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.
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.