Backyard Orchard News
It's National Pollinator Week, and what a perfect time to welcome native pollinator specialist Neal Williams to the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
He's actually no stranger to UC Davis. He's been collaborating with researchers at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility since 2001.
The assistant professor joins us from the Department of Biology, Byrn Mawr College in Byrn Mawr, Pa. Before that he served as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton. You can read all about him here.
From that page, there's a link to a pamphlet that he and Rachael Winfree of Rutgers wrote on the benefits of native bees. You can download it free. Although it's targeted for Pennsylvania and New Jersey farmers, the information is useful nationwide. You'll learn:
- why native bees are important
- how to identify native bees
- their habitat and foraging needs
- strategies for encouraging their presence
- the difference between a "social" bee and a "solitary" bee
- the difference between a "generalist" bee and an "oligolectic" bee
- what "eusocial" means
Most folks think that the common Western honey bee is native to North America. It isn't. English settlers brought Apis mellifera to the American colonies in about 1622, according to the UC Cooperative Extension pamphlet, "Beekeeping in America," published in 1987 by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and authored by a group of UC Davis bee specialists headed by Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. The Native Americans referred to the honey bee as "the white man's fly."
By the way, in the Williams-Winfree pamphlet, you'll find a chart indicating that the honey bee's sociality is "eusocial" and its foraging habit is "broad generalist."
And what does "euscocial" mean?
"Eusocial means the species lives in colonies with a reproductive queen and sterile workers who are her daughters," Williams and Winfree write. "All bees in the colony communicate and cooperate in caring for the brood."
Generalists? Generalist bee species "visit a large variety of plants and crops, in contract to 'specialist' bee species, which forage on a restricted group of plants," the authors explain.
It's a good read.
They're as long and thin as darning needles. And, sometimes they’re as difficult to find as a needle in the proverbial haystack.
These slender, frail-looking insects (below) are damselflies. They fly around ponds and streams and perch on plants near the shoreline. As adults, they prey on flying insects such as mosquitoes and gnats, and in turn, they're preyed upon by dragonflies, other insects, and birds. Occasionally a spider snares one in its web.
Anglers consider them good luck, especially when these brightly colored insects touch down on their fishing lines.
Like dragonflies, damselflies are members of the Odonata order. Their suborder is Zygoptera--in case anybody asks!
Retired entomologist Jerry Powell of UC Berkeley estimates California has about 40 species of damseslflies.
I saw one damselfly, probably the common bluet, checking out our backyard fish pond last weekend before perching on a tower-of -jewels leaf.
Another one was flitting about the Yolo Causeway last year while a UC Davis researcher was trapping mosquitoes.
Neither looked like a damsel in distress. In fact, they looked quite predaceous.
Especially to skeeters.
Long and Thin
Today, in honor of National Pollinator Week, we turn to the Picris echioides.
You either hate it or love it. Honey bees love it. Gardeners hate it. ?If you plant a lawn with Picris echioides, expect a visit from Code Compliance.
What's Picris echioides? Think of it as a bright yellow flower with tap roots strong enough to withstand a nuclear war.?Think European invasive weed. ?And you get: bristly oxtongue.
It looks like somewhat like a dandelion or sowthistle. It’s a broadleafed biennial weed with toothed leaves (ox tongue) found throughout California. It’s an important source of nectar and pollen, especially in the spring during the early bee brood rearing when many other flowers aren't blooming.
Bees produce a dazzling honey with it: the color of amber and the aroma of a freshly picked floral bouquet.
Watch a bee nectaring a bristly oxtongue and you're in for a real treat--if you can get past "noxious weed" epithets or thoughts of waging a nuclear war.
The bees today at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis were lovin' it.
This week (June 22-28) is National Pollinator Week, and what better time to celebrate the honey bee than now?
The White House Victory Garden, planted the first day of spring on part of the South Lawn, now has thousands of new residents: honey bees (Apis mellifera).
The two bee hives are a joy to see. America's First Family has First Hives in its First Garden with First Bees that will soon provide First Honey. The "commander-in-chef" will add First Honey to the White House favorite recipes.
Frankly, the South Lawn has never looked so good. The Rose Garden, where many a press conference takes place, pales in comparison. The Victory Garden is a victory for sustainable agriculture, nutrition, education, the economy and the environment--not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment and the surpassed taste of freshly picked vegetables.
UC Davis' counterpart to a Victory Garden is the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden to be planted this fall near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Faciity. A Sausalito team submitted the winning design. The haven is expected to be dedicated in October. Honey bees will find a year-around food source, while visitors (the two-legged kind) will be able to savor the garden and glean new ideas for their own gardens.
Almond, apple, black elderberry, California buckwheat, California honeysuckle, coyote brush, lavender, Oregon grape, persimmon, plum, sage, tower of jewels...A veritable bee smorgasbord.
It will be National Pollinator Week every week and the honey bee will be the Poster Child every day.
That's the least we can do for the most important of all insects.
Quick! How many legs does a honey bee have?
If you said "three pairs" or "six legs," you'd bee right.
But have you ever noticed the honey bee in flight?
The worker bee packs pollen in her pollen baskets or corbiculae, located on the midsegments of her outer hind legs.
The legs are fringed with long, curved hairs that hold the pollen in place. Once she's gathered pollen, she moves it to the pollen press located between the two largest segments of the hind leg.
The pollen press basically presses the pollen into pellets.
Sometimes the pollen load looks as big as a beach ball and you wonder how she can carry that load back to the hive.
But she does.
The bee with the huge pollen load below is one of Susan Cobey's bees. She's a UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist and manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.