Backyard Orchard News
Tame that tiger.
Wilton beekeeper Brian Fishback, president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, stopped Friday at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and a friendly Western tiger swallowtail greeted him.
At least, it seemed quite friendly.
Fishback and Laidlaw staff research associate Elizabeth “Liz” Frost paused to watch the butterfly (Papilio rutulus) glide in and out of the flower garden in front of the facility.
Fishback held out his hand. The butterfly obliged and touched down for just a moment.
This year is a good year for Western tiger swallowtails.
There’s an outbreak--or an elevated population--in the area, says noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. “I’ve seen as many as 11 a day in Davis recently, and the outbreak ranges from as far west as Vallejo and as far east as Reno.”
This is the second year for elevated populations of the tiger, Shapiro says. The epicenter seems to be Davis.The colorful butterfly visits a variety of hosts, including California yerba santa, milkweed, lilies, lilacs, coyote mint, California buckeye, sycamore, privet and sweet gum.
It doesn't mind being around the 6 million honey bees (from 110 hives) in the apiary at the Laidlaw facility, either.
Spreading Its Wing
Sip of Nectar
One way that beekeepers monitor their hives for mite infestation is "the sugar shake."
Basically, this involves a quart canning jar equipped with a mesh screen and a lid; and powdered sugar. Beekeepers brush bees from brood comb into a plastic tub or container--being careful, of course, not to brush the queen bee in there, too. They scoop a half of a cup of bees into the jar, add a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar, and then it's time to do "the sugar shake."
They shake the jar vigorously, invert it, and the mites come tumbling out through the mesh screen.
The result: sugar-coated bees and suffocated mites. And all's right with the world. Or "white" with the world.
Beekeepers then count the mites to determine the level of mite infestation and the kind of treatment, if any, that's needed.
Meanwhile, the bees return to their hive where their sisters quickly groom them ("Hey, what happened to you?").
The powdered sugar is harmless. A few minutes later, routine hive activity resumes as if The Great White Shake never happened.
For a brief moment in time, however, the test bees are the insect equivalent of Snow White.
Or the food equivalent of powdered sugar doughnuts or Mexican wedding cookies.
Carpenter bees, which to the uninitiated look like bumble bees, are nice to have around the garden.
Maybe not so nice to have around your untreated patio or fences (as they drill holls in them to make their nests) but just think of them as pollinators, not pests.
As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, says: "Carpenter bees are beneficial in that they pollinate flowers in native plant communities and gardens. That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
We receive many calls and emails about carpenter bees. Many folks just want to know "what that loud buzz is" or "what's sharing our garden."The other day we received an email from a carpenter bee enthusiast in Patterson who wanted to know how to keep attracting them to her garden.
She inquired: "I had a couple of female bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) visit my garden this summer, but they seemed only interested in Salvia apiana and citrus flowers. Do you have any idea of other flowers that might interest them (I would like to keep them around longer)? Prefer California native plants."
Thorp responded: "Xylocopa varipuncta is a generalist flower visitor and has been recorded from a number of different kinds of flowers. Some natives you might consider include: Asclepias, Salvia, Trichostema, and Wislizenia for nectar; Eschscholzia and Lupinus for pollen.
Asclepias? The milkweeds. Salvia? Sages. Trichostema? The culinary herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, lavender, and thyme. Wislizenia? Think Wislizenia refracta, also called by its common name, jackass clover. Eschscholzia? California poppies. Lupinus? Lupines.
In our yard, carpenter bees are partial to a variety of native and non-native plants, including salvia, lavender, catmint, rock purslane, purple oregano and African blue basil. They also like the golden day lilies and poppies.
Piercing the Corolla
On Rock Purslane
That's because it's rarely seen.
Its narrow distribution range covers parts of southern Oregon (Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties) and northern California (Siskiyou and Trinity counties). That's 190 miles north-south and 70 miles east-west.
"Franklin’s bumble bee has the smallest range of distribution of any of our 60 species of North American bumble bees, and perhaps of the 250 bumble bees in the world,” said noted bumble bee expert and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Thorp, who has been closely monitoring the Bombus franklini population since 1998, counted 100 that first year. In 2003, he found only three. And since 2006, only one.
Franklin's bumble bee may already be extinct, but he hopes not. Thorp and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, headquartered in Portland, Ore., petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 23 to place it on the endangered species list.
A decision may be reached within 90 days.
“The decline of Franklin’s bumble bee is a signal that something is wrong in its environment,” said Thorp. “This is the canary-in-the-coal-mine measure.”
He hypothesizes that the key reason for its disappearance may be an exotic disease that spread from commercial bumble bee colonies to wild bumble bee populations.
“People often ask the value of Franklin’s bumble bee," said Thorp, a member of the California Academy of Sciences and The Xerces Society. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment. Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Is it too late to provide protection for a species that may already be extinct?
No, it's not.
“Other species, especially plants and insects, thought to be extinct have reappeared after years of not being seen,” the UC Davis scientist said. “When populations of species are in decline, they may reach such low levels that they are not detected for several years in a row, despite intensive surveys--flying under the radar so to speak. It is my hope that this is the case with Franklin’s bumble bee.”“One positive sign,” Thorp said, “comes from increasing finds the past two years of a related species, the Western bumble bee, which exhibited similar declines at the same time and places."
On his most recent trip, July 21-24, to the narrow distribution range, he didn't find Franklin's bumble bee but he did find the related Western bumble bee at two sites, one individual at each site.
That's a good sign. Perhaps B. franklini will eventually show up as well. Thorp is planning another trip in mid-August and another in early September.
Meanwhile, if the critically imperiled Franklin's bumble is granted protective status, a snowball effect could occur.
This could “stimulate research into the probable causes of its decline,” Thorp said. “This may not only lead to its recovery, but also help us better understand environmental threats to pollinators and how to prevent them in future. This petition also serves as a wake-up call to the importance of pollinators and the need to provide protections from the various threats to the health of their populations.”
More about the mission to Save Franklin's bumble bee
Watch Robbin Thorp's webcast about Franklin's bumble bee
Franklin's bumble bee
It rocks because it's drought-tolerant and it rocks when honey bees and bumble bees visit it.
And it's pretty. The Penstemon x Mexicali "Red Rocks" is a white-throated cherry-pink flower.
One look at it and you know it's a member of the snapdragon/foxglove family (Plantaginaceae). As kids, we used to slip foxglove flowers on our fingers and pretend we were wearing gloves.
With "Red Rocks," however, you'll have to compete with the bees. Last weekend we spotted honey bees and bumble bees (yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii) foraging on our newly acquired Penstemon.