Backyard Orchard News
Let's have a show of hands.
How many of you have seen Franklin's bumble bee in the wild?
Never HEARD of it, you say?
Well, you probably will never SEE it, either. Bumble bee experts think it may be extinct.
Franklin's bumble bee is native to southern Oregon and northern California, but in recent years, it's been a "no show."
"Franklin's bumble bee has the most restricted distribution range of any bumble bee in North America, and possibly the world," said UC Davis researcher Robbin Thorp, a noted authority on bumble bees. Its range is about 190 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west in a narrow stretch between southern Oregon and northern California, between the coast and the Sierra-Cascade ranges.
Its known distribution: Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon, and Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. It lives at elevations ranging from 540 feet in the north to 6800 feet in the south.
Thorp launched his scientific surveys for Franklin's bumble bee in 1998. He documented about 100 of them that year. They were, he said, fairly common.
Since 2004, however, he's seen the unique bumble bee only once. And that was a solitary worker in August 2006 at Mt. Ashland, Ore.
The black-faced bumble bee (Bombus franklini) is distinguished by a black inverted U-shape on its yellow thorax. See Thorp's photo below. Note also the yellow markings atop its head.
Franklin's bumble bee frequents (or shall we say, "used to" frequent) California poppies, lupines, vetch, wild roses, blackberries, clover, sweet peas, horsemint and mountain penny royal during its flight season, from mid-May through September. It collects (or shall we say "used to" collect) pollen primarily from lupines and poppes and gathers nectar mainly from mints.
Thorp just returned from the region in mid-May and found nothing. He journeys to the region three to five times a year, spending several days looking for the bumble bee on each trip.
It's not there.
Thorp is concerned, as we all should be, that humankind is disturbing, destroying and altering the habitat where the native pollinators exist.
He'll be speaking on the plight of the bumble bee from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 at 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. His talk will be Webcast. You can view it by signing in here at that time. Later, it will be archived on this page.
Bumble bees, Thorp said, are important to our ecosystem. Wildlife, including birds, elk, deer and bears, depend on pollination of fruits, nuts and berries for their survival.
Other species of bumble bees are commercially reared to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. They pollinate about 15 percent of our food crops, valued at $3 billion, Thorp estimated.
Goodbye, Franklin's Bumble Bee? Hello, distinction?
Sheridan Miller's gift to UC Davis for honey bee research was both generous and thoughtful.
The 11-year-old Bay Area resident raised $733 for the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility through the sale of jars of honey, candles, baked goods and a self-penned booklet on the plight of honey bees.
The fifth grader and her family (father Craig, mother Annika and sister Annelie, 8) traveled from their home in Marin County to present the check to Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey guided the group on a tour of the Laidlaw facility and apiary.
“It’s very thoughtful and generous of a little girl to think of the plight of the honey bees and to raise funds for research,” Kimsey said. "We are overwhelmed.”
Said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976: “I really appreciate the fact that so many members of the general public have become concerned about the plight of honey bees. I am particularly impressed by individuals such as Sheridan who have devoted so much time and effort in really trying to improve the health and longevity of the honey bees.”
"Honey bees pollinate delicious fruits, vegetables and even nuts," Sheridan wrote. "If they were to disappear, our food source would consist of wheat, rice and corn."
Sheridan's dedication deeply illustrates what one person can do to help save the bees.
Sheridan cannot imagine a world without bees. Neither can we.
Insects love the lavender.
Think honey bees, syrphids, and carpenter bees.
The noisiest are the male carpenter bees. They buzz the lavender looking for females and then touch down for the nectar. They're quick, territorial, aggressive and noisy.
We see carpenter bees buzzing the garden as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 7:30 p.m.
The male carpenter bees, like drone honey bees, are all bluff and bluster. Only the females sting.
It's a curious-looking insect, the tachinid fly.
The first thing you notice are the thick, dark bristles covering its abdomen. By human standards, this insect, about the size of a house fly, is not pretty. No way, no how.
But there it was, resting on a purple-leaf sand cherry (genus Cistus, rockrose family Cistaceae) in our garden.
As an adult, the tachinid fly nectars on flowers. In its larval stage, it's an internal parasite. The female is known for laying her eggs in Lepidoptera caterpillars and in the larvae of other insects. Hostest with the mostest?
Lepidoptera is a order that includes butterflies and moths, and if you study them, you're a lepidopterist.
California has more than 400 species of tachinid flies. There's even one species called the "Caterpillar Destroyer" (Lespesia archippivora). It targets the caterpillars of those graceful Monarch butterflies we see flitting through the flowers.
Most folks will look at a tachinid fly and mutter "Yecch! That sure is a weird-looking fly."
By human standards.
That's what it takes to capture images of syrphids, aka flower or hover flies.
They are oh, so tiny and they move oh, so quickly. As the morning dawns, you wait, camera poised, near their preferred blossoms. You'll need a keen eye and a quick trigger finger--not to mention a good macro lens and a high shutter speed to freeze a moment in time and space.
If you're stealthy and don't startle or shadow them, you can observe them nectaring just inches away from you. This is big game hunting, but with little insects.
And, another frozen moment in time and space.