Backyard Orchard News
The Baxter House is no more.
The UC Davis Fire Department burned it down yesterday.
It's gone, along with assorted black widow spiders, scattered crane flies, munchkin termites and maybe a meandering ant or wandering fly or two. (After all, this is a "bug" blog.)
The Baxter House, built in May 1938, was an abandoned, rundown house on Bee Biology Road, on the west end of the UC Davis campus. It stood east of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, the only other building on Bee Biology Road.
Once a private residence and then an avian lab research facility, the 1200-square-foot building went up in flames and down in embers.
Just like that.
In its place will be an access road to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden to be installed later this year next to the Laidlaw facility.
The Baxter House was not only a troubling eyesore but a massive road bump in the UC Davis Department of Entomology's development plans.
Some 15 firefighters, including trainees in the UC Davis student residential firefighter program, participated in the training exercise, led by assistant chief Nathan Trauernicht, operations and training division.
The eyesore is gone. Bring on the bees and the honey bee haven.
Up in Flames
The honey bee hive is not all sweetness.
The first virgin queen bee to emerge from her cell (each queen cell resembles a peanut shell) will rid the colony of her competition.
After emerging, the queen makes a mark on the other queen cells. That's an indication--or really, an order--for the worker bees to destroy the developing queen inside, says Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty..
There can, after all, be only one queen bee in the hive.`
"The queen bee develops from a fertilized egg that hatches three days after being laid," wrote authors Eric Mussen, Len Foote, Norman Gary, Harry Laidlaw, Robbin Thorp and Lee Watkins in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources booklet, Beekeeping in California, published in 1987. "Nurse bees, a class of worker bee, feed developing queen larvae a special diet consisting mostly of the royal jelly that they secrete from their glands. This special diet shortens the time spent to reach maturity to 16 days, compared with 21 days for the worker bee and 24 for the drone (male). The result is a bee larger than any others, with fully developed ovaries and a very large abdomen."
"The queen," they explain, "is reared in a large cell resembling a peanut shell that hangs vertically from the comb and about 10 days after emerging, she becomes sexually mature."
Then she takes one or more mating flights, mates with 10 to 20 drones, and returns to the hive to spend the rest of her life laying eggs. In her two-to-three-year life span, she'll lay about 1000 eggs a day. In peak season, she'll lay about 2000 eggs a day.
She's queen for the day, and every day.
The bees are dropping like flies--in swimming pools all over northern California during this triple-digit heat wave.
Honey bees collect water to aircondition their hive. They sip from bird baths, dripping faucets, water-splashed plants and even wet laundry hanging on the line. They return to their colony where they release droplets of water. The buzz of hundreds of wings fanning the hive sounds like hundreds of super-charged fans or a ramped-up swamp cooler.
"This hot weather is really hard on the bees," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Unfortunately, bees searching for water can fall into swimming pools and perish. Last weekend we netted about a dozen bees from our pool. All survived but one. Another looked like a goner. The water-soaked bee stood on the net--nothing but net--all night long. The next morning she raised her head, spun her wings and buzzed off.
Really, I'm not into bee-ing a "bee lifeguard" or admininistering "bee CPR."
Let Me Bee
A trip today to Marin County, with a side trip to the Marshall Post Office in Marshall, yielded a triple bonus.
A bumble bee, a honey bee, and a syrphid or flower fly all were nectaring flowers on the post office grounds, located right across from a restaurant and marina we were visiting.
They must have known it was National Pollinator Week. They were all sharing the same space.
"Insect pollinators, including honey bees, pollinate products amounting to $20 billion annually in the United States alone," say officials with the National Pollinator Partnership.
About 80 percent of the world's depend on pollination. And almost all pollinators are insects.
What better way to close out National Pollinator Week, which ends June 28, with photos of three pollinators? These images were captured right outside the tiny postage-sized Marshall Post Office.
National Pollinator Week certainly has our stamp of approval.
Signed, sealed and delivered.
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.