Backyard Orchard News
It's often mistaken for a honey bee.
It's not a honey bee. It's a hover fly or flower fly.
And this one, hovering around the plants last Saturday in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, looked like a Syrphus opinator to me.
So I asked UC Davis entomologist Robert "Bob" Bugg, who specializes in flower flies (Syrphidae), what it is.
"If I have to be an opinator, I'd opine that you're right," he quipped.
Bugg, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, does research on the biological control of insect pests, cover crops, and restoration ecology.
If you want to learn more about flower flies, read Dr. Bugg's "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops" (Publication 8285, May 2008, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.)
Head of Hover Fly
UC Davis bee specialists were well represented in a recent edition of The IPM Practitioner, which landed on our desk last week.
The edition, devoted to “Pesticides and Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder,” includes four photos from the UC Davis Department of Entomology. They show bee specialist Michael “Kim” Fondryk tending his bees in the Roy Gill almond orchard,
As mentioned in the publication, “The exact cause of CCD has not been determined. A CCD task force has been established and a number of possibilities are being investigated.”
Bees continue to die in alarming numbers. Some of the nation's beekeepers report losing from one-third to 100 percent of their bees due to the mysterious phenomenon known as CCD, in which all the adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen, brood and stored food.
As managing editor William Quarles says in The IPM Practitioner: "Despite our dependence on honey bees, we have lost about 45 percent of them over the past 65 years. According to the USDA, there were 5.9 million colonies in 1947 and about 2.4 million today."
Quarles, an IPM specialist who is executive director of the Bio-Integral Resource Center, suggests a nationwide monitoring program to confirm or deny the role of pesticides in CCD.
Quarle concludes: "If we do not take better care of our bees, there could be a significant impact on crop production. Some foods could become scarce and expensive. We should also treat our bees better because they are our friends, they enrich our planet, and it is the right thing to do."
Well said. Well said, indeed.
Michael "Kim" Fondrk
It blooms in winter and the bees love it.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), a rambling vine with trumpetlike yellow flowers, is charming visitors in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis. The plant originates from western China.
The six-petaled blossoms gleam like gold in the wintry garden. When the pelting rain strikes them, they look like delighted kindergarteners splashing around in yellow raincoats.
Don't be surprised to see winter jasmine among the selections in the half-acre bee friendly garden being planned at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. The nationwide landscape design competition, which ends Jan. 30, is sponsored by Häagen-Dazs. The garden is expected to be a reality by October.
Unfortunately, the winter jasmine has no fragrance. But that doesn't stop the bees from greeting and hugging the flowers and gathering pollen. It would take the long beak of a hummingbird to reach into the trumpetlike flower for the nectar. Or a carpenter bee to slit the corolla and steal the nectar.
But for now, on the afternoon of Jan. 24, 2009, the moments are golden.
BEE IN BLOSSOM
When you think of a teddy bear, you think of a huggable stuffed animal.
Not so entomologists. When they think of a teddy bear, they think of the male Valley carpenter bee.
It's a green-eyed, fluffy golden insect that's nicknamed "teddy bear." You can hug it, too. Unlike the females, male carpenter bees don't sting.
When a Davis resident recently cut down a plum tree, hordes of buzzing insects tumbled out. Seeking identification, the resident carted a chunk of the wood and the golden insects into the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
What were they?
“Male carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as Valley carpenter bees,” said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
“Some of us refer to these males as ‘teddy bear’ bees, because of their yellowish-brownish color and fuzzy burly bodies,” said UC Davis emeritus entomology professor Robbin Thorp, who studies pollinators. “The females are all black with violaceous (violet) reflections on their dark wings.”
Carpenter bees, so named for their ability to tunnel through wood to make their nests, carve with their mandibles (jaws) but do not ingest the wood. Only the females excavate the tunnels, which average six to 10 inches in depth.
Thorp says he tries to convince people to learn to live with these bees as “they are important pollinators in our environment and have potential as pollinators of some crops.”
“Carpenter bees are beneficial in that they pollinate flowers in native plant communities and gardens,” he said. “That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
California is home to three carpenter bee species. I've seen X. tabaniformis orpifex buzzing around my backyard but never The Golden One.
What a gorgeous insect!
If you like to combine art with science, here you go.
In keeping with the theme, “The Consilience of Art And Science," the Pence Gallery and the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program are sponsoring a juried exhibition, open to all artists and scientists.
The deadline to submit a CD and entry information is Feb. 20. The Pence Gallery, located at
The goals of the Pence Gallery exhibitions are three-fold, said Art/Science Fusion co-director Diane Ullman, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs,
The goals are:
1. To show create work that explores the intersection between art and science
2. To foster communication between the arts and sciences
3. To spark new ways of viewing the world and ourselves.
You can find more information--the rules and an entry form--here. For additional information, contact Natalie Nelson, director of the Pence Gallery, at (530) 758-3370 or at email@example.com.
One has only to look at photographs of insects to realize that "Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths."