Backyard Orchard News
'Tis the season for brotherly love, but not in the bee hive.
As the honey-gathering season ends and the weather turns colder, the worker bees (infertile females) push their brothers--the drones--out of the hive. Drones are of no use to the colony in the winter. They're another mouth to feed. (The sole function of the drones are to mate with the queen.)
So how are the worker bees able to shove the much-larger drones from the hive?
"The sisters quit feeding their brothers so that they're lighter and easier to push," said UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.
UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey admits to having a soft spot for the drones. “They’re cold and hungry, sitting there on the doorstep and wanting to go back in. They’re attacked and they die. Well, it’s a matriarchal society.”
A matriarchal society in the season of brotherly love.
I always thought the red-hot poker was primarily red.
This one in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, was mostly yellow.
It was Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008, five days before Christmas, and a lone honey bee, packed with pollen, was heading for the red-hot poker, variety "Christmas Cheer" (Kniphofia).
Seemed quite appropriate.
Red-Hot Poker in Storer Gardens
If there ever were a Christmas bug, it would be the ladybug, aka lady beetle.
The insects (family Coccinellidae) are brightly colored and spread joy in the garden when they feast on aphids.
Last summer we enjoyed watching them hanging out and hooking up. Their voracious appetites reminded us of holiday diners.
Please pass the aphids!
Ladybug on gardener's glove
You're sitting around discussing the importance of honey bees. The points include: they give us honey, they pollinate agricultural crops, and they serve as an example of a well-organized society.
But wait, there's more.
They scare off plant predators.
"Researchers in Germany discovered that the flapping of bees' wings scared off caterpillars, reducing leaf damage," writes BBC correspondent Richard Black in a Dec. 22 post.
"Many wasp species lay their eggs in caterpillars, and so caterpillars have evolved to avoid them. The sounds of bees' and wasps' wings are similar. Writing in the journal Current Biology, the scientists suggest this is an added bonus of having bees around, as well as the pollination they provide."
That makes sense. The sound of a bee buzzing can prompt a human or animal to leave the vicinity quite rapidly. Why wouldn't a caterpillar do so after "hearing" a buzz? Especially when it can't distinguish the sound of bee wings from wasp wings?
Lead researcher Jürgen Tautz of Wurzburg University says this is an unexpected advantage of why bees are important.
Look at it this way: our little honey bees are super heroes! They deserve to wear an "S" on their thorax.
Actually, they're "Super Girls" as the worker bees are all female. Worker bees are the ones that gather the nectar and pollinate the plants--and scare off those pesky caterpillars.
Superman, meet the "Super Girls!"
Seen any cabbage whites lately?
If you capture one before UC Davis professor Arthur Shapiro does, he'll trade you a beer for your butterfly. Actually, a pitcher of beer or its cash equivalent.
Yes, it's time for Shapiro's 38th annual Butterfly-for-Beer contest. The "state-of-the-Art" rules are easy: the first person to find and capture a live cabbage white butterfly outdoors in California's Central Valley (Sacramento, Solano or Yolo counties) after the first of the year, will win a pitcher of beer. You get the beer, he gets the butterfly. He gets the data, you get the recognition.
Shapiro, a noted lepidopterest equally renowned for his heavily accessed UC Davis butterfly site and field guide about butterflies in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions, almost always finds the first cabbage white of the year. It's tough to beat him because he knows where to look. Most likely the cabbage white will be in a vacant lot or by a roadside where wild mustards grow. It probably won't be in your backyard garden or neighborhood park.
The cabbage white is the Pieris rapae, a white or buff-colored butterfly about 1-1/4 inches long. It sports a black spot or spots near its wing base. The underside of its hindwing is yellow with a grayish cast.
The cabbage white is emerging about a week earlier than it did 30 years ago, Shapiro says. When was the first specimen found in 2008? Jan. 19.
Entries should be delivered to the receptionist in the Evolution and Ecology office, 2320 Storer Hall. Be sure to include when (time and date) you found it and where you found it. If it's on the weekend, when the UC Davis office is closed, store it live for a few days in your refrigerator.
Here's a photo I captured of two cabbage whites in Vacaville, Solano County on Sept. 7, 2008--about eight months too late for Shapiro's competition.
And no beer.
Two Cabbage Whites