen--reminds me of a NFL quarterback huddle. Form a tight-knit circle. Strategize. Criticize. Motivate. Win the game. Celebrate.
The queen bee, however, is no quarterback.
The worker bees (females) run the hive. They're the builders, architects, foragers, guards, royal attendants, coolers and heaters, nurse maids, nannies and undertakers.
The queen's only duty is to lay eggs. In peak season, she lays as many as 2000 eggs a day. She's the mother of all the bees in the hive, which can amount to 45,000 to 60,000 in the summer.
Ever seen a "classic retinue" photograph? Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, shared this photo (below). Note that ALL the royal attendants are facing her, which is what makes this a "classic retinue" instead of a your basic everyday retinue.
Hail to the queen.
But the real salute, the real applause, the real credit, should go to the workers.
They do all the work.
The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) looks like a Lady in White when she perches on catmint.
The colors are striking: A long, flowing white gown nestled among the rich lavender blossoms and earthy green leaves.
UC Davis Butterfly expert Art Shapiro says this insect flies an average of 44 weeks of the year in the Davis-Sacramento area. It seems to particularly love the catmint in our garden.
Last night, however, it was flying in our kitchen.
There is no catmint in the kitchen.
There is only a cat.
The confused butterfly probably entered the kitchen through an open door--or the cat door.
My mission: Rescue the butterfly bouncing around in the kitchen and let it go before the cat, aka Xena the Warrior Princess, developed a culinary interest in it.
Back to the catmint it went. I did not take it to Shapiro and ask "Did I win?"
You see, every year Shapiro sponsors a cabbage white contest in the Davis-Sacramento area. The first person who delivers a cabbage white to him, starting the first of the year, wins a pitcher of beer. The contest always ends in January or February.
"Almost every year," he says, "someone brings one in May or June and asks 'Did I win?'"
No losers this time, though. The Lady in White won.
She won the how-to-get-out-of-the-kitchen-unscathed-and-back-to-the-catmint contest.
Chemical ecologist Zain Syed of the Walter Leal lab, University of California, Davis, knows just where to find mosquitoes for his research.
He's been collecting up to 3000 mosquitoes a night along the Yolo Causeway, located on Interstate 80 between Davis and West Sacramento. The Yolo basin is home to the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area.It's easy to catch mosquitoes.
Syed is using carbon-dioxide traps to capture host-seeking mosquitoes. The female skeeters are seeking a blood meal (you, if you're around there). His traps entice them to "come on in."
"Once mosquitoes are lured to the vicinity," Syed says, "a suction fan traps them and sends them to the sleeve, a mesh bag that holds mosquitoes."
The mesh bag below holds 2000 mosquitoes. They are mostly Culex tarsalis, but also some Culex pipiens.
Culex mosquitoes are known for transmitting West Nile virus.
Syed and Leal are known for uncovering the mode of action for DEET, the chemical insect repellent used by more than 200 million people worldwide. Their groundbreaking research last year found that DEET doesn't jam a mosquito's senses or mask the smell of the host, as scientists previously thought for some 50 years. Mosquitoes avoid DEET because it smells bad to them.
Syed recently won one of two coveted campuswide awards for excellence in postdoctoral research from a field of 800 postdocs.
But other fields--rice fields--have always drawn his attention.
That's where the skeeters are.