Backyard Orchard News
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.
One of the many enduring features of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, is the inclusion of fruit trees, garden vegetables and herbs, and plants bearing such delicacies as strawberries, raspberries, Oregon grape and elderberry.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, planted last fall next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the UC Davis central campus, will be dedicated at a public celebration on Saturday, Sept. 11.
Plans are now under way for the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. event. The garden, a gift to the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is designed to be a year-around food source for honey bees and other pollinators, especially the bees on the Laidlaw facility grounds.
And, the garden is scheduled to be a rich educational experience for visitors, who can learn the importance of pollinators, and glean ideas for their own gardens.
So far, the garden has produced almonds (a resident almond tree), strawberries, artichokes, cabbage, and herbs (basil, parsley, onion and mint). Fruit trees will one day yield apples, plums and persimmons.
That's in addition to the scores of other bee friendly plants, including tower of jewels, salvia, seaside daisy, and crimson clover.
"As visitors travel through Honey Bee Haven, they encounter a seasonal variety of blooming native and ornamental plants and fruit trees, which, together, provide a year-round food source for the honey bees," wrote the winning design team from Sausalito (landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki).
"Connecting each garden is a series of trails, each thematically named to support the interpretive storyline," they wrote. "Trellises define the entryways to most gardens and reinforce the passage to the next space."
We're often asked: Can we see the design plan? Can we download it?
Yes, it's online on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility website. Here's the page housing the design and here's the direct link to the PDF.
Huge Artichoke Plant
Onion Seed Ball
Nature's creatures are nature's features at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo, being held Wednesday, June 23 through Sunday, June 27.
Creative exhibitors, in a "this-bug's-for-you" mood, transformed butterflies, ladybugs and bumble bees into arts and crafts projects being displayed in McCormack Hall. The fair is located at 900 Fairgrounds Drive.
You'll see butterfly-inspired quilts, an educational ladybug display, a table-setting dotted with ladybugs, and huge paper mache bumble bee smiling from ear to ear--oops, from antenna to antenna.
If a county fair is a place to educate, inform and entertain--and it is--these displays do just that.
Sometimes folks think of pollinators only during National Pollinator Week, (under way this week through June 27), but it should be an every-day occurrence.
To appreciate and protect them, we need to be reminded of their existence and their role in our environment, our world and our lives.
Bank robbers rob banks because that's where the money is.
Spiders lurk in flowers because that's where the insects are. Whether they spin a sticky web, ambush their prey or just outrun or outmaneuver insects, spiders are there.
This morning a spider successfully trapped a honey bee in what amounted to an intricate "world wide web" connecting a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) to catmint (Nepeta).
But just as the hungry predator began racing toward its struggling prey, something unexpected happened.
Freedom. The photographer flicked the web and released the bee.
Just in time for National Pollinator Week.