Backyard Orchard News
Mason wasps are strikingly beautiful.
The black and yellow patterns are intriguing, but even more intriguing are the mud nests they build.
Makes sense that these wasps are called mason or potter wasps, named for what they do. Their human counterparts work with stone, brick, and concrete.
Native Americans reportedly designed some of their pottery in the shape of wasp nests.
Last month we spotted two mason wasps in our garden. One was seemingly sunning itself on a salvia leaf. Another was sipping nectar from a rock purslane.
Now if we could only find their nests...
Sunny Side Up
The warmth of the sun and the lure of nectar beckoned the hover flies or flower flies to our bee friendly garden.
We saw this one nectaring the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) last weekend. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as "family Syrphidae, probably the genus Platycheirus."
It stood quite still, sipping the nectar and soon honey bees and a mason wasp joined it.
But for a minute, it seemed to have a "Mine" sign slapped on the blossom.
Hover fly on rock purslane
Ready for Take-Off
Ever wonder how a honey bee sees?
Its compound eyes are comprised of hundreds of single eyes (ommatidia), each with its own lens. It can distinguish colors, but can't see red, which it interprets as black.
Honey bees can even recognize human faces, according to a December 2005 article in the Journal of Experimental Biology. University of Cambridge scientists did a Pavlov-dog type experiment, in which they showed bees black-and-white photos of human faces. They trained the bees to recognize faces with a reward (sugar syrup) or a bitter quinine solution (punishment). In ensuing tests, the researchers took away the rewards and punishment. Result: the bees made a beeline for the "reward faces" 80 to 90 percent of the time.
If you want to see how bees see, check out scientist-artist Andy Giger's Web site, B-Eye. "There are differences between the bee's view of the world and ours," he says. "The bee has a lot fewer ommatidia than we have photoreceptors, and they are not evenly spaced."
B-Eye, Giger says, "ignores most of these differences, simulating just the optics of the honey bee's compound eyes. It shows what a bee would see of a flat image, with the bee facing straight at the plane of the image."
Seeing is bee-lieving.
If you're having cranberries, squash, pumpkins, carrots, cucumbers (and pickles) onions, grapefruit, oranges, apples, pears, cherries, blueberries, sunflowers and almonds, you can thank the honey bee.
“A substantial portion of the meal is pollinated by the honey bee,” said Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty and a noted authority on honey bees.
Cole crops, such as cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, chard, and broccoli, are pollinated by bees.
Almonds often garnish parts of the meal, and those, too, are pollinated by bees--along with macadamia nuts, said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harrry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Even milk and ice cream are linked closely to the honey bee. Cows feed on alfalfa, which is pollinated by honey bees (and other bees). Ice cream ingredients usually include fruits and nuts, other bee favorites.
And the turkey? If it eats sunflower seeds--and it does--sunflowers are pollinated by bees.
Vegetarians can also be thankful. Bees visit soybeans (made into tofu for tofu turkey and other meatless dishes). “And bees can make a honey crop foraging on lima beans,” Mussen said.
And don’t forget the honey: honey-glazed carrots, honey rolls and honey-baked ham…
No wonder "honey" is a term of endearment...
I slipped into the back yard today to see how many honey bees were nectaring the lavender, one of the few plants still blooming.
A few here. A few there.
That's when I saw her.
A bee the color of pure gold. And she was carrying a load of pollen that was equally pure gold.
The bee? An Italian. A very blond Italian.
Folks at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis like to tease bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, Laidlaw manager, about her "dislike" of the Italians (Apis mellifera ligustica). They know she doesn't "dislike" any bees--she just prefers the Carniolan bees (Apis mellifera carnica), a darker bee with a more sunny disposition. ("Sue's bees are polite," a member of the California State Apiary Board once said.)
Italians (originating from Italy) and Carniolans (from Slovenia) are common subspecies of the European or Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, which arrived here in America in the 1600s with the European colonists.
No matter the color, every honey bee is to agriculture what security is to Fort Knox.