Backyard Orchard News
It looks like a giant mosquito.
But it isn't.
It's a crane fly (family Tipulidae), also known as a "mosquito hawk."
It's a slender, long-legged insect that cats like to target. Our cat, Xena the Warrior Princess, loves to bat them out of the air--and then look around for more.
Most crane flies "feed on decaying organic matter, but some are predaceous or feed on living plants such as mosses," according to entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their guidebook, California Insects.
Don't worry. This gangly mosquito-like insect won't feed on you. You're safe.
Ever seen bees at a watering hole?
Bees not only bring back nectar, pollen and propolis to the hive, but also water.
"Water dilutes the concentrated food, maintains humidity in the brood nest, and it's used to air-condition the hive, like an evaporative cooler," said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, who's entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Beekeepers use a variety of watering devices to make sure their colonies have a steady supply of water. For example, some beekeepers slant a wooden board under the slow drip of an outdoor faucet. Others offer a shallow pan of water or a birdbath.
What's important is this: Bees prefer to stand where it's dry when they're taking a drink.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, a regularly watered plant provides a favorite source of water. The distinct odor of the water makes it easier for bees to find or return to the source.
The Laidlaw facility's "watering hole" is an example of a honey bee watering device that beekeepers can use "to prevent bees from becoming a nuisance, or a perceived nuisance, to neighbors," Mussen said. "If beekeepers don't provide a water source, the bees may head over to a neighbor's dog bowl, sprinklers, birdbath or hanging damp laundry."
So, what do you do about those pesky mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water? Buy floating mosquito tablets that break up in the water. "That strain of bacteriuum will not harm the honey bees," Mussen said.
What's happening with the honey bees?
Those following the mysterious phenomonen known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)--characterized by bees abandoning their hives--are eagerly waiting the latest developments.
So, when UC Davis bee breeder-genetist Susan Cobey recently offered a class on queen-bee rearing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, she invited Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen to address the group.
Mussen, who is entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is considered one of the top authorities on honey bees in the country, and indeed the world. News media--including the Associated Press, New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC, Los Angeles Times and Good Morning, America--seek his expertise.
Lately he's been asked if the newly published research work in Spain "solves" the global mystery of CCD. It does not.
"It is true that we have available to us an antibiotic that, when used properly, practically eliminates the disease-causing fungus, Nosema ceranae, from our colony populations," he wrote today in answer to an inquiry. "However, in many cases, nosema-free colonies continued to dwindle to nothing very quickly in many parts of the country. Whatever the causes of that collapse may be, elimination of nosemosis, alone, is not adequate to improve the health of our colonies enough that they survive."
"We need to increaes our research efforts on this malady," Mussen said, "so that we can assure the existence of healthy honey bee colonies for the production of the fruits, vegetable and nuts that make up the healthiest one third of our daily diets."
Freerk Molleman, a postdoctoral scholar in professor James Carey's lab at UC Davis, kindly video-taped Mussen's hour-long lecture to Cobey's class.
Here it is: what's happening with the bees.
Great article in the Tuesday, April 28 edition of The New York Times on "Let's Hear It for the Bees."
And did I mention that the photo accompanying the article is one I shot last year on a Yolo County farm tour? The bee is nectaring a button willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
In The Times' article, Leon Kreitzman writes about the rhythmic opening and closing of blossoms. "Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments--say 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees' time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes."
That's fascinating stuff. Kreitzman is so right when he calls honey bees "nature's little treasures." He points out that "They are a centimeter or so long, their brains are tiny, and a small set of simple rules can explain the sophisticated social behavior that produces the coordinated activity of a hive. They live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines--do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on."
Kreitzman's new book on seasonal rhythms will be published in May. He earlier penned Rhythms of Life with neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford.
If we all paid more attention to the honey bees, we'd appreciate all the work they do and maybe we'd try to protect them more.
Yes, let's hear it for the bees!
Honey bee on button willow
If you see a caterpillar near a cluster of aphids, don't squash it. It could very well be the larva of a syrphid or hover fly (family Syrphidae) and it's eating aphids.
What do they look like? I happened to capture an image of a tiny syrphid larva on a rose leaf, and sure enough, it was eating aphids.
Community ecologist Louie Yang, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty last year, has also photographed syrphid larvae. He recognized this one right away.
If you want to learn more about syrphid flies, be sure to read Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops, Publication 8285 (May 2008), UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It's primarily the work of UC Davis entomologist Robert Bugg; with expertise offered by Ramy Colfer, chief organic agricultural researcher, Earthbound Farms, Salinas; William Chaney, farm advisor, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Monterey County; Hugh Smith, farm advisior, UCCE Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties; and James Cannon, UC Davis computer resource specialist.
In the publicaiton overivew, Bugg writes that "Flower fly development involves complete metamorphosis, including egg, three larval stages, puparium, and adult. Adults of many flower fly species resemble stinging bees and wasps. This phenomenon is called Batesian mimicry, indicating that palatable organisms resemble or 'mimic' unpalatable models. Worldwide, there are many aphidophagous syrphid speices."
"Adult hover flies require honeydew or nectar and pollen to ensure reproduction, whereas larvae usually require aphid feeding to complete thir development."
Below, you'll see a syrphid larva doing what it does best: eating aphids.
Adult syrphid fly