Backyard Orchard News
It's smaller than a honey bee.
And faster and louder.
Anthophora urbana, a solitary, ground-nesting bee, frequents our garden to nectar the catmint, lavender and sage.
Sometimes the forager's buzz is so loud that it's startling. "What was THAT?"
In this case, THAT is a female Anthophora urbana, as identified by UC Davis pollinator expert Robbin Thorp, emertus professor of entomology.
It belongs to the family Apidae, as do honey bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees and others. In sheer numbers, it's one of the largest in the Apidae family--more than 450 species worldwide in 14 different subgenera.
It may be tiny, but its buzz isn't.
Talk about a tiger by the tail.
That would be the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
It's returned to the Davis area after a 15-year hiatus.
Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Western Tiger, one of the largest and showiest of butterflies, “was relatively common in Davis until the early 1990s, when it suddenly disappeared.”
"Since then there have been no sightings at all--or at most one or two per year--until this year. Now it looks like it's back as if nothing had happened!"
Since March 26, Shapiro has tallied about 100 sightings in the Davis/Vacaville area. "It's still flying today," he says.
The butterfly, with a wingspan of three to four inches, has bright yellow wings edged with a black border. Four diagonal stripes grace the top of the wings, and blue and orange spots on the hind wings, near its tail. Its normal range covers much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. It nectars from many flowers including thistles, abelia, California buckeye, zinnia, and yerba santa.
Florian Altermatt, a visitor from Switzerland, spotted the first Western Tiger March 26 near the Memorial Union, UC Davis campus. He had no idea the species had "disappeared.”
Shapiro saw the next one on April 12. Between then and June 4, six more sightings occurred: on campus, in central Davis, and in both east and west Davis.
“The second generation was first spotted on campus on June 24 and in the next five days there were eight more sightings--on campus and in central Davis,” Shapiro said. “There's no doubt the Western Tiger is breeding here again. The mystery is why it ever went away."
Naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas has seen the Western Tiger in Davis “consistently” since the last week in June. “It’s an incredible phenomenon,” he said. “I have lived in Davis since 1972 and this is the most I have ever seen. In the last 18 years of ‘Davis record keeping,’ I’ve been averaging about one Davis sighting a year. This year, I have been seeing about one a day for the last seven weeks. My data is only for my yard in east Davis. So this year is unparalleled.”
And Vacaville? "They are just as common in Vacaville as they are here in Davis this year,” he said. “In Vacaville, they never went away.”
“I set a site-specific day record for me with 22 at Gates Canyon (Vacaville) on July 7, and another with eight in the Suisun Marsh on Aug. 9,” Shapiro said.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said the Bohart Museum “has a large collection of these butterflies, in part due to the efforts of Art Shapiro and his students. The collection is important because it archives where the swallowtails have been found in the past, and changes in their distribution over time.”
Shapiro, author of the 359-page Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, maintains a Web site covering more than three decades of collected data.
So, if you see the Western Tiger in the Davis area, e-mail Shapiro at email@example.com.
He's glad "the tiger" is back.
Western Tiger Swallowtail
The California Ground Squirrel's scientific name has changed from Spermophilus beecheyi to Ostospermophilus beecheyi.
The bees have it.
That would be honey bees and native bees.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology has just launched its new bee biology Web site.
It's a place to learn about research, outreach, publications and upcoming courses; read the news stories, and follow the progress of the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden to be planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
The people who make it happen--the honey bee team and the native bee team--share a passion well-known in the bee world.
The Web site also includes a kids' zone, links, photo gallery, and FAQs (how to remove stings and swarms, for example).
It wouldn't be a Web site without showcasing the work of Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr., the Houston-born bee geneticist (1907-2003) whose name is legendary with bee genetics. Known as "the father of honey bee genetics," he served on the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty from 1947 to 1974, when he "offically" retired.
Officially he did, but unofficially he didn't.
The emeritus professor continued his research and outreach programs, publishing his last scientific paper at age 87 and his last book at 90. He died at age 96 at his home in Davis.Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. left a legacy of global influence, prominence and utmost dedication. The people he trained continue to work at the Laidlaw facility--and at other universities--carrying on his legacy while creating their own.
Working the Bees
Entomologists, geneticists and virologists are still searching for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Yes, they're still searching, and no, there' s no known cause yet.
CCD is a mysterious phenomonen characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive. They leave behind the brood and stored food.
When we attended the 55th annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in December 2007, one of the highly attended seminars dealt with the plight of the honey bees. Pennsylvania State University entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeff Pettis were among those addressing the crowd.
In research just published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed science publication, they and their colleagues found that a higher total load of pathogens--viruses, bacteria and fungi--appears to show the strongest link yet with CCD.
The researchers examined 91 colonies from 13 apiaries in Florida and California. They screened for bacteria, mites, Nosema (protozoan parasites) numerous viruses, nutrition status and 171 pesticides. They also sampled adult bees, wax comb bee bread (stored and processed pollen) and brood.
"Of 61 quantified variables (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCDm" they wrote. "Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with a greater number of pathogens than control populations, suggesting either an increased exposure to pathogens or a reduced resistance of bees toward pathogens. Levels of the synthetic acaricide coumaphos (used by beekeepers to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor) were higher in control colonies than CCD-affected colonies."
Their research, the first comprehensive survey of CCD-affected bee populations, suggests that CCD "involves an interaction between pathogens and other stress factors," they wrote. They presented evidence that CCD is "is contagious or the result of exposure to a common risk factor."
Bottom line: High pathogen loads are linked to CCD symptoms, but scientists still don't know what causes bees to become infected with SO MANY pathogens.
What this research does is narrow the direction of future CCD research. It's a big step in the right direction.
"Help the bees" continues to be a resounding cry. Helping to fund the research is Häagen-Dazs (about 50 percent of their ice cream flavors depend on bee pollination). Those visiting their educational Web site can donate funds to Penn State and UC Davis.
Plight of the Honey Bee