Backyard Orchard News
It's a crazy world out there.
Now our beleaguered honey bee has a new foe: the Rasberry crazy ant, Paratrechina sp. nr. pubens.
The Rasberry crazy ant is driving Texans crazy.
A UC Davis entomologist sent me an Associated Press news story about how these crazy ants are wreaking havoc in Houston and are now spreading to about a dozen counties in the Lone Star State.
First, this ant, about the size of a grain of rice, is named for an exterminator named Tom Rasberry who spotted the exotic, invasive pest near Houston in 2002 and sounded the alarm.
Second, these ants are considered "crazy" because they don't march like well-disciplined soldiers in a parade but weave erratically like equally crazy cockroaches.
Third, they eat honey bees, which already have enough trouble dealing with colony collapse disorder, pests, diseases, pesticides, stress, malnutrition and global climate changes.
Honey bees need a crazy ant like they need a hole in their antenna or a mite on their thorax.
Entomologists at Texas A&M just posted an informational Web site about the pest, which they describe as "1/8 inch long and reddish-brown."
And with a big appetite.
Fact is, these hordes of crazy ants are ruining electronic equipment--like computers, I-Pods, printers, telephones and burglar alarms--and are damaging sewage pumps and gas and electricity meters. They basically consume just about everything in sight--from the unwanted red fire ants to the beneficial ladybugs and honey bees.
Today the ant is being considered "a serious agricultural pest" because it's encroaching on "livestock, hay bales and a few honey bee farms," according to Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball in her piece published Aug. 5.
The Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture want to declare the crazy an "agricultural pest," something they must first do to seek research funds.
"If killing honey bees does not put it in the ag pest category," Rasberry told the Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball in her Aug. 5 piece, "I don't know what does."
Where did it come from?
Perhaps from the Caribbean. It could have hitchiked a ride on a cargo ship. At any rate, it's here and spreading by billions and it's not going away. You'll want to read Tom Rasberry's blog about the crazy ants.
Houston, they have a problem.
And so may we.
Safe and Secure
Death by Crazy Ants
Beekeepers consider stings just a part of their job.
However, say the word "bee" and John Q. and Jane Q. Public may not think about the pollination of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Or the end product: honey.
The bee conjures up the "S" word: sting.
Of the scores of questions that Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen has fielded since 1976 (when he joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty), many relate to bee stings.
Here are his answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:
1. Can a honey bee sting kill you?
If a person is highly sensitized to honey bee venom, one sting could be fatal, causing anaphylactic shock. Otherwise, it is just painful and likely to cause some swelling and local tenderness that will last for two or three days.
2. How do you treat a honey bee sting?
Try to remove honey bee stings as quickly as possible, since venom is pumped from a sting into the victim for 45-60 seconds. Stings are easily scraped off with a fingernail. If many honey bees are stinging, leave the area quickly and deal with the stings when you are out of range of the defensive area (about 100 feet with European honey bees, but up to ¼ mile – 1,320 feet – with Africanized honey bees). The pain can be reduced a bit by putting ice on the sting site, but the stabbing pain backs off fairly quickly without any treatment.
3. Can a honey bee hear you?
Honey bees do not have sensory organs that can pick up sounds that we can hear. They are very sensitive to vibrations. They feel us walking toward the nesting site before we get there.
4. Why do beekeepers use smokers when they visit their beehives?
The smoke from the smoker has three effects on the bees. First, it prevents the guard bees from liberating much “alarm pheromone” (smells like bananas) in the hive. Second, it prevents “soldier” bees in the hive from smelling the pheromone that has been secreted. Third, it causes many bees to fill up on honey. Despite the wives’ tales to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that the bees “think” there is a fire or that bees full of honey cannot sting.
5. Can honey bees see color?
Yes, honey bees can see nearly all the colors we see. They cannot see red, which looks black to them. They can see into the UV wavelengths a ways, which is beyond our limit at purple. UV looks black to us.
6. Do honey bees need to eat meat?
No. Unlike wasps, honey bees derive nearly all the important ingredients in their diet from pollens. Pollens contain protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, sterols, and many plant-derived antioxidants. No single pollen contains all the essential ingredients, so colonies do best where a good mix of attractive flowers are available. Nectar, the dilute sugar syrup honey bees collect from flowers, contains mostly sugar, an energy food. The flavor and color of honey depend upon the source of the nectar from which it is condensed.
There you have it: The A, Bee and C of the most commonly asked questions.
Bottom line: Sure, bees can and do sting, but our survival depends on them. Bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat (fruits, vegetables and nuts). They pollinate some 100 crops in California, including about 700,000 acres of almonds.
“The value of California crops pollinated by bees is $6.1 billion,” Mussen says.
Site of the Sting
A spider web is nature's lace, a symmetrical work of wonder.
Well, a sticky, deadly trap if you're an insect. Then you become just another tasty morsel for the predacious, albeit artistic, spider.
Watching an orb weaver or garden spider maneuver a web is like watching a circus acrobat glide from one silken rope to another.
The finished product--a combination of delicacy and strength--looks like the needle lace doily that your great-grandmother crafted for her parlor chairs.
Sure, some folks hate spiders and every time they see one, they gasp in horror or harbor thoughts of spidercide.
Me, when I see one, I spray a little water to highlight the art. Then I grab the camera.
Fact is, you should welcome garden spiders into your garden and let them "put a spin on it." These little arachnids will snare such insects as flies, gnats and mosquitoes.
Charlotte, where are you?
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