Backyard Orchard News
A light rainstorm strikes the garden, pummeling and shredding some of the blossoms.
As the rain lets up, a honey bee buzzes into a rock purslane blossom for a sweet shot of nectar.
She is not alone.
If you look closely, you'll see three green aphids on an unopened blossom next to her.
There are, entomologists say, about 450 different species of aphids in California.
One specie found the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora).
Score: Beneficial insect: 1. Destructive pests, 3.
Aphids and Honey Bee
Humans aren't the only calendar pin-up models.
Think native bees.
Think the 2010 Native Bees Calendar.
The Xerces Society and the Great Sunflower Project have joined forces to produce a calendar showcasing 12 commonly found native bees. You'll be able not only to to identity them, but to learn more about them, such as the plants they prefer and their nesting needs.
What are these two organizations?
The Great Sunflower Project, led by San Francisco State University associate professor Gretchen LeBuhn, "empowers people from pre-schoolers to scientists to make the world a better place for bees. The idea is simple; gardeners plant a sunflower and time how long it takes for five bees to visit. Gardens that quickly see bees are healthy. Gardens that don’t see bees aren’t. The sunflowers are both a thermometer measuring the health of the bee community across the continent and a wonderful resource making each garden where they are planted a better place for bees."
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is "an international nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of life through the protection of invertebrates and their habitats," says Xerces Society senior conservation associate Matthew Shepherd. The group "works at the forefront of invertebrate protection, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of local citizens to implement conservation and education programs with a focus on endangered species, aquatic invertebrates, and pollinators."
One of the nation’s leading native bee conservation organizations, the Xerces Society provides advice and information to gardeners, land owners, farmers, agency staff and other interested persons.The native bee photos are by noted insect photographer Rollin Coville, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1978. His close-ups are truly magnificent. (You can also see more of his work on his Web site.) Coville collaborates with scientists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis on a number of projects involving the study of urban bees. Their work recently appeared in the California Agriculture journal.
Shepherd tells us the story behind the story. "Celeste Ets-Hokin, a bee enthusiast in the San Francisco Bay area, came up with the idea and pursued it. At Xerces, we've considered doing a calendar but had always shied away from it because of the time involved. Celeste took the idea to Gretchen LeBuhn, who was looking for fundraising ideas for the Great Sunflower Project. The calendar is really their project and they should get credit for it."
Shepherd modestly says his contribution "has been to answer Celeste's steady stream of questions."
Well done, and for two good causes.
And who says bees can't be pin-up models?
It probably bugs her but it doesn't kill her.
An entomologist at the University of Montreal is investigating why parasitic wasps (Dinocampus coccinellae) that lay their eggs on ladybugs (Coccinella maculata) do not kill them.
Often a parasitic insect, such as a tachinid fly, kills its host.
"What is fascinating is that the ladybug is partially paralyzed by the parasite, yet it's eventually released unscathed," says biocontrol specialist and professor Jacques Brodeur. "Once liberated, the ladybug can continue to eat and reproduce as if nothing happened."
It works like this: a larva cocoons between the ladybug's legs. Once the parasite matures, it leaves the host. Brodeur hopes to understand the cycle duration, success rate and the host-parasite relationship.
Talk about hostage-taking.
"Can the ladybug refuse to be used?" he wonders. "We don't know. Our plan is to reproduce a variety of situations in the lab and see which is most favorable to reproduction."
Luck be a lady?
Frankly, we're happy that the aphid-eating ladybug, one of our favorite beneficial insects, doesn't succumb to the wasp.
We need more of them around.
Searching for More Aphids
A buggy thing happened on the way to a meeting.
As we left Briggs Hall, a three-story building on the UC Davis campus that houses the Department of Entomology, we noticed a wasp at our feet.
Entomologists warn against collecting biting and stinging insects, such as wasps, without dispatching them first. (Dispatching has nothing to do with a postal shipment or a completed transaction.)
This one, a yellow-legged paper wasp, wasn’t moving very fast, so I latched onto the opportunity to photograph him, not...ahem...dispatch him.
Him? Yes. Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, later identified it as a male Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, aka yellow-legged paper wasp.
If you’ve ever seen a Mischocyttarus flavitarsis close-up, you’ll notice one thing right away: a “wasp waist.” That brings to mind the 19th century fashion of women achieving the "wasp waist" by corseting and girdling their already slender waists.
The golden-legged paper wasp comes by it naturally. No corsets. No girdle. And always quite fashionable.
We photographed him in all his waspiness and he proved quite cooperative. Later we fed him a taste of honey for one last shot. But off he flew. He buzzed my head once as if to warn "Don't you ever, ever do this again!" and he was gone.
Yellow legs and wasp waist and all.
Yellow-legged paper wasp
They met and married in the 1960s when they were studying for their doctorates in entomology at UC Berkeley.They established exemplary careers in entomology at Cornell University. Now, at retirement age, they've moved back to Northern California.
Meet Drs. Maurice and Catherine Tauber, visiting professors, scientists and associates with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Recently elected honorary fellows of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, they're now closely linked with both Cornell and UC Davis.
Indeed, the Taubers represent one of the most successful collaborations in the history of entomology--both personally and scientifically.
Maurice Tauber served as a professor and chair of the Cornell University Department of Entomology. He continues to serve as a graduate school professor. Catherine "Kady" Tauber worked as a senior research associate. At Cornell, they conducted research in the areas of insect seasonality, evolutionary biology and speciation, biological control, and systematics.
The Taubers have enjoyed a long association with the California Academy of Sciences. Although "officially" retired, they continue their research on the comparative biology and systematics of New World lacewings, which are in the insect order Neuroptera or net-winged insects (this includes lacewings, mantid flies and antlions).
We met the Taubers at the Entomological Society of America's 56th annual meeting, held last November in Reno. Scores of scientists and former students paid tribute to them during a four-hour seminar: "Metamorphisis Through Merger: Celebrating the Diverse Entomological Accomplishments of Maurice and Catherine Tauber."
Indeed, their names are legendary in the entomological world.
“The Taubers have had impressive research careers and have continued pursuing their research interests even after retirement,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “Having them in Davis has been fabulous for us. They've been great contributors to the Bohart Museum and can always be counted on to provide their expertise and experience.”