Backyard Orchard News
The very presence of a black widow spider, shiny black with a globe-shaped abdomen, strikes fear in most people.
And not just on Halloween.
"Many spiders will bite when trapped but black widow spiders (Theridiidae: Latrodectus) are the most dangerous North American species," write Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney in their newly published book, Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species.
"Their strong venom can kill," agrees George C. McGavin in the Smithsonian Handbooks' Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods, "but a fast-acting antivenom can be given by injection."
The black widow is a cobweb spider and "the females produce about 200 to 250 eggs, attached to the web in a sac," McGavin says.
So, where can you find black widow spiders? They're usually in more concealed places than the common house spider, which is "found in any dry structure, including houses, basements an barns, as well as under natural 'roofs' such as overhanging ledges," according to Eiseman and Charney.
And, Eiseman and Charney point out, the black widow spider webs are "composed of extremely strong, coarse threads"--unlike those of common house spiders.
McGavin says black widow spiders are commonly found in leaf litter, under stones and in and around buildings.
We sighted one under leaf litter recently at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. Its distinguishing mark: the reddish-orange hourglass on its stomach.
Then last week we spotted a black widow spider guarding her gumdrop-sized sac in a secluded area of a UC Davis parking garage.
She didn't pay attention to the "permit parking only" signs.
Black Widow Spider
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, emphasizes that if you're planting flowers to attract bees--and you should--be sure to remember them in the fall--not just the spring and summer.
In the fall, food is scarce. In the spring and summer, food is abundant.
We're often asked for plant lists. UC Berkeley has an excellent site on urban bee gardens, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a comprehensive list of what to plant in your area.
The blueprint for what's planted in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is online (21-page PDF). You can download it and see what's planted there.
Also see California native plants that bees visit on the Laidlaw website.
Another way to come up with what to plant is to visit your local nursery. Observe where the bees are.
A visit today to the Mostly Natives Nursery, Tomales (Marin County), showed the bees all over scores of plants, including lavender (below).
Follow the bees and you'll know what to plant.
Honey Bee on Lavender
Working the Lavender
She didn't come home last night.
The little honey bee at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, wound up in a spider's stomach.
This morning we stopped by the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the facility, and a spider was having breakfast--one of Susan Cobey's New World Carniolans.
We spotted the same spider chowing down on a ladybug during the grand opening celebration on Saturday, Sept. 11, and we remember saying "Good, it didn't get a bee."
This time it did.
I jokingly asked beekeeper Elizabeth Frost, staff resource associate who works with Cobey at the Laidlaw facility, if she were missing any bees. (After all there are "only" about six million of them in the apiary.)
It would have been hilarious if she had said "Did a bed check. One unaccounted for."
Bee and the Spider
Gary, who received his doctorate in entomology (apiculture) from Cornell University, served as a professor at the University of California, Davis for 32 years, retiring in 1994.
Now 76, he's been a beekeeper for 62 years and a researcher for more than three decades. He’s published more 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and four book chapters.
His research on honey bees is well known. Among his accomplishments: he invented a magnetic retrieval capture/recapture system for studying the foraging activities of bees, documenting the distribution and flight range in the field.
He's also well known as a "bee wrangler"--he trains bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits over the last 35 years include 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.
Gary will appear Thursday, Sept. 16 on a History Channel show wearing 75,000 bees. The show, part of Stan Lee’s “Super Humans,” is scheduled to be broadcast at 10 p.m., Pacific Time (Channel 64 for local Comcast viewers in the Davis area).
Host-presenter Daniel Browning Smith has billed him as “the human bee hive” and will explore bee behavior and the science behind the bees.
A crew from England filmed Gary in mid-May at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis; at Rick Schubert’s Bee Happy Apiaries in Vacaville-Winters; and then in a UC Davis open field where the 75,000 bees clustered his entire body.
“That’s about 20 pounds, depending upon how much honey or sugar syrup they have consumed,” Gary said. “A hungry bee weighs approximately 90 mg and within a minute of active ingestion she can increase her weight to 150 mgs!”
We watched the entire process. Amazing. Simply amazing.
“Bees are not inclined to sting if they are well fed—happy and content—and are ‘under the influence’ of powerful synthetic queen bee odors—pheromones—which tend to pacify them,” Gary said.
Bees are attracted to pheromones and they cluster on drops of pheromones he places on himself. While at UC Davis, he formulated a pheromone solution that is very effective in controlling bee behavior.
Gary (check out his website) once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt.
During his career, Norman Gary has worn many hats, including hobby beekeeper, commercial beekeeper, deputy apiary inspector in New York, honey bee research scientist and entomology professor, adult beekeeping education teacher, and author.
His book for beginning beekeepers, “The Honey Bee Hobbyist,” is to be published in early December by Bow Tie Press.
Don't be too surprised if he also writes one on bee wrangling.
The next generation can learn a lot from him.
Bee Man Norman Gary
Some 1300 people, including beekeepers, entomologists, gardeners, nature lovers, and children--plus millions of bees in the vicinity--helped celebrate the grand opening of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven last Saturday, Sept. 11.
The haven, a bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, looks glorious in its fall colors, including oregano, purple coneflowers, Mexican hat flowers and sedum.
A highlight of the grand opening: the speech delivered by Dori Sera Bailey, director of consumer communications, Häagen-Dazs and Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream. The company provided free ice cream to the crowd.
"It's so nice to see so many families here today," she began, then asked "Who can tell me why protecting honey bees would be important to Häagen-Dazs ice cream?"
"In fact," said Bailey, praising him for his answer, "more than than half of our 60 flavors of ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt and ice cream bars are what we call 'Bee Built.' That means they’re made with fruits, berries and nuts, pollinated by honey bees."
She went on to add that "while we’re all about ice cream, we also recognize that without honey bees we would lose one-third of all the natural foods we eat. Think about that when you’re eating dinner. One out of every three bites you take came from the efforts of honey bees and other pollinators."
"That’s why my friends and I at Häagen-Dazs," Bailey said, "are so pleased to sponsor the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It’s only appropriate that we created a beautiful source of food for the bees who bring us peaches, tomatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, onions and cherries. I understand more than 6 million bees are dining in this Haven."
"By helping honey bees we can help ensure a safe and bountiful food supply for all. And that’s a contribution we can make that benefits all Americans. In that spirit, we are very pleased to announce that Häagen-Dazs will be donating another $50,000 to UC Davis in 2011 for continued honey bee research and support."
Bailey ended her presentation on another sweet note: "Thank you for coming today. Thank you to our partners at UC Davis and the many others who have toiled over the last two years to design, plant, nurture and give life to this garden. We thank you all, on behalf of Raspberry Sorbet, Rocky Road and Cherry Vanilla. Enjoy the garden . . . and the Häagen-Dazs."
The crowd did. It was a honey of a garden celebration.
Surrounded by Sedum
Bee observation hive