Backyard Orchard News
Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.), so named because they cut leaves and petals to line their nests, are smaller than the honey bees but move faster. These native bees are easily recognizable by the black-white bands on their abdomen.
Catching them in flight requires a lot of patience.
We watched one leafcutter bee dart from catmint flower to catmint flower (Nepeta). It is 2 p.m. One movement of the camera and off it goes. One step toward it and it takes flight. A shadow over it and it vanishes.
This one (below) managed to maneuver around carder bees, honey bees, carpenter bees, assorted butterflies, a curious cat determined to sample the catmint, and a persistent spider that cunningly wove its web right between two stems.
Finally, it overcame all the obstacles for its reward: a long sip of nectar.
Caught in Flight
Sip of Nectar
Especially when it nectars from catmint (Nepeta) in the early evening, as the sun drops low in the horizon.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis, says the species was introduced in southern Canada in the 1850s. "The great lepidopterist Samuel H. Scudder traced its spread, but was unable to resolve the history on the West Coast," he writes on the website, Art's Butterfly World.
"It was not in San Francisco in the early 1880s, but was abundant by the time of the earthquake (1906)."
Just look at it now. It's everywhere. In fact, every year Shapiro sponsors a contest to see who can find the first cabbage white of the year in the Davis-Sacramento area.
He usually wins.
She flies around bee hives at night and when the opportunity presents itself--as it often does--in she goes to lay her eggs.
The egg hatch into larvae, which munch and crunch just about everything in sight.
The infestation is not pretty. Not only does it drive beekeepers bonkers, but a really bad infestation will drive the bees out.
Beekeepers remove the frames and freeze them, killing the larvae and any other pests that that might be in there--such as small hive beetles (Aethina tumida).
And an occasional honey bee.
The Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) provides excellent information on the wax moth.
MAAREC says the larvae are a mixed blessing: beekeepers dislike them but the larvae are "raised for use as fish bait, animal feed, scientific research and they are a good representative insect to use in Biology and Entomology classes."
Greater Wax Moth
Wax Moth Larvae
"There aren't that many bees swarming this time of the year," said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. When bees swarm, they have to consider available food, he said, and the food supply is diminishing as we head into fall.
Often a homeowner will contact the bee biology folks here in the UC Davis Department of Entomology with this request: "I've got a bee swarm on my property. I don't want to kill them and I can't afford to pay for their removal. Do you know of anyone who can remove them for free?"
We usually provide the names of several beekeepers in the area who we know will oblige.
But ala Ghostbusters, "Who ya gonna call?"
Mussen, who writes the from the UC Apiaries newsletter and Bee Briefs, has an excellent piece on bee swarms on his website. It includes a definition of a swarm, what bees do, how swarms are removed and where to find beekeepers to remove them. He also points out that Africanized honey bees are more aggressive.
"Swarming is the honey bee’s method of colony reproduction," he writes in the "Removing Swarms" Bee Brief. "The old queen and half of the worker bees leave their former nest and seek a new home mostly in the spring, but sometimes in late summer. A few worker honey bees, we call 'scouts,' fly around areas in the vicinity of the old hive searching for a suitable, new habitat (the correct sized cavity with an easily protected entrance). Often, that job is not completed when the swarm “issues” from the hive. The outpouring of bees from the hive forms a large, buzzing cloud of insects that seems to be going every direction at once. That flying group of honey bees is the swarm. It is a phenomenal sight that frequently scares people. However, the bees eventually have to regroup, somewhere, while the search for a new home continues."
How do you find someone to remove them? Ala Ghostbusters, "who ya gonna call?"
Mussen advocates consulting the telephone directory (look under "beekeeper" or "beekeeping"). Another good source: the county agricultural commissioner's office.
Ready to Swarm
On the Trunk
No honey bees. Let them bee.
This week we watched a praying mantis slide beneath a purple coneflower (Echinacea pupurea) at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility of University of California, Davis.
Its body camouflaged, the mantid looked like one of the coneflower petals.
Within minutes, it seized an unsuspecting honey bee.
Death beneath the purple coneflower.