Backyard Orchard News
Carpenter bees (Xylocopata tabaniformis orpifex) can't get enough of the day lilies in our yard.
In the early morning, they buzz into the patch of day lilies to forage for nectar and pollen. When they're finished, it's easy to tell where they've been: they're covered with telltale yellow pollen.
Blue sky, yellow lily, yellow pollen on a magnum-black carpenter bee.
What a contrast.
And definitely worthy of a photograph.
Congratulations are in order.
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has just been selected a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America, a prestigious honor granted to only 10 or few members of the 6000-member organization each year.
Leal is internationally known for his pioneering and innovative work on insect communication.
“This is a highly prestigious honor and richly deserved,” said Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and one of 10 other UC Davis entomologists named ESA Fellows since 1947.
May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, one of the scientists who supported his nomination, praised him as a "trail blazer" and lauded his leadership.
Leal and his lab discovered the secret mode of DEET, the insect repellent. For some 50 years, scientists figured it worked by either jamming the insect's senses or masking the smell of the host. Not so. In groundbreaking research, the Leal lab showed that mosquitoes can indeed smell DEET, but they avoid it because they don't like the smell.
In other words, it smells bad. That's why they avoid it.
The groundbreaking research, published Aug. 18, 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is among the most widely downloaded and cited PNAS documents.
Leal's pheromone work has graced the cover of several journals, including Structure, and has been showcased in the popular press, including the BBC, New York Times, and National Public Radio.
Leal has identified and synthesized complex pheromones from such insects as scarab beetles, true bugs, longhorn beetles, moths, and the naval orangeworm.
Entomologist Bruce Hammock, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, said Leal’s research has “practical implications in explaining how insects communicate within species, how they detect host and non-host plants, and how insect parasites detect their prey.”
Leal's navel orangeworm work alone is certain to result in a multi-million dollar beneficial impact on crops ranging from almonds to citrus, Hammock said. Leal's research on mosquito behavior is crucial to controlling vectorborne diseases like West Nile virus and malaria.
And now, an honor to match.
It was delightful hearing UC Davis nutritionist and fitness expert Liz Applegate extol the virtues of honey at the 31st annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, held recently in Healdsburg.
Like many of you, we've always loved honey. Watching Father tend the bees and extract the honey seemed miraculous. But the end product--the amber-colored honey--this was heaven itself.
Honey, however, is more than just a sweetener.
"I always have my athletes consume honey before and during strenuous exercise,” said Applegate, who directs sports nutrition at UC Davis and serves as nutritionist for the Oakland Raiders.
“I recommend honey--honey should be part of a good refueling strategy,” she said.
Nationally renowned, Applegate is highly sought as a keynote speaker at industry, athletic and scientific meetings. She holds a doctorate in nutrition science from UC Davis, where she teaches undergraduate nutrition classes that exceed a 2,000 enrollment annually. Her enthusiasm and expertise led to a 2009 UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award.
But back to the honey.
Honey, a rich source of carbohydrates, “provides a quick source of energy,” Applegate said. It’s easy to carry (in packets), easy to consume (no chewing), easy to digest and is easily assimilated. Plus, it tastes good, is inexpensive and easily obtainable, she noted.
Unlike most other sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants collected from the flowers that bees visit. The list includes niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Honey is also considered an effective antimicrobial agent, used to treat minor burns and scrapes and to soothe sore throats; and as a beauty agent.
And oh, the honey that's available.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty and the 2008-09 president of WAS, says more than 300 different kinds of honey are found worldwide. The color, flavor and fragrance are closely linked to the bees’ floral visits.
Show me the honey.
The Honey People
Call it the "Mournful Dusky-Wing" or the "Sad Dusky-Wing."
Call it what you will, but the Erynnis tristis, a member of the skipper butterfly family (Hesperiidae), is neither mournful nor sad when it's nectaring lavender.
The skipper, distinguishable from other dusky wings by its white fringe, is a frequent floral visitor.
As a caterpillar, its host is oak, including Valley Oak and Cork Oak, says UC Davis butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology.
Compared with other butterflies, including the Western Tiger Swallowtail, "E. T." is not the most beautiful of butterflies.
It doesn't stand out in the crowd. But it does stand out in the lavender.
It's no secret that bees like sedum.
The Autumn Joy sedum (family Crassulaceae) growing in our garden is still a tight cluster of broccoli-like buds--not ready for prime time.
But don't tell the honey bees that.
Sedum is a slow bloomer, and bees poking their heads in the dusty pink buds is a common sight.
Plant sedum and they will come. (As will the butterflies, hover flies, carpenter bees and other insects.)
We are eagerly anticipating the blooms, too, in the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, to be installed next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. It's scheduled to open to the public on Oct. 16. Nearby will be a quarter-acre wildflower walkway called "Campus Buzzway."
The gardens will be a year-around food source for bees and provide educational experiences for visitors, who can learn about honey bees and glean ideas about bee friendly plants for their own gardens.
Bring 'em on!
Honey bee on sedum