Backyard Orchard News
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.
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
If it looks like a bee, buzzes like a bee, and visits flowers like a bee, it might not be a bee.
It could be a fly, or more specifically, a syrphid or flower fly.
Syrphids, also known as hover flies (from the family Syrphidae and order Diptera), are everywhere.
They hover over flowers like a helicopter over a meadow and then touch down. You'll see them nectaring blossoms, zipping from one flower to the other. When they're shadowed or startled, off they go.
Several of them were nectaring on our newly opened pink cactus blossoms this morning.
To the untrained eye, syrphids are often mistaken for honey bees. However, think number of wings (honey bees have four wings, syrphids have two), overall size, distinct coloration, and different antennae. Different antennae? Yes. Honey bees have long antennae bent at a right angle. Syrphids have a specialized bristle (arista) on the end of each antenna. It looks like a knob.
So, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
If it visits flowers, it might not be a bee. It could "bee" a fly.