Backyard Orchard News
Folks accustomed to seeing only honey bees (which are non-natives) buzzing around their yard probably aren't aware that in the United States alone there are some 4000 identified species of native bees.
And they probably aren't aware of The Bee Course.
That's a workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. It's held annually in Portal, Ariz. in the Chiricahua Mountains at the Southwest Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). This year's dates are Aug. 22-Sept. 1.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and active in the Xerces Society, has taught at The Bee Course since 2002.
The course, led by Jerry Rozen of AMNH, has been operating continuously since 1999, Thorp said, and UC Davis graduates are very much involved. Steve Buchmann who received his Ph.D. at UC Davis in 1978, is one of the instructors. Ron McGinley who received his undergraduate degree at UC Davis, does most of the initial student contact and scheduling for the course, Thorp said.
"There are usually about eight instructors and 22 participants for the 10- day course," Thorp said. "Most of the time is spent in the lab identifying bees to genus. At least three days are spent in the field so students can see various bees doing their thing, collect them and bring them back to the lab to ID them. It is a great experience for students to interact with instructors and especially with their peers from round the world."
"Instructors all donate their time to teach in the course, but benefit from the chance to get together with colleagues and a new cohort of interesting students each year. Every class is different--that is, it takes on its own personality--and each student brings something new and different to the mix."
More locally, Thorp will speak Sunday, March 7 on the amazing diversity of native bees at the 2010 Bee Symposium, sponsored by the Santa Rosa-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP). He'll discuss their nesting habits and nest site requirements. The symposium takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Subud Center, 234 Hutchins Ave., Sebastopol.
The fourth annual conference will offer updates and new perspectives on honey bees and native pollinators, according to PFSP executive director Kathy Kellison.
It's good to see the focus on native bees as well as honey bees. For more information on native bees, be sure to check out the Xerces Society Web site and UC Berkeley's Native Bee Gardens.
Yolo County Bee Collection
Metallic Green Sweat Bee
It's a peach of a tree, but it isn't a peach.
It's a nectarine, a close variety of the peach--the result of a genetic mutation.
In between the rain storms, honey bees are nectaring the nectarines and packing pollen, getting ready for the spring hive build-ups.
Like peaches, nectarines originated in ancient China, and not in Persia, as the botanical names, Prunus persica (peach) and Prunus persica var. nucipersica (nectarine), might suggest.
European colonists began growing nectarines in America as early as 1616, historical documents show. That's the same decade that the colonists brought the honey bee to America. So non-native honey bees have been nectaring the non-native nectarines in what is now the United States for almost 400 years.
Two things haven't changed much in four centuries: the beauty of the delicate pink blossoms and the beauty of the industrious bees.
A sure sign of spring...
Bee in Nectarine Blossoms
Pollen-Packing Honey Bee
The old Town Hall off Main Street, Vacaville, Calif., is the perfect backdrop for Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) thriving in planters.
The Iceland poppies, sometimes called arctic poppies, are native to northern Europe and North America. "Papaver" is the Greek word for "poppy."
Last Sunday, around 8 a.m., we spotted two pollinators--the honey bee and the mason bee--nectaring the blossoms.
Honey bee: Apis mellifera. (Contrary to Jerry Seinfeld's incorrect information in The Bee Movie, foragers are worker bees, and all worker bees are female.
The mason bee? A female from the genus Osmia (Family Megachilidae)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, said this mason bee could be the blue orchard bee (BOB), Osmia lignaria propinqua, "but I would need to be able to see the face of the bee to be sure. BOB females have distinctive horns at the bottom of the face. Osmia are difficult enough to separate under a microscope, and only a couple can be identified to species from photos at just the right angle."
It's probably too early for BOB, he said. Whatever the species, the mason bee declined to turn around.
Not an I-Pod
It didn't take long.
Last year at this time the field next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis stood bleak and barren.
Nothing there but scattered patches of grass and a few pocket gophers and ground squirrels.
Last fall, after an international design competition, the site morphed into the truly beautiful Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden designed as a year-around food source for the bees in the Laidlaw apiary and as educational opportunities for visitors. Visitors will learn all about honey bees and what to plant in their own gardens to attract pollinators. (Folks can also download the 21-page design, which includes the list of plants.)
Next to crop up: The quarter-acre Campus Buzzway, planted with California poppies, lupines and coreopsis (tickseed). Blue and gold? Those are the university colors. The Buzzway sprawls on land once occupied by the Baxter House.
Fast forward to today, Feb. 26. The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven and its neighbor, the Campus Buzzway, are beginning to take off, just like the beginning pilots that practice their take-offs and landings at the nearby University Airport.
Among the first to bloom: the salvias, lupines, and almond trees. Next: the Teucrium fruticans, cultivar "Azureum."
The Teucrium fruticans, or bush germanders, are in the mint family, Lamiaceae. They're evergreen perennial shrubs native to the Mediterranean and produce strikingly brilliant blue flowers.
And you know how much bees like the color, blue.It's pure bee bliss.
How fuelish is the honey bee?
Is it as fuel-efficient as say, the new Volkswagen that gets an estimated 170 miles per gallon, more MPG than any other vehicle?
National Public Radio recently posted an interesting article on its Web site comparing the VW with the HB (the honey bee, Apis mellifera).
It seems that when the German engineers rolled out their new VW--an 837-pound car with a 2.6-gallon diesel fuel tank--they boasted it could go 416 miles without stopping for gas.
Nice going, but wait just a minute!
"We suggest," wrote NPR author Robert Krulwich, "that Germany's proud engineers take picnic baskets to the nearest springtime hill and meet their energy-efficient masters, honey bees."
Krulwich recalled that in 1957, Canadian scientist Brian Hocking figured out "bee miles to the gallon."
"Experimenters take a bee, give it all the honey it can eat, and then tether it to a pole," Krulwich wrote, adding that this procedure "neither harms nor seems to disturb the bee."
So, our busy little bee flies around the pole until it runs out of fuel. "The pole measures the distance flown by the rotating bee," Krulwich explained. "Because the experimenter now knows how far a bee can travel on a bee-belly of fuel, you scale up to imagine how far it would go if it had a gallon-sized belly. That's how you calculate Bee Miles Per Gallon."
Hocking's formula: flight efficiency of a bee=0.5 mg per 1 kilometer.
The bee. By far.
The bee gets nearly 5 million miles per gallon, or specifically 4,704,280 MPG.
And that's without packing pollen.
Honey Bee in Flight
Target: Almond Blossoms