Backyard Orchard News
Oh, to be a queen bee...
Her Royal Highness (HRH) is quite pampered. She's always surrounded by her royal attendants, called the retinue. They tend to her every need. They feed and groom her. They keep her warm or cool, depending on the temperature inside the hive.
They know it's her and not an imposter. Her Excellency releases a pheromone (chemical) that identifies her.
The retinue--with attendants circling the queen--reminds me of a NFL quarterback huddle. Form a tight-knit circle. Strategize. Criticize. Motivate. Win the game. Celebrate.
The queen bee, however, is no quarterback.
The worker bees (females) run the hive. They're the builders, architects, foragers, guards, royal attendants, coolers and heaters, nurse maids, nannies and undertakers.
The queen's only duty is to lay eggs. In peak season, she lays as many as 2000 eggs a day. She's the mother of all the bees in the hive, which can amount to 45,000 to 60,000 in the summer.
Ever seen a "classic retinue" photograph? Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, shared this photo (below). Note that ALL the royal attendants are facing her, which is what makes this a "classic retinue" instead of a your basic everyday retinue.
Hail to the queen.
But the real salute, the real applause, the real credit, should go to the workers.
They do all the work.
The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) looks like a Lady in White when she perches on catmint.
The colors are striking: A long, flowing white gown nestled among the rich lavender blossoms and earthy green leaves.
UC Davis Butterfly expert Art Shapiro says this insect flies an average of 44 weeks of the year in the Davis-Sacramento area. It seems to particularly love the catmint in our garden.
Last night, however, it was flying in our kitchen.
There is no catmint in the kitchen.
There is only a cat.
The confused butterfly probably entered the kitchen through an open door--or the cat door.
My mission: Rescue the butterfly bouncing around in the kitchen and let it go before the cat, aka Xena the Warrior Princess, developed a culinary interest in it.
Back to the catmint it went. I did not take it to Shapiro and ask "Did I win?"
You see, every year Shapiro sponsors a cabbage white contest in the Davis-Sacramento area. The first person who delivers a cabbage white to him, starting the first of the year, wins a pitcher of beer. The contest always ends in January or February.
"Almost every year," he says, "someone brings one in May or June and asks 'Did I win?'"
No losers this time, though. The Lady in White won.
She won the how-to-get-out-of-the-kitchen-unscathed-and-back-to-the-catmint contest.
Chemical ecologist Zain Syed of the Walter Leal lab, University of California, Davis, knows just where to find mosquitoes for his research.
He's been collecting up to 3000 mosquitoes a night along the Yolo Causeway, located on Interstate 80 between Davis and West Sacramento. The Yolo basin is home to the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area.It's easy to catch mosquitoes.
Syed is using carbon-dioxide traps to capture host-seeking mosquitoes. The female skeeters are seeking a blood meal (you, if you're around there). His traps entice them to "come on in."
"Once mosquitoes are lured to the vicinity," Syed says, "a suction fan traps them and sends them to the sleeve, a mesh bag that holds mosquitoes."
The mesh bag below holds 2000 mosquitoes. They are mostly Culex tarsalis, but also some Culex pipiens.
Culex mosquitoes are known for transmitting West Nile virus.
Syed and Leal are known for uncovering the mode of action for DEET, the chemical insect repellent used by more than 200 million people worldwide. Their groundbreaking research last year found that DEET doesn't jam a mosquito's senses or mask the smell of the host, as scientists previously thought for some 50 years. Mosquitoes avoid DEET because it smells bad to them.
Syed recently won one of two coveted campuswide awards for excellence in postdoctoral research from a field of 800 postdocs.
But other fields--rice fields--have always drawn his attention.
That's where the skeeters are.
An article posted on the ScienceNews Web site today indicates that North America did, too, have a honey bee.
For nearly 400 years, we've been told that the honey bee (genus Apis) did not exist on this continent until 1622. That's when the colonists brought it over from Europe.The Native Americans dubbed it "the white man's fly."
Honey bees existed at least 14 million years ago in North America, according to a fossil record recently identified by paleontologist-entomologist Michael Engle of the University of Kansas, Lawrence. The fossilized female worker bee, now at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, was unearthed in paper shale from Stewart Valley, west-central Nevada. The geological epoch: Middle Miocene.
Engle, the lead author of research published in the May 7th edition of the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, says the bee is definitely a honey bee. It has the distinctive hairy eyes, wing patterns and barbs on the stinger.
Unfortunately, this ancient bee--which Engle and his colleagues have named Apis nearctica--no longer exists. The researchers say it's most similar to the extinct species, Apis armbrusteri Zeuner from the Miocene epoch of southwestern Germany.
Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976 and a noted authority on honey bees, tells us that "hairy eyes" is a distinctive feature of the honey bee. "All honey bees," he said, "have hairy eyes."
The Nevada bee certainly isn't the oldest known record of a fossilized bee. The oldest known bee is 100 million years old, found embedded in amber in Burma back in 2006.
But Apis nearctica is proof that North America was a native range of the honey bee. In the journal article, Engle says that "honey bees were likely truly absent" from North America duirng the Pliocense and Pleistocene, "not becoming reintroduced until the major European colonization of the New World in the early 17th century."
Fact is, the honey bee lived here, but it did not survive.
Which begs the question--OK, we have to ask--Was it some kind of a colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
Bee on Sweet William
The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) announced today that a 76-year-old man contracted WNV, but "he did not acquire the virus locally."
The HHSA, along with other agencies, is urging folks to avoid outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are the most active. If you must be outside at that time, they say, use an insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3534.
It goes without saying that if you're camping, don't sleep outside unprotected.
Among the other good tips:
- Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors
- Make sure your windows and doors have tight-fitting screens without holes or tears
- Check your property weekly to eliminate any standing water sources, where mosquitoes can breed.
- Keep your eye on any foreclosed homes in the neighborhood to ensure that swimming pools do not go unattended and containers do not contain water.
Meanwhile, the ground-breaking research (Aug. 18, 2008) of UC Davis chemical ecologists Walter Leal and Zain Syed on why mosquitoes avoid DEET continues to draw attention. It's one of the most downloaded and cited articles from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Be careful out there.