Backyard Orchard News
A buggy thing happened on the way to a meeting.
As we left Briggs Hall, a three-story building on the UC Davis campus that houses the Department of Entomology, we noticed a wasp at our feet.
Entomologists warn against collecting biting and stinging insects, such as wasps, without dispatching them first. (Dispatching has nothing to do with a postal shipment or a completed transaction.)
This one, a yellow-legged paper wasp, wasn’t moving very fast, so I latched onto the opportunity to photograph him, not...ahem...dispatch him.
Him? Yes. Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, later identified it as a male Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, aka yellow-legged paper wasp.
If you’ve ever seen a Mischocyttarus flavitarsis close-up, you’ll notice one thing right away: a “wasp waist.” That brings to mind the 19th century fashion of women achieving the "wasp waist" by corseting and girdling their already slender waists.
The golden-legged paper wasp comes by it naturally. No corsets. No girdle. And always quite fashionable.
We photographed him in all his waspiness and he proved quite cooperative. Later we fed him a taste of honey for one last shot. But off he flew. He buzzed my head once as if to warn "Don't you ever, ever do this again!" and he was gone.
Yellow legs and wasp waist and all.
Yellow-legged paper wasp
They met and married in the 1960s when they were studying for their doctorates in entomology at UC Berkeley.They established exemplary careers in entomology at Cornell University. Now, at retirement age, they've moved back to Northern California.
Meet Drs. Maurice and Catherine Tauber, visiting professors, scientists and associates with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Recently elected honorary fellows of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, they're now closely linked with both Cornell and UC Davis.
Indeed, the Taubers represent one of the most successful collaborations in the history of entomology--both personally and scientifically.
Maurice Tauber served as a professor and chair of the Cornell University Department of Entomology. He continues to serve as a graduate school professor. Catherine "Kady" Tauber worked as a senior research associate. At Cornell, they conducted research in the areas of insect seasonality, evolutionary biology and speciation, biological control, and systematics.
The Taubers have enjoyed a long association with the California Academy of Sciences. Although "officially" retired, they continue their research on the comparative biology and systematics of New World lacewings, which are in the insect order Neuroptera or net-winged insects (this includes lacewings, mantid flies and antlions).
We met the Taubers at the Entomological Society of America's 56th annual meeting, held last November in Reno. Scores of scientists and former students paid tribute to them during a four-hour seminar: "Metamorphisis Through Merger: Celebrating the Diverse Entomological Accomplishments of Maurice and Catherine Tauber."
Indeed, their names are legendary in the entomological world.
“The Taubers have had impressive research careers and have continued pursuing their research interests even after retirement,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “Having them in Davis has been fabulous for us. They've been great contributors to the Bohart Museum and can always be counted on to provide their expertise and experience.”
Bees engage us. They fascinate, charm and inspire us.
Last Sunday morning, as the temperature climbed from 40 to 50 degrees, the honey bees joined us in our garden. They buzzed in and out of the autumn blossoms, gathering pollen and nectar. I stood motionless, capturing their whir of wings with a macro lens, searching for a way to tell their story.
Like many other artists involved with photography, I see the world through a viewfinder. Still other artists draw, etch, paint and sculpt them or use other mediums such as mezzotint engravings, wax pastels and woodcuts.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty (today he's keynoting the California State Beekeepers’ Association conference in San Diego), called our attention to a newly launched Web site known as “The World’s First Art Gallery Devoted to Bees.”
It’s “Bees in Art,” the work of curators/artists Andrew Tyzack and Debbie Grice of East Yorkshire, UK. More specifically, it’s art inspired by bees.
The husband-wife team, graduates of the Royal College of Art, exhibit artwork by leading artists who, like themselves, are fascinated and inspired by beekeeping, bees and Hymenoptera.
“Beekeeping and bees are an immensely important part of our ecosystem,” says Andrew, a third-generation beekeeper and founder of Bees in Art.
The curators not only celebrate bees, but draw attention to the plight of the pollinators. They exhibit and sell important artworks by contemporary artists, such as Robert Gillmor and David Koster as well as works by past masters, including Graham Sutherland (1903-1980).
Andrew Tyzack, who keeps several bee hives, remembers working with bees in his childhood. He recalls the time he and his grandfather captured a wild colony of bees established in the wall of a wooden hut. "In the smoky gloom, Granddad gently took away the inner wall and there were the bees populating beeswax combs," he recalled. "Because the hut was gloomy and Granddad was gentle, the bees just carried on with their lives. We weren't wearing any protective clothing at all, but I felt safe. Their doorway was where a knot had fallen out of a plank, but once we had captured the queen, the colony was ours."
Andrew traces his early inspiration of bees “from a boyhood curiosity for all things natural" to the artists, writers, poets and dancers he's met along life's way. Among them: sculptor Andy Goldsworthy and poet Liz Lochhead.
Wife Debbie, co-founder of Bees in Art, is an award-winning artist and "the beekeeper’s wife,” jarring his honey with creative labels. Winner of the Folio Society Illustration Award 1998, she produces mezzotint engravings of apiaries.
Honey bees (queen bees, drones, worker bees), bumble bees and other bees populate the Web site in various art forms.
It’s nice to see a Web site solely devoted to bee art, and it’s particularly gratifying--and significant--that the founder of Bees in Art is himself a beekeeper and artist.
And inspired by bees and beekeeping.
Andrew Tyzack and His Hives
What's wrong with this photo?
A honey bee is nectaring a lavender, right?
But if you look closely, you'll see a Varroa mite--a parasite--attached to her.
Varroa mites, considered the No. 1 pest in the honey bee industry, are linked to colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind food stores and the brood.
Varroa mites are so common that it's rare to find a hive without them.
Female mites reproduce inside brood cells in the hive. Mites suck the bee blood or hemolymph; in doing so, they spread viruses, stunt the growth and cause deformities.
Within two years, they can destroy a colony.
Not a pleasant sight.
Mite on bee
A recent visit to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden found honey bees making a...yes...beeline...for the pink oxalis (Oxalis herta), a native of South Africa.
Some folks consider oxalis, especially yellow oxalis, a "weed." Indeed, "oxalis management" is a key topic at park conferences, at garden club meetings and over backyard fences.
Now a weed is simply an unwanted plant in a particular place. It may be a "nuisance" because it crowds out desirable plants, steals the limited soil nutrients, spreads diseases, or doesn't meet someone's strict aesthetic requirements or expectations.
To a honey bee, however, there's no distinction. Oxalis, aka wood sorrel, beckons them, unfolding an aromatic welcome mat, and the bees buzz in.
End product: food for the hive, and a sweetener for us humans.