Backyard Orchard News
As a child growing up in Washington state, I received an entomological nickname.
My father, in a take-off of the name, Kate, affectionately called me "Katydid."
Katy did. Katy didn't.
Maybe Katy did. Maybe Katy didn't.
Whatever, I've always loved the sounds of katydids performing their nighttime concerts, or rather, their mating calls. (Listen to the sounds; lean back, close your eyes, and you can almost hear "Katy did. Katy didn't.")
Scientists classify katydids in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Orthoptera, and family Tettigoniidae.
Agriculturists consider them pests; stone fruit growers try to eradicate them from their orchards.
So, was I surprised last week to see a katydid tucked inside one of our pomegranate blossoms. Honey bees, yes. Leafcutter bees, yes. Sweat bees, yes.
But a katydid?
At first glance, the green critter resembled an exotic Walt Disney cartoon character: long, awkward-looking hind legs; long, threadlike antennae; and beady eyes.
Yes, a katydid. A juvenile.
Maybe, just maybe, we'll someday hear the sounds of "Katy did. Katy didn't."
Maybe Katy will. Maybe Katy won't.
It was bound to happen.
As soon as New York City lifted its ban on backyard (and rooftop) beekeeping, scores of folks began making a beeline to take classes from the New York City Beekeepers' Association.
Hugh Raffles, an anthropologist and author of Insectopedia, wrote about the trend in a recent New York Times piece.
"The benefits of urban beekeeping are substantial," Raffles wrote in the July 6th edition. "Despite the conventional view of the city as a slough of pollution, urban honey is likely to have significantly less chemical residue than commercial honey made beyond the boroughs. This is partly due to the high levels of pesticides in commercial agriculture and partly because small-scale beekeepers tend to use fewer drugs in the care of their hives than commercial operators.
"Then there’s the health of the city. Take the honeybees of East New York Farms!, an organization of urban farmers and neighborhood farmers’ markets. These Brooklyn bees pollinate crops for the entire neighborhood. They aren’t just making honey: they’re building community, creating income and employment and maintaining vital urban green space."
Raffles goes on to say that "Local honey will benefit the health of the planet as well: minor transportation costs, no-fuss manufacturing (courtesy of the bees), minimal processing, simple recyclable packaging and centralized retailing provide a model of effective, low-carbon production and distribution."
Raffles points out, however, that rooftop beekeeping does have its pitfalls. "For one thing, unless you own your building, your landlord has to approve the hive’s installation, and he has to feel confident about the reactions of the tenants and the roof’s ability to support a 250-pound hive box. Then there are the costs: around $250 per hive, plus about $200 for the bees, the protective suit and other equipment. And even though the image of bees has softened in the wake of colony-collapse disorder, popular fear of bees is ever-present."
We think the new movement toward urban beekeeping also will result in a younger generation of beekeepers, including 4-H club members signing up for beekeeping projects.
Perhaps, too, there will be more ethnic and gender diversity.
According to the latest survey by the USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, the average age of beekeepers today in the United States is 55. And the survey showed that white males comprised 90 percent of the beekeeper population.
The Honey Bee
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, writes an interesting bimonthly newsletter.
He's been writing from the UC Apiaries since he joined the department's faculty in 1976.
Never missed an edition. Not one. And his newsletters are eagerly awaited.
His newsletters and Bee Briefs are available online for free downloading. Or, folks can subscribe for free.
In the current edition of from the UC Apiaries, Mussen explores an article in Catch the Buzz about statistics released by the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) that show startling winter bee losses.
AIA and the USDA honey bee lab in Beltsville, MD, reported on losses from data collected for 22.4% of the country's 2.46 million colonies, Mussen said.
"We lost about 33.8% of those managed colonies," he wrote. "Similar to previous surveys results, 28% of the beekeepers stated that they found some totally empty hives reminiscent of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
"Beekeepers reported the following reasons for colony losses: starvation, 32%; weather, 29%; fall weakness, 14%; mites, 12%; poor queens, 10%; and CCD, 5% (Yes, that is 102% of the losses)."
"What caught my eye was the 32% starvation. Beekeepers usually do a pretty good job of paying attention to how much food is stored in the hives, and it is difficult to believe that they would allow a third of their colonies to die of starvation.
"Normally, it is pretty easy to determine when a colony has starved. The food, especially honey, is all gone and there are dead bees stuck head-first in the empty cells in the combs. Even to the uninitiated, it is obvious that the bees ran out of food and died."
But why did they die? You'll want to read his comments.
Last weekend we spotted a San Francisco-bound car sporting a bumper sticker that read simply:
"I brake for bugs."
Bugs rule. Bugs are cool. Bugs are definitely worth stopping for (especially if it's the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis which houses seven million specimens).
Lot of brakin' going on.
Which brings us to what the Royal Entomological Society, United Kingdom, did.
The society invited 23 distinguished entomologists and entomologists-in-training to write a daily blog about bugs during National Insect Week. The blogs are online--and let's hope this really catches on.
They're "bug bloggers" extraordinaire.
Cranston, recently awarded an honorary membership in the Royal Entomological Society, teaches teaches systematic entomology and biodiversity at UC Davis and serves as the co-editor of the Royal Entomological Society’s journal Systematic Entomology. His research interests include the systematics, ecology and biogeography of aquatic insects, particularly the Chironomidae (non-biting midges).
His blog bio indicates: "In his childhood years in the West Midlands of the UK in the 1950s, he was allowed, even encouraged, to roam the countryside with friends and siblings, and he developed a fascination with aquatic wildlife--birds, mammals and the larger insects. His formal education built on these interests, thanks to the support of a high-school biology teacher who encouraged him to undertake fieldwork projects."
Cranston went on to earn his bachelor's degree in biology at the University of London. For his doctorate, also obtained from the University of London, he studied the development stages (larvae and pupae) of the dominant group of aquatic flies--the chironomid midges.
If you're an entomology student, you probably have a copy of the popular textbook, The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, written by Cranston and Penny Gullan, also an entomology professor at UC Davis.
As for Tom Miller, he teaches insect physiology, insect toxicology and first-year biology at UC Riverside. He earned his doctorate in entomology at UC Riverside in 1967. He then served a year as a research associate at the University of Illinois and a year as a NATO postdoctoral fellow at Glasgow University before joining the UC Riverside faculty in 1969.
Miller's research interests: the structure and function of the insect circulatory system; the mode of action of insecticides; insect neuromuscular physiology; physiology, toxicology and behavior of pink bollworm in cotton fields; transgenic insects; applied symbiosis for crop protection; and biopesticides for crop protection.
Miller received the coveted Gregor J. Mendel Medal for Research in Biological Sciences in 2003 from the Czech Academy of Sciences.
We can learn a lot from insects, especially when a predator ambushes its prey.
An ambush, as defined by Wikipedia "is a long-established military tactic in which the aggressors (the ambushing force) use concealment to attack a passing enemy."
The crab spider is a perfect example of an insect that conceals itself in a flower and waits for an unsuspecting visitor.
The crab spider doesn't build a web to trap its prey. No, too much wasted energy. It capitalizes on concealment, the element of surprise, and the quick assault and rapid kill.
And then, a leisurely meal.
Crab spiders or Thomisidae family (order Araneae) resemble crabs in that they can move sideways or backward.
You rarely notice them.
Neither do their prey--until it's too late.