Backyard Orchard News
Eric Mussen is used to fielding questions about honey bees--how and why they gather nectar, honey, propolis and water; how many eggs a queen bee can lay in a day; and why beekeeper use smokers.
Typical of the questions and his answers:Why do beekeepers use smokers?
The smoke from the smoker has three effects on the bees. First, it prevents the guard bees from liberating much “alarm pheromone” (smells like bananas) in the hive. Second, it prevents “soldier” bees in the hive from smelling the pheromone that has been secreted. Third, it causes many bees to fill up on honey. Despite the wives’ tales to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that the bees “think” there is a fire or that bees full of honey cannot sting.
Can honey bees see color?
Yes, honey bees can see nearly all the colors we see. They cannot see red, which looks black to them. They can see into the UV wavelengths a ways, which is beyond our limit at purple. UV looks black to us.
However, when Mussen takes the stage on Monday, March 1 at the California Small Farm Conference in San Diego, he won't be giving a presentation on honey bees or answering questions.
He'll be receiving a well-deserved award: the Pedro Ilic Outstanding Ag Educator Award for his work in educating the agricultural community, the beekeeping industry and the general public about honey bees.
Mussen, an Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, is considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation.
He serves in leadership roles in numerous honey bee organizations, from the California State Beekeepers' Association to the American Honey Producers' Association. He helped found the Western Apicultural Society and served terms as president. The list of service to agriculture and apiculture is both impressive and extensive.
“Yet he is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child’s question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” said nominator Larry Godfrey, Extension entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Mussen delivers his messages via computer, phone, field and office visits, research, conferences and publications. Since 1976, he has written the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and fact sheets called Bee Briefs.
Yet unbeknowst to many of today's agriculturists: Eric Mussen and Pedro Ilic, a small farm-advisor in Fresno County who died in 1994, knew each other. In fact, they worked together as members of the Small Farm Work Group, part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
"They were alike in many ways: their dedication, enthusiasm, high energy, friendliness, their commitment to small-scale and family farming, and the easy-going way they imparted information on a diversity of projects, solving a multitude of problems—and sometimes at a moment’s notice,” Godfrey said.
Ilic was known as an effective teacher who instilled self-esteem in others and constantly encouraged others, his colleagues said. Illic showed characteristic determination, exuberance, high energy, and genuine friendliness for all people, with the conviction that the smallest is as important as the biggest.
That would be describing Eric Mussen to a "T."
Or to a "B."
A tip of the bee veil to Eric Mussen, public servant extraordinaire.
Ladybugs are easy to "spot."
As soon as the weather warms and those dratted plant-sucking aphids emerge, here come the polka-dotted ladybugs. The prey and the predator. The pest and the beneficial insect. The bad and the good.
Actually, many folks have already reported ladybug sightings. Facebook friends are photographing them and posting macro images. Ray Lopez of El Rancho Nursery in Vacaville said he's seen scores of them this season. The building that houses Fox 40 in Sacramento is resplendent with them.
In fact, tomorrow morning (Wednesday, Feb. 24) senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, will be interviewed by Fox 40 on that very subject: ladybugs! Look for a 7:20 a.m. live interview.
An article in today's Science Daily calls aphids "the mosquitoes" of the plant world. That's because they depend on the "blood" of plants to survive.
David Stern, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, is quoted as saying "Look at this little insect, sitting on a plant and sucking plant juices. You don't realize that it is involved in a historic battle with plants for access to its life blood. All its genes have evolved to allow it to exploit its feeding relationship."
The article, about how an aphid's genome reflects its reproductive, symbiotic lifestyle, points out that an aphid can reproduce both sexually and asexually."
That's certainly a key factor in the aphids' evolutionary success.
All the more for the hungry ladybugs.
So, whether you call them "ladybugs" or "lady beetles" or by their family (beetle) name, Coccinellidae, they're found worldwide, with more than 5000 described species.
And they're coming to a garden near you...
It's not too early to start thinking about NPW.
NPW? National Pollinator Week.
They are a key to our global sustainability and food supply. Eighty-percent of the world's crops depend on pollination. Honey bees pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.
Worldwide, we have about 20,000 species of bees, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. And California alone, he says, has more than 1600 species. Bees include sweat bees, digger bees, leafcutting bees, bumble bees, and scores of others.
