Backyard Orchard News
A dandelion poking through the rocks near Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay, in Marshall, Sonoma County, seemed an unlikely host for squatters' rights.
It first drew a tiny bee, barely a quarter-inch long. It was a female sweat bee, family Halictidae, genus Lasioglossum, subgenus Dialictus.
She claimed the dandelion all to herself.
Not for long.
Another insect shadowed the dandelion and swooped down to feed.
It was a hover fly, family Syrphidae. (Probably a Eristalinus aeneus, observed UC Davis pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.)
So on one dandelion: a fly and a bee.
The fly is bigger. But the bee can sting. The sting, however, is rated only 1.0 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index compiled by (now retired) entomologist Justin O. Schmidt at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Fight or flight?
The dandelion blossom belongs to the fly.
On the Rim
All hail the honey bee.
Tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 22) is the first-ever National Honey Bee Awareness Day, as proclaimed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
It's "hive time" this insect has its own day.
After all, as Vilsack says, bee pollination is responsible for “$15 billion in added crop value and is an essential component of the production of more than 90 food crops.”
Vilsack points out that "Honey bees are critical to the process of pollination of our crops throughout our country and an important part of maintaining a stable and sustainable ecosystem."
He hopes that Honey Bee Awareness Day will "help highlight this important role, as well as the significant threat honey bees now face from the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)."
"The role" and "the threat"--two good reasons to increase public awareness.
We bee-lieve, however, that we shouldn't limit National Honey Bee Awareness Day to a single day in August. The entire month should be National Honey Bee Awareness Month.
Honey Bee on Almond
Honey Bee on Buckwheat
Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty:
Honey bees can fly a distance of about two to two-and-a-half miles.
Golf courses are not bee friendly. There's no forage for bees. Water run-off, containing fertilizer, insecticides and fungicides, is toxic to bees. So, if you're a beekeeper, you know NOT to keep your bees within two and a half miles of a golf course.
With honey bees, PMS means "Parasitic Mite Syndrome."
Beekeeping is big--and getting bigger--in San Francisco. Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, a newly opened beekeeping supply and honey shop in San Francisco (3520 20th St.), has received requests from 450 people who wish to be notified of the next beginning beekeeper class. The store just opened June 29.
Globally, there are more than 19,500 identified species of bees; the honey bee is just one of them. California alone has some 20,000 to 30,000 species of bees.
A squash flower opens early in the morning, often before sunrise. Native pollinators known as "squash bees" specialize in nectaring squash and other members of the cucurbits family. Later in the day, the blossom closes. If you open a folded blossom, you might see a male squash bee inside. The male likes to spend the night tucked inside the folded blossom.
It's not true that a typical hive contains only one queen bee. Twenty percent of hives have a queen daughter living there as well. Bottom line: bees don't read the books that say "one queen to a hive." Eventually, the old queen leaves (she swarms, dies, or is killed by worker bees).
The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, taking place this week in the Dry Creek Inn, Healdsburg, is drawing a lot of interest.
Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is finishing his yearlong term as president of WAS.
The key point: Honey bees are in trouble. The beekeepers and scientists attending the conference are receiving up-to-date, unpublished research on colony collapse disorder (CDD) the mysterious phenomonen characterized by adult bees abandoning their hive, leaving behind the brood and food storage.
No one knows what causes CCD, but it's thought to be a combination of factors: diseases, pesticides, viruses, stress, pests, malnutrition, and weather changes.
What's new: newly discovered pathogens are landing on the suspect list. Expect to hear more about these new pathogens later this year when the research is published.
It's rather ironic--but expected--that honey bees are nectaring the flowers outside the conference room as the participants are discussing bee health.
The bees will return to their hives and perform round dances and waggle dances to let their sisters know the direction and quality of the food source.
They have a keen sense of direction, like built-in clocks based on a sun-compass orientation.
But for humans, another clock is ticking...
Look for the fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) in your garden. It's likely sharing your catmint, lavender and sage with honey bees and other pollinators.
It's the only one holding a "fighter-jet" position.
Says UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro: "The folded-wing skippers have a characteristic posture when they land: the forewings are held at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the body while the hindwing is held open and flat. This gives them a 'fighter-jet' like appearance."
These skippers are largely orange and tawny, he says, "and many have whitish chevrons on the ventral hindwing, although some genera are dark brown."
Skippers are a worldwide family of about 3500 species that appear to be "sister" to the rest of the "true butterflies," Shapiro says. The clubs on the tips of the antennae are usually hooked. In California, skippers fall into two or three subfamilies: the spread-wing skippers (Pyrginae), the folded-wing skippers (Hesperiinae), and the Heteropterinae.
His excellent Web site offers more information on fiery skippers and other butterflies.