Backyard Orchard News
It’s triple-digit hot and you’re relaxing in a swimming pool when suddenly you realize you have company.
A knat-sized insect with a red abdomen lands next to you. It looks like a wasp. No, it looks like a bee. Wait, what is it?
In this case (see photo below), it's a female cuckoo sweat bee from the genus Sphecodes, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Sweat bees are attracted to perspiring skin and often drop into swimming pools where they greet you with a brief but sharp sting.
Sphecodes are cuckoo or parasitic bees. They don’t collect pollen or provide for their young because they don’t need to. They lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. When the larvae hatch, they turn villainous and eat the young of the host bee. They also steal the provisions.
These bees, from the family Halictidae, are really tiny, about 0.2 to 0.6 inches. You’ll see them from late spring until early fall
It’s a large genus, with about 80 known species in the United States and Canada, says entomologist Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society.
In most species, females are dark red with a shiny abdomen, Vaughan says, while males have a partially or entirely black abdomen.
Call them cuckoo bees. Call them parasitic bees. Call them clepto-parasitic bees. Whatever you call them, you’ll remember that red abdomen and sharp sting.
You'll see red for just a little while.
The economy is tanked. The cuts keep coming. The smiles fade.
Friday afternoon, July 17 is the seventh annual Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs.
Bruce? That would be Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and a longtime member of the National Academy of Sciences. He and fellow researchers, faculty, staff and students will leave their offices and labs at 1:30 p.m. to fill up 2500 water balloons, and then exactly at 3:45 they will...ahem... throw them at each other on the north lawn of Briggs Hall.
Fact is, they work hard and they play hard. The annual balloon battle is how they spell R-E-L-I-E-F.
Hammock's research and daily schedule would overwhelm most scientists. He holds a joint appointment in cancer research with the UC Davis Medical Center. He directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Program on the UC Davis campus, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Program in Biotechnology and the NIEHS Combined Analytical Laboratory. His discovery of an enzyme inhibitor that holds promise to control human diseases (such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and cystic fibrosis) is now a first-in-class drug in human clinical trials.
But this noted entomologist who switched his research from pest control to human pain control, also excels at water balloon battles--so much so that nobody, but nobody can beat Bruce Hammock.
Still, Hammock lab researcher Christophe Morisseau, coordinator of the 2009 and 2008 battles, tries. Morisseau's aim is good, but Hammock's feet are faster.
The best part is when the water warriors deplete their water supply and chase each other with tubs and buckets of water.
Just water--nothing else--is tossed.
Oh, but what if...
Aftter the 2006 battle, we asked Jason Graham, a forensic entomology researcher who works with blow flies and maggots, if he planned to compete the following year. "I'd like to participate next year," he said, "but I don’t think they’d appreciate what we have to throw.”
Honey bees--what do you know about them?
Do you know what the queen bee, worker bees and drones do? Do you know why bees swarm? Do you want to learn to be a beekeeper? Or, if you already are a beekeeper, how do you keep your hives healthy? If you're a researcher, what are your colleagues doing? Are we closer to finding the cause/causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
You'll find the answers to those questions--and more--on a newly launched Bee Health Web site, the work of Cooperative Extension or "eXtension."
Coordinated by John Skinner, a professor and Extension apiculturist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this Community of Practices project is the work of scores of experts across the country, including our own Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. In fact, he and UC Davis native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, are among those featured in videos on the site. In addition, yours truly has some bee photos on the site.
Our hat (okay, our bee veil) is off to Skinner; vice chairs Keith Delaplane, professor at the University of Georgia; Jeffery Pettis, research leader at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., and IT technologist Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee.
Skinner hopes this will be the "go to" site for beekeeping information and bee science.
Indeed! This is like having the best and brightest minds in the research laboratories and bee industry at your workplace or in your living room.
If you have a question about bees, all you need do is ask. The cadre of experts will "bee" there for you.
Honey bee on Almond
Peter Pan vowed he'd never grow up.
"I won't grow up!" yelled the boy, a figment of a Scottish novelist's imagination. "I won't grow up!"
So it is with Peter Pan Agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus), a dwarf version of a spectacular flower known as Lily of the Nile.
It won't grow up.
And that's a good thing.
Sometimes good things come in small blue packages. Honey bees go absolutely berserk over this little African lily.
It's fascinating to watch honey bees gleefully slide down the funnel-shaped blossom as if they possess an E ticket. The funnel is a floral playground and the bees are Peter Pan bees.
Eagle-eyed Carol Nickles saw it first.
The graduate student coordinator for the UC Davis Department of Entomology spotted the bee swarm from a third-floor window of Briggs Hall.
There it was, swaying on a tree branch, about 25 feet above the ground.
A bee swarm, shaped like a bowling pin, but about 2.5 or 3 feet long.
What exactly is a bee swarm? The late Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), noted bee geneticist-breeder at UC Davis, defined it as "a cluster of worker bees with or without drones and a queen, that has left the hive." The bees often cluster on a tree limb while the "scouts" search for a suitable home.
This particular swarm may be offspring from the bee observation hive located in 122 Briggs Hall for the past several months. Every April the folks at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located west of campus, set up a bee observation hive for UC Davis Picnic Day. Thousands of social folks check out these little social insects. This is a social network more fascinating than Facebook, Twitter, My Space and Linked In combined.
You can watch the colony at work behind glassed walls. You can see the queen laying eggs, the nursemaids caring for the pending offspring, the royal attendants feeding and grooming the queen bee, and the architects and construction workers building the comb. Other bees are processing pollen into bee bread and converting nectar into honey. Meanwhile, workers are returning from their foraging trips and performing their trademark "waggle dances," letting their sisters know where they've been, where to go and how to get there.
As new offspring emerge (21 days for an egg to become an adult), the hive becomes overcrowded and congested. The end result: bee swarms, a natural part of their life cycle and one of nature's wonders.
The bee swarm at Briggs will probably move by tomorrow morning, says UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Michael "Kim" Fondrk.
"By noon," he estimates, "they'll be gone."