Backyard Orchard News
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) may be one of the most underappreciated pollinators.
You see it buzzing around lavender, lupine, California poppies, mustard and other plants.
But a Xerces Society study of organic farms in Yolo County found that it was one of the most important of the native bees visiting the Sungold cherry tomatoes.
The study, titled “Native Bee Pollination of Cherry Tomatoes,” was based on research by Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis and Sarah Greenleaf, California State University, Sacramento, all members of Xerces.
“Recent studies demonstrate that tomatoes pollinated by native bees produce larger and more numerous fruits,” the authors wrote. “Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes because they cannot get the pollen and the flowers do not produce nectar. With no reward, honey bees will not visit the flower. Many native bees, however, know the trick to extracting tomato pollen and are, therefore, valuable pollinators.
"Although the tomato plant is self-fertile, flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. To achieve the most effective pollination, the flower must be vibrated at a specific frequency to release the pollen. Honey bees are unable to vibrate the tomato flower in this way, but bumble bees and other native species can.
The Xerces Society offers a great resource on how to attract bumble bees: see Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.
In some respects, the yellow-faced bumble bee resembles a cuddly teddy bear. It's big and bumbly, as a bumble bee should be.
From behind, however, its heavy load of pollen looks for all the world like saddlebags on a trail horse.
Foraging Bumble Bee
First it was the California poppies. Then the lupine.
And now it's coreopsis, aka tickseed.
It's seasonal blooming at the Campus Buzzway, a quarter-acre wildflower garden planted last fall at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis.
A gift from Häagen-Dazs--in a project coordinated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and the California Center for Urban Horticulture--the Campus Buzzway features blue and gold, the UC Davis colors.
Poppies and lupine starred in the garden earlier this year, and most have finished blooming. It's now coreopsis' turn.
Its spectacular neighbor, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden, will be the center of attention on Saturday, Sept. 11 at the public opening celebration. But the Campus Buzzway will attract attention, too.
Garry Pearson, greenhouse supervisor at UC Davis, unfolded three banners at the Campus Buzzway last week. The banners will be on display in the Campus Buzzway on special occasions.
The Sept. 11 opening of the gardens, set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is one of them.
Trio of Banners
Bee on Coreopsis
When a ladybug landed on a gaura in our bee friendly garden, it was business as usual.
The business: eating aphids.
The rose aphids sucking the plant juices from the tender shoot didn't last long.
This is why ladybugs are known as "beneficial insects."
You gotta love those ladybugs.
Tower of Aphids
Eye to Eye
The eyes have it.
Look at the compound eyes of an insect. Some are colorful, some are drab. But they are all organs that detect light.
Most insects "have some sight and many possess highly developed visual systems," write UC Davis entomology professors Penny Gullan and Pete Cranston in the fourth edition of their textbook, The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, published by Wiley-Blackwell earlier this year.
"Virtually all adult insects and nymphs have a pair of large, prominent compound eyes, which often cover nearly 360 degrees of visual space," they point out.
If you're studying to be an entomologist--or thinking about entomology as a career--you can learn more about how "the basic components needed for vision are a lens to focus light onto photoreceptors--cells containing light-sensitive molecules--and a nervous system complex enough to process visual information."
If you're photographing insects, you know how quickly they detect movement. Cast your shadow on them and off they go. Move closer and off they go.
Sometimes it's a challenge, but in the end, the eyes have it.
Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee
Metallic Green Sweat Bee
If you like to take photos of insects that are as small as a grain of rice, then you'll love--absolutely love--stalking a sweat bee.
Sweat bees, members of the worldwide family Halictinae and order Hymenoptera, are so-named because they are attracted to human perspiration or "sweat." They probably lap up perspiration because of the salt content, according to Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw, authors of Bees of the World.
The most important of the many genera, the authors say, are Halictus and Lasioglossum, which are common to both the Old World and New World.
Speaking of common, Halictus is also common in bee friendly gardens and swimming pools. Ever gone for a swim and feel a tiny insect sting you? It may have been a sweat bee. ("Their sting is only rated a 1.0 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, making it almost painless," according to Wikipedia.)
O'Toole and Raw point out that some sweat bees are only 4mm long, which is why they can be easily overlooked and so difficult to identify.
What's unique are about these ground-nesting bees? The females of all species of sweat bees mate before winter. "This means that, unlike female solitary bees of other families, those of halictids do not have to mate before founding a nest in the spring," they write.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, identified this little pollen-packing sweat bee (below) as a female sweat bee, Halictus tripartitus.
She was nectaring a tower of jewels (Echium wildprettii) in our yard and packing a heavy load of blue pollen she'd gathered from the plant.
The tower of jewels is native to the Canary Islands. So, if you visit the Canary Islands, you can probably see--and photograph--this little sweat bee there, too.