Backyard Orchard News
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.
It's not spring, but don't tell that to the folks at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis.
Today bee breeder-geneticist Michael "Kim" Fondrk mowed the lush green grass around the apiary. Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Laidlaw facility, continued preparing for a series of specialized bee courses. She tended the hives with beekeeper and junior specialist Elizabeth Frost and beekeeper Tylan Selby, a first-year entomology student.
The conference room buzzed with ideas for an upcoming tour. Following the meeting, Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty talked "bees 'n almonds" with Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus. Yang will be conducting the first of what will probably be many tours at the Laidlaw facility.
The tours will include the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven and the quarter-acre Campus Buzzway. Both are bee friendly gardens that will provide a year-around food source for the bees, and educational opportunities for visitors.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the people activity, the bees continued to gather pollen and nectar from nearby almond trees.
"The queen bees are really busy laying eggs," Cobey said. That means more workers, more drones and more queen bees.
During the peak season, a queen bee can lay 2000 eggs a day, Cobey said.
That's definitely springing into action.
Examining Almond Blossoms
Lovely almond blossoms
Have you seen the little syrphid flies, aka flower flies and hover flies, hovering around the early spring blossoms?
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said these syrphids (below) are probably from the genus Toxomerus. The family is Syrphidae (flower flies).
The larvae of these insects are good to have in your garden--they eat aphids, thrips and small caterpillars. The adults feed on nectar and pollen.
The syrphids fly so fast that you almost need a motor drive to capture them in flight. Plus, they seem especially skittish this time of year. Shadow them with your body or camera and they're gone in a flash.To learn more about flower flies, a good read is Robert Buggs' 25-page booklet, "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops," published in May 2008 by the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). You can download it for free by accessing this page.
It's illustrated with photos that will help you recognize many of the syrphids.
It's Presidents' Day today, a holiday for most of us but not for the honey bees.
The bees are buzzing in and around the almond blossoms, collecting nectar and pollen for their hives. Nectar provides the carbohydrates for the hive, and pollen provides the proteins.
Someone told me yesterday that she thought that the drones (males) gather the nectar and pollen. Not so. (Shades of the inaccurate information released in Jerry Seinfeld's "The Bee Movie" and the equally inaccurate term, "pollen jocks.") No, the only function of the drones is reproduction. When the virgin queen bee heads out on her maiden flight, she'll mate with 12 to 25 drones or so in the drone congregation area. Then the drones die. Happy, probably. If they don't mate, they'll die within a month. Sad, probably.
The queen bee, in peak season, will lay about 2000 eggs a day. The worker bees--all sterile female workers--serve as the nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.
It's a matriarchal society.
So when you see the bees buzzing around the almond blossoms, they're girls. Busy girls. Golden girls. They not only buzz, they rock.
They're the ones that pollinate one-third of the food we eat, including California's 700,000 acres of almonds.
You go, girls!
Wild Blue Yonder
There's nothing like a steaming hot cup of coffee to jump-start the day.
If there's anything better than one cup, it's TWO cups.
Well, honey bees like a little caffeine, too.
Scientists at the University of Haifa, Israel, found that bees prefer nectar with a small concentration of caffeine and nicotine over nectar without those substances. The bees like the amount naturally found in nature and not at the higher, more toxic levels.
A news release posted on EurekaAlert noted that the bees "clearly" favored the blossoms that gave them a little buzz.
What's caffeine and nicotine doing in flowers, you ask? Did someone pour coffee or stub their cigarette in the blossoms? No. Some plant species naturally have a little caffeine or nicotine in their floral nectar.
"Nicotine is found naturally in floral nectar at a concentration of up to 2.5 milligrams per liter, primarily in various types of the tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca)," wrote communications specialist Rachel Feldman of the University of Haita in her news release. "Caffeine is found at concentration levels of 11-17.5 milligrams per liter, mostly in citrus flowers. In the nectar of grapefruit flowers, however, caffeine is present in much higher concentrations, reaching 94.2 milligrams per liter."
What the researchers did was offer "clean" nectar (comprised of just sugars) and artificial nectar (comprised of various natural sugar levels, coupled with various levels of caffeine and nicotine).
The bees honed in on the spiked nectar.
It's important to point out, however, that the study proved a preference, not an addiction.
And yes, the next step is to study whether the bees can become addicted to the substances.
Honey, would you like a little sugar in your coffee, or a little coffee in your sugar?