Backyard Orchard News
Who put the “killer” in “killer bees?”
Someone named “B. Melon” asked that question on the “Strange but True” segment of the Web site, readthehook.com.
To answer the bee question, Bill Sones and Rich Sones did what many do. They asked UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen, a Cooperative Extension specialist and UC Davis faculty member for the past 32 years.
The answer, printed today:
A single Africanized honeybee releases no more venom than other bees but does react more vigorously to the "alarm pheromone" released, staying agitated longer, says
So instead of a dozen frenzied bees pursuing a victim for 100 yards, thousands from the colony of 30,000 may pursue, some up to a quarter mile. Yikes.
Even a world class sprinter couldn't outrun them at 20+ miles per hour, though fortunately most of the bees won't pursue very far. But one
Scary, but true. The Africanized bees are the pit bulls of the bee world. With pit bulls, it's this scenario: Guy and his dog out for a walk, pit bull charges them, pit bull rips open the throat of the dog and/or man, police respond and kill the pit bull and/or pit bull is euthanized. Pit bull owner maintains dog is so gentle that it "wouldn't hurt a fly." Or a baby...
With Africanized bees, it’s this scenario: Guy out for a walk, bees attack him, guy moves fast, bees move faster, guy in serious condition. Guy says he never thought the swarm of bees would follow him that long. Or that there would be that many.
Which reminds me of the email I received about 10 years ago about two hunters walking through the woods when they encounter a bear. One hunger unlaces his boots and slides on a pair of running shoes.
“What are you doing? You can’t outrun that bear!”
“No, but I can outrun you.”
But back to Eric Mussen and Africanized bees. Mussen served as the content advisor for a children's book, Africanized Honey Bees by Barbara A. Somervill, published this year by Cherry Lake Publishing, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest."
The bees, Somervill continues, were Africanized bees, an invasive species that breeds with our honey bees.
It's an interesting book. The cover features an image of an Africanized bee (which looks about like any other bee). Fact is, the only way you can tell an Africanized bee from the common European or Western honey bee is through a microscope.
Run for cover.
American humorist-entertainer Will Rogers said "I never met a man I didn't like."
I wonder if he would have said the same thing about insects.
Oh, sure, he probably liked--and appreciated--the butterflies, the honey bees and the ladybugs.
But cockroaches? I bet not.
Cockroaches just don't give you that fuzzy-wuzzy-lovey-dovey feeling--unless you're another cockroach.
Enter Catherine Chalmers, a New York-based multi-media artist who centers much of her work on cockroaches, their place on the planet, and people's reaction to them.
Chalmers, who explores the lives of cockroaches and other creatures that the general public disdains, will speak on “Sex, Food Chains and Cockroaches” from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 7 at the Wyatt Pavilion, University of California, Davis.
Her presentation is the second in a series of four lectures on “The Consilience of Art and Science,” a centennial colloquium sponsored by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion experimental learning program. The lectures are free and open to the public.
“Catherine Chalmers investigates the natural world, from food chains to insect sex, revealing new points of view about our place in the ecosystem,” said Art/Science Fusion co-director Diane Ullman, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and professor of entomology.
Chalmers specializes in photography, sculpture, drawing and video, preferring to let the subject matter dictate the particular media. She displays her art-science work throughout the country. The Boise (Idaho) Art Museum showcased her most recent show, “The American Cockroach.” She’s been featured in the New York Times, Kansas City Star, The Idaho Statesman and others.
Chalmers possesses this incredible talent of combining humor with biology to make people think. She paints cockroaches to resemble other insects, camouflages them in garden settings, and even “executes” them, strapping one to an “electric chair” or “burning” another at the stake. You can see her videos on her Web site.
Chalmers is quick to point out, however, that no animals are harmed in the making of her art. (Whew! For a minute there i thought the twitching cockroach was actually burning at the stake.)
Chalmers lives with her artist-husband in Rensselaerville, N.Y., where she buys, rears and poses insects for her art work. A native of San Mateo, she received a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art, London.
She said "American Cockroach" grew out of an earlier piece, "Food Chain," which shows animals mating, eating one another, or in the case of the praying mantis, both. (An insect's gotta do what an insect's gotta do.)
I told Catherine Chalmers she should expect a standing-room only crowd.
"Sex, Food Chains and Cockroaches."
The title alone should draw folks in.
Maybe a few cockroaches, too.
What has five eyes, six legs, two pairs of wings and can fly about 20 miles per hour?
Got to be an insect, right?
Right. But which one?
More hints: It’s been around for 30 million years. Its primary form of communication is a chemical called a pheromone.
Well, that could be…
Okay, now it gets easier.
The queen lays about 2000 eggs per day during the peak season. The males are called drones. The workers carry pollen on their hand legs in a pollen basket or corbicula.
Well, that could BEE…
Right. The mystery insect is the honey bee.
UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen says bees must collect nectar from 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey. The average forager makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Bees are important not just for their honey but for pollination. They pollinate about 100 agricultural crops in the
No wonder “