Want to know what to plant in your garden to attract bees and other pollinators? Good sites to read are UC Berkeley's Urban Bee Gardens Web site and the Xerces Society Web site.
Meanwhile, almond blossoms are in full bloom in California. At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, an almond tree near the apiary is a burst of blossoms and a flash of aromatic fury.
Walk by the tree and you'll see pollen-packing honey bees buzzing around like there's no tomorrow.
We must ensure there will be a tomorrow.
Almond Tree at the Laidlaw Facility
Buds 'n Blossoms
The arthropod community at UC Davis--and beyond--has circled the date, Wednesday, Feb. 24.
It's not just the last Wednesday of the month.
That's when insect biologist Rosemary Gillespie, director of the Essig Museum of Entomology, University of California, Berkeley, and chair of the Berkeley Natural History Museums, will be at UC Davis to speak on "Community Assembly through Adaptive Radiation: Spiders on Islands.”
The seminar, set from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs, Kleiber Drive, is part of the UC Department of Entomology's winter seminar series. Can't make it to Briggs Hall? It will be Webcast live and then archived on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site.
“Remote islands are heralded as 'natural laboratories,' with communities largely comprising species that have evolved within the islands as a result of adaptive radiation,” said Gillespie, who is also the Schlinger chair of systematics and professor of organisms and the environment. “I have been studying spiders to elucidate commonalities underlying patterns of adaptive radiation and how communities are filled in such situations.”
“Overall, this research promises insights into the interplay between selection and the biotic environment in the evolution of species within a community,” she said.
Chris Searcy, graduate student in the Population Biology Graduate Group, Center for Population Biology, will introduce Gillespie.
Ian Pearse, graduate student studying with major professor Rick Karban, is coordinating the winter seminars, which began Jan. 6 and continue through March 10.
All seminars are from 12:10 to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. On tap March 3 is Moran Segoli, postdoctoral researcher in the Jay Rosenheim lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology. He will speak on The Importance of Predation in Shaping Desert Communities and Trophic Levels."
On March 10, research chemist John Beck of the USDA Agricultural Research Station, Albany, will speak on "The Search for Non-Pheromonal Volatile Organic Compounds Toward Control of Navel Orangeworm, a Major Insect Pest of California Tree Nuts.”
Under a pilot Webcasting program launched by UC Davis entomology professor James Carey, these entomology seminars are being Webcast by his graduate students, James Harwood and Amy Morice. Not all are Webcast; some speakers requested they not be due to unpublished data.
A Web page lists all the archived seminars. Just click and watch.
Robbin Thorp's many areas of expertise include the amazing diversity of native bees.
He'll discuss their diversity, nesting habits and nest site requirements when he addresses the 2010 Bee Symposium, sponsored by the Santa Rosa-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP).The conference, to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, March 7 in the Subud Center, 234 Hutchins Ave., Sebastopol, will offer updates and new perspectives on honey bees and native pollinators.
Thorp, a native bee specialist and an emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, "retired" in 1994, but not really. He still maintains his office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and continues to focus his research on the ecology, systematics, biodiversity and conservation of bees. He's involved in research on the role of native bees in crop pollination, the role of urban gardens as bee habitat, and declines in native bumble bee populations.
Thorp is known as the "go-to" person when it comes to native bee identification. Mason bees? Check. Leafcutter bees? Check. Blue orchard bees? Check. Bumble bees? Double-check.
Last June he presented a talk at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., on "Western Bumble Bees in Peril" and in August, addressed the Western Apicultural Society conference in Healdsburg on native bees.
Retired? No way.
Among the other main speakers at the 2010 Bee Symposium: Kathy Kellison (top left), executive director of PFSP; beekeeper Serge Labesque of Glen Ellen, Sonoma County; researcher and beekeeper Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, Nevada County; and Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist (honey bee specialist) and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
The conference also will include information on beekeeping practices, innovative approaches and ecological strategies for beekeepers, Kellison said, "and actions that can be taken by beekeepers, groups and other interested supporters who wish to help our bees."
Kellison say the "early bee" (not "early bird") registration for the 2010 Bee Symposium is $25 if you sign up by March 1. After March 1, the cost is $30. It's open to all interested persons.
More information on the symposium, including registration, is on the PFSP Web site.