Backyard Orchard News
Happy Valentine's Day!
While everyone else hands out little pink candy conversation hearts proclaiming "Bee Mine," "Miss You," "Call Me," "Kiss Me," and "I Love You," insect enthusiasts post photos of bugs "keeping busy."
We spotted an unforgettable scene recently in a flower patch behind the UC Davis Lab Sciences Building. The ladybugs (actually they're "lady beetles" because they're not bugs) were devouring aphids on the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), a desert shrub we see throughout California, northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Quite contentedly, we might add. And doing a great job, we might also add.
But that's not all they were doing.
Brittlebush makes a good dining room, living room and bedroom.
Soon the flower patch will turn into a nursery.
Ladybugs (lady beetles) "keeping busy" on brittlebush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Associated Press reporter Gillian Flaccus wrote that a man illegally keeping bees on the roof of his West Los Angeles home may not have to worry any more since the City Council voted Wednesday, Feb. 12 to allow backyard beekeepers to keep bees.
That's good news for our urban beekeepers.
What troubles some folks, though--and rightfully so--is that the council agreed that when at all possible, feral bee colonies should be hived instead of destroyed.
Los Angeles has been the home of Africanized bees since the mid-1990s and some of those feral cololnies are indeed Africanized. They look the same, but their behavior isn't. Africanized honey bees, which the media has dubbed "killer bees," are much more aggressive than our European honey bees, established here in California in1853.
Flaccus also quoted beekeeper Ruth Askren, who relocates feral hives to backyards all over the city, as estimating that only 10 percent or fewer of the colonies she collects are so aggressive they must be destroyed.
"Currently, most hives discovered in the city's public right of ways or reported by concerned citizens," Flaccus wrote, "are wiped out because of worries about their aggressive genetics."
Mussen, who just received a grant with UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson to research Africanized bees in California, is following the story closely. He pointed out that Africanized bees were first detected in California in 1994, just outside Blyte in Riverside County.
Fact is, not all bees (especially highly aggressive Africanized bees) are worth saving.
Mussen wrote in one of his Bee Briefs, posted on his website: "While it does appear that over the decades the Africanized honey bees in southern California have lost some of their overly defensive behavior, they still are not predictable. At times a colony population is no more apt to become disturbed and defensive than our normally kept EHBs (European honey bees). At other times they respond quickly to minimal disturbance and defend a very large territory around the hive location. Such behavior is not restricted solely to AHB (Africanized Honey Bees), however colonies of EHBs demonstrating such intensive defensive behavior usually are 'requeened' or killed by beekeepers. Requeening is a process by which the original queen in the colony is located and removed.
"Then, a young queen, mated outside the range of AHB drones, is introduced into the colony. Over a period of four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and are replaced by daughters of the new queen. Defensive behavior becomes less intense as population replacement rogresses. Individuals and organizations in southern California are advocating collecting honey bee swarms and extracting colonies from buildings, etc., hiving them, and keeping them in backyards. The probability of hiving an AHB colony is relatively high."
Meanwhile, Mussen is fielding calls from news media, beekeepers and agencies.
One person wanted to know if Mussen's views are science-based. "No," Mussen said, "it's common sense."
Mussen offers two suggestions:
1. Beekeepers needing bees should order packages from an area outside AHB colonization, such as Northern California. Be careful about ordering from queen bee breeders in Texas, "as the state is covered with Africanized honey bees."
2. If feral bees are collected and hived, move the hive to a location where there will not be interactions with people and domestic animals. Allow the bees to fill the box and then conduct an inspection. It will take only a couple minutes to determine if the bees simply mind their own business or would likely cause problems for adjacent neighbors.
Mussen also warns that the new ordinance will be yanked if problems mount. If neighbors start complaining about swarms, or bees stinging people and pets en masse, or about scores of bees seeking water elsewhere (beekeepers need to provide for their colonies), that could happen.
Then, he says, beekeepers will have no one to blame but themselves.
This is a feral honey bee colony in a backyard in Vacaville, Solano County. Containing European honey bees, it was a joy to the resident before it collapsed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We know that honey bees work hard. They forage for food within a four-mile range of their hive. They can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and their wings can beat about 200 times per second, or 12,000 beats per minute. Sometimes they'll visit 50 to 100 flowers on a collection trip. No wonder worker bees live only four to six weeks during their peak season. They literally work themselves to death.
Matan Shelomi, doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, responded. He answers scores of questions on Quora. (He won a Shorty award for his answer to "If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?”).
Shelomi took the bee question to heart.
"Nope," he wrote. "No blood vessels."
"A heart attack is when fatty deposits, clots, etc. block the coronary artery that leads to the heart muscle. Blood flow to the heart muscle itself (as opposed to the pumping chambers) stops, so the muscle dies and the heart stops beating. So to have a heart attack, you need a heart and arteries."
"Insects have a heart, sometimes, but no arteries or veins. They have an open circulatory system: all their organs just float in a goo called 'hemolymph' that is a combination of lymph and blood. Some insects, bees included, have a heart and an aorta (the vessel leading out of the heart) that pumps the blood and gives it some semblance of direction (from the back of the insect to the front), but beyond that there is no circulatory system. The heart floats in the hemolymph along with everything else. No way to stop it from receiving blood flow, because it's surrounded by it.
"Furthermore, unlike human blood, insect blood doesn't carry oxygen. They have a special network of tubes called trachea that provide oxygen: think of it having air vessels go from your lungs all throughout your body instead of blood vessels. Conceivably the trachea leading to an insect heart could all get blocked by something from the outside, which would be the closest thing to a 'heart attack' in an insect, but there's no record of that happening and its unlikely anyway. So, nope, no insect can have a heart attack. Scare them to your heart's content."
So, this month being "American Heart Month" and all, we don't have to worry about honey bees having heart attacks. All drones (male bees), however, pay the ultimate price when they mate with a queen. During the in-flight mating process, parts of the male anatomy are ripped out and they die.
Honey bee heading toward rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Come by and visit UC ANR booth 1512 in Pavilion A if you would like to talk about citrus pest issues. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, Sara Scott and Jennifer Ruvalcaba will be there. We have pest damaged fruit and several beneficials to display including Tamarixia, the parasitic wasp that attacks Asian citrus psyllid.
Citrus Pest Display at the World Ag Expo
Fact is, bugs bug people. Birds bug bugs. Bugs bug bugs. If you've ever seen a praying mantis lying in wait for a bee or a ladybug snatching an aphid, or a dragonfly grabbing a hover fly, you know they do. Bugs bug bugs.
In the insect world, people seem to love only butterflies, bees, ladybugs and dragonflies, as evidenced by bug-inspired clothing, jewelry or tattooes. They do not like bed bugs, knats and mosquitoes.
When you think about it, there are about a million described species of insects in the world, "more than five times the number of all animals combined," according to emeritus professor Jerry Powell in his book, California Insects. "Estimates of the number remaining to be discovered and named vary from 1.5 to 5 million or more."
We all talk about the good, the bad and the bugly. The good: the honey bee. The bad: the mosquito. The bugly: the praying mantis.
So it was interesting today that Organic Pest Control of New York City named the world's top 50 bug blogs/pest control blogs. You can see the list here. Geographically, they range from California to Singapore to the UK. "These sites were shown to have valuable, fresh and frequently updated content that is helpful in both entomology and the pest control industry," according to the website.
At least two blogs have UC Davis connections. Biologist and noted insect photographer Alex Wild of the University of Illinois, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis with major professor/ant specialist Phil Ward, is listed for his Myrmecos (that means ant) blog.
The other blog with the UC Davis connection: yours truly with Bug Squad.
Here's what the website said about about the first 10 on the list:
Bug Girl's Blog (Charismatic Minifauna)
This blogger has a PhD in entomology (insect study) and is not afraid to share her fascination through the blog. Another standout feature of the blog is her knowledge of how to control insect populations without the use of pesticides. Top posts include “How to Inspect Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs” and “Ask an Entomologist.” (Note: this is by Gwen Pearson, who for a long time, never revealed her true identity, not even at an Entomological Society of America meeting.)
Visit here for a blog by Illinois-based biologist and photographer Alex Wild. The blog's name is derived from the Greek word for ant and contains Alex's musings on the little creatures that share our planet. The galleries are a must see given Alex's love of both insects and his talent with a camera.
Insects in the City
Mike Merchant has served as entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension since 1989. His areas of specialty involve research on the insects that effect people including spiders, scorpions, fire ants, termites, and others. Get pest control from an academic point of view by stopping at his blog.
This blog is named after a quote from Joseph Krutch on the human standpoint on insects. Alison also fills her blog with other discoveries on insects and closer looks at them. Everything from ants to wolf spiders are featured.
Butterflies of Singapore
Because some bugs can be downright beautiful, there is this blog. Get a look at “nature's flying jewels” without ever leaving your home. With entries dating back to 2007, there are loads of butterflies to see.
Living With Insects Blog
Jonathan Neal also has a Ph.D in entomology and teaches at Purdue University. His blog is devoted to the intersection of people and insects. Subjects such as fire ants, bees, and many more are often discussed.
Beetles In The Bush
Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. With entries on loads of common and uncommon household pests, his focus is of course the beetle. However, you can also find entries on items such as spiders, reptiles, and most recently, Bichos Argentinos.
Urban Dragon Hunters
These bloggers standout for targeting their insect research and blog towards the largely ignored urban areas. Located in Wayne County, Michigan, they have recorded 50 new species of odonata, or dragonflies. Stop by to see which and learn more about them.
Bug Squad is the blog of Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. This blog, launched in 2008, is part of the University of California's Agricultural and Natural Resources website. Check for the latest research and other information.
What's That Bug?
Also known as The Bugman, Daniel Marlos is the author of “The Curious World of Bugs.” With a healthy pest-free garden in Los Angeles, he is free to explore his love of bugs, as well as share useful pest control tips. Be sure not to miss specialty posts on just about every insect in the U.S.
And, be sure to check out the other winning blogs on the company's site.
Back to the ladybug. It's not really a bug. It's a beetle. That's why scientists want us to call it "lady beetle." You can read all about the lady beetle in UC IPM's Natural Enemies Gallery. UC IPM defines natural enemies as "organisms that kill, decrease the reproductive potential of, or otherwise reduce the numbers of another organism. Natural enemies that limit pests are key components of integrated pest management programs. Important natural enemies of insect and mite pests include predators, parasites, and pathogens."
Sometimes it's good to have an enemy, a natural enemy.
Ladybug drying its wings after falling into a swimming pool. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Fly away, little ladybug! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ladybug resting on a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)