Backyard Orchard News
Yarrow, yarrow, yarrow.
Drone fly, drone fly, drone fly.
This little insect is often mistaken for a honey bee. In the adult stage, both the drone fly and honey bee nectar flowers. However, the drone fly is a syrphid fly (family Syrphidae, subfamily Eristalinae, tribe Eristalini, genus, Eristalis). Like all syrphids, it has two wings. The honey bee has four.
Other distinct differences tell you it's a fly, not a bee. It's amazing, though, how often stock photos proclaim "honey bee" when the insect is actually a drone fly.
In its larval stage, the drone fly is known as a rat-tailed maggot. You'll see it in stagnant water, such as in ditches, ponds and drains. It feeds on stagnant rotting organic material.
We spotted this drone fly sipping nectar on a brilliant yellow yarrow (Achillea millefolium). If you look closely, you'll see yellow pollen clinging to its abdomen.
Flies, too, are pollinators!
"One generation of monarch butterflies flutters some 2000 miles between southern Canada and central Mexico," writes LiveScience senior writer Wynne Parry in her piece, "Life's Little Mysteries" posted Nov. 4 on the LiveScience website.
And some other animal migrations are even more incredible.
Parry explores the topic, "Why Do Animals Migrate?" in her excellent article, and quotes Hugh Dingle (right), emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis and a noted authority on animal migration.
Why don't migratory animals select a "shorter, simpler journey or stop altogether?" Parry asks.
"The simple answer is that the benefits of long-distance migration outweigh its costs and the benefits of shorter distances," replies Dingle.
Indeed, the monarch butterfly's migratory efforts pale in comparison to the humpback whale and the shorebird, the bar-tailed gotwit.
Humpback whales travel as much as 5000 miles one way, Parry says. But the bar-tailed godwit, "holds the record for the longest nonstop flight: 6,835 miles in eight days."
Parry points out animal migrations take their toll. "Their journeys aren't easy: migrants fast, swim upstream, fly nonstop, and face hungry predators and barriers built by humans. The journeys may be fatal to some; however, mortality data is difficult to obtain, according to Dingle."
"My own suspicion is that it's a lot less than people think," Dingle told her. "They just seem able to do it well."
Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus has plenty of them.
Native bees? Check.
In fact, the Bohart houses more than seven million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo,” that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, scorpions, a millipede, and six different kinds of walking sticks, including Vietnamese walking sticks and one that the Bohart staff has nicknamed “Avatar.”
Of Avatar, “It’s long, skinny and blue,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
To accommodate folks who can’t visit the Bohart during the week, the museum will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 14 and again from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11. The museum is located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive.
A special focus on Sunday, Nov. 14 will be on Orthoptera, an order of insects that includes grasshoppers, crickets and katydids. The Diptera order (flies) will be showcased in December.
One of the most inquisitive and knowledgeable young visitors this year was Tobin “Toby” Jacobs Thornton (top right and below) of Nevada City. He was 4 1/2 when he visited the Bohart with his grandfather Paul Jacobs of Davis.The youngster knew a lot about many of the insects, including their morphology, eating preferences, behavior and habitat, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart. He held the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, marveled at the spiders, and allowed a green walking stick to walk up his leg and on to his chest.
Jacobs said his parents have long encouraged his interest in insects “and he has access to their books of Sierra insects and spiders and loves just looking at them, and he's devoted to the non-fiction section of his local libraries in Nevada County.”
The R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart, is dedicated to teaching, research and service. It houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America and is worldwide in coverage. The museum is also home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California’s deserts, mountains, coast and great central valley.
It also includes a gift shop, where visitors can purchase t-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry, note cards, books, posters, insect candy and other gifts. The insect candy includes chocolate-covered ants and crickets. A favorite is a scorpion encased in a lollipop.
The museum’s regular hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed on Fridays and on major holidays.
Toby and a Walking Stick
The Community Food Bank is in need of volunteers for the holiday season. The demand for food is always highest in the winter. They are located 3403 E Central Avenue, Fresno. 273-3663
His foe? The day-biting, tiger-striped mosquito, Aedes aegypti. It transmits a virus that causes dengue, sometimes called "break-bone fever."
It's the world’s worst insect-transmitted virus.
And it's on the rise.
"Spread by mosquitoes, it can make you feel as if your bones are broken and leave you exhausted for months," writes Zimmer, who teaches Yale University students how to write about science and the environment. "In more serious cases, people suffer uncontrollable bleeding and sometimes die. Dengue is expanding its range, and is even making incursions into the United States. Scott and I talk about what scientists know and don't know yet about dengue, and what the best strategy will be to drive the virus down."
When Scott leaves his mosquito research laboratory at UC Davis, he’s likely heading for his field stations in Peru, Thailand or Mexico to try to stop that killer mosquito from transmitting dengue.
Scott’s goal: to save lives through research, surveillance and implementation of disease prevention strategies.
“I study the patterns of human infection with dengue virus, doing detailed studies of mosquito populations and disease in humans in order to predict which prevention strategies work the best,” said Scott, who assesses risks, develops computer models and implements disease prevention strategies.
The culprit: Aedes aegypti, or the yellow-fever mosquito, that transmits dengue virus to people.
The disease: Dengue, caused by any one of four serotypes or closely related viruses known as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, or DEN-4. Nicknamed “break-bone fever,” classic dengue is characterized by high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash.
At risk: Some 2.5 to 3 billion people, primarily in tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world.
The prevalence: Some 50 to 100 million annual cases of debilitating dengue fever. The most severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), strikes half a million a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 5 percent with DHF die.
There’s no vaccine. There’s no cure. The only way to prevent this disease is to kill the mosquito vector.
Scott directs the state-funded UC Mosquito Research Laboratory, based in Briggs Hall on the UC Davis campus. His team includes UC Davis associate professor and medical entomologist Anthony “Anton” Cornel, based at the Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier; researcher Amy Morrison who lives in Iquitos, Peru and has directed their research there since 1999; program manager Leslie Sandburg; postdoctoral and graduate students; and a long list of collaborators at his field sites in Mexico, Peru and Thailand.
Listen to the podcast and learn how Thomas Scott (who at 6-foot, 6 inches tall, towers over his tiny foe) is battling this killer.
(Editor's note: Professor Scott will be teaching a winter course on medical entomology at UC Davis, discussing such diseases as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, lyme disease, yellow fever, and river blindness.)