Backyard Orchard News
Here's a "cold case" to investigate.
Check your backyard or neighborhood park and see if a praying mantis has deposited an egg case on a tree limb, plant or fence.
Case in point: Over at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the UC Davis campus, a frequently watered potted plant attracts scores of honey bees seeking water to deliver to their hives.
It also has attracted a cunning praying mantis.
She just deposited an egg case on one of the stems, knowing that when her offspring emerge next spring there will be plenty of food for them.Praying mantises (Tenodera sinensis) are fierce-looking, combative insects with voracious appetites. They'll eat any insect they can catch and overcome. And not just insects: they've been known to attack and kill everything from hummingbirds to mice.
Call it a banty-rooster complex; nothing seems to frighten the pugnacious praying mantis.
About this time of year, the praying mantis deposits her eggs on a twig or stem or fence. The frothy secretion hardens into a shell to protect it from the elements and from predators.
Fast-forward to spring or nearly spring. When the weather warms, so will the cold case, and about 100 to 200 tiny mantises will emerge.
They'll be so hungry they'll even eat one another.
Can't find an egg case? Not to worry. Early next year, your local hardware store or nursery will probably have them--in the refrigerated section.
It's not a pretty sight--the Varroa mite attacking a honey bee.
Beekeepers are accustomed to seeing the reddish-brown, eight-legged parasite (aka "blood sucker") in their hives.
UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, is among those who've declared war on the mites.
She's carrying out an intensive and comprehensive breeding and selection program aimed at developing honey bees that are resistant to pests and diseases.
The Varroa mite is a serious pest of honey bees worldwide, spreads diseases, and can weaken and destroy the colony. It is no doubt one of the culprits involved in colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by honey bees abandoning the hive.
Here's what the Varroa mite looks like attacking an immature bee.
Caught between a rock and a...soft place...
You'll often see tiny sweat bees nectaring rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) in urban gardens. This plant, a native of Chile, brightens landscapes with its pinkish magenta blossoms.You probably wouldn't wear this color if you were in the federal witness protection program. It shouts "Look at me!"
The old saying that "it's so loud it could stop traffic" applies here.
It certainly stops insect traffic. (The lure, though, is the pollen, not the color.)
Last week we watched a tiny female sweat bee (Halictus tripartitus) nectaring the rock purslane.
Then she crawled to the lip of the flower, peered at her surroundings, and took flight.
Ready to Fly
The UC Davis Aboretum--particularly the Storer Garden--is full of color--and sunflower bees.
A recent trip to see the New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae from the Asteraceae or sunflower family) yielded a Nikon moment: fuzzy-wuzzy sunflower bees foraging on the striking purple flowers.
The sunflower bee (Diadasia enavata), family Apidae, is a specialist bee instead of a generalist. You'll see it on members of the sunflower family, such as the asters, daisies and sunflowers. Unlike honey bees,it doesn't go for the sage, lavender and catmint.
The sunflower bee is tiny but the sunflower family is b-i-g. How big? It includes more than 1,600 genera and 23,000 species, making it the second largest family of flowering plants.
The sunflower bees would definitely have "a field day" in a field of sunflowers.
Eye See You
Like to know more about the biocontrol of tea pests? Aging of insects? What honey bee research is under way?
If you can't physically attend the UC Davis Department of Entomology's fall seminars, starting Wednesday noon, Oct. 7 in 122 Briggs Hall, you can participate via Webinars or listen to the archived Webcasts. Most will be Webcast.
UC Davis entomology professor James Carey, former chair of the UC Systemwide Academic Senate University Committee on Research Policy, launched a pilot program in February to inform and educate the scientific community and the public on research findings.
Carey's lab researchers and graduate students began taping the series of Webinars on Feb. 18. Then came the summer break. Now that we're into the fall season, the Webinars will continue Oct. 7.
Here's the link to access the Webinar.
The UC Davis Webinars drew international attention on March 4 when chemical ecologist Tom Baker of Pennsylvania State University spoke on “But Do We Shoot the Driver? Meeting New Challenges in Detecting Agents of Harm by Using Old Entomological Knowledge.” Joining in were listeners from 10 countries: Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, France, Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Japan as well as the United States.
“We were hooked up to Pennsylvania State, too, so my colleagues knew where I was at, what I was doing and what I was saying,” Baker quipped.
Fellow chemical ecologist Walter Leal, UC Davis professor of entomology, who hosted Baker, later marveled at the technology.
“Just think, someone was sitting at a computer in Japan at 4 in the morning listening to Tom,” Leal said.
Both the virtual and physical audience can ask questions.
Webinars not only save time, but money, Leal pointed out. “The average round trip cost for airfare only for the 10 countries that participated in Baker’s seminar is $1,480, with Mexico being the cheapest ($700) and Montivideo, Uruguay the most expensive ($3,600).”
“It means that we saved in average $59,200 considering one participant per computer,” Leal said. “Note that in a couple of cases the presentation was displayed for multiple participants. If all participants would be accounted for, the cost would be astronomical.”
“As for travel time, only for each way, the average for the 10 countries would be 20 hours and 30 minutes, with the shortest trip being from Mexico (six-hour flight plus six hours of layover and check-in) and the longest from Montivideo (19-hour flight, plus six hours for layover and check-in),” Leal said.
The archived Webinars, from Feb. 18 through May 27, are online.
Here's the fall line-up:
Oct. 7: Biological control scientist Madoka Nakai, associate professor, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, will discuss biocontrol of tea pests in her talk, “A Novel Protein from Lepidopteran Virus Killing Endoparasitoid and Viral Control for Tea Pests in Japan” (Webcast)
Oct. 14: Plant taxonomist Dean Kelch, assistant researcher, University and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley, “Mimicking Science Interpretation: A Visit to the Creation Museum” (this one won't be Webcast)
Oct. 21: Entomologist James R. Carey, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology, “Demography of the Finitude: Insights into Lifespan, Aging and Death from Insect Studies" (Webcast)
Oct. 28: Insect virus researcher Michelle Flenniken, Haagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellow, “Microarray-Based Pathogen Detection and the Antiviral Role of RNA Interference in Honey Bees” (not Webcast)
Nov. 4: Chemical ecologist Jonathan Gershenzon, professor, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany, "Plant Volatiles: Versatile Agents of Defense"
Nov. 18: Community ecologist and population biologist Matt Forister, assistant professor, University of Nevada-Reno, on the “Agricultural” Melissa Blue butterfly: “Anatomy of a Niche Shift: Lycaeides melissa and the Colonization of Alfalfa”
Dec. 2: Entomologist Michael Parrella, professor and chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology, “An International Perspective on Sustainable Production in Greenhouses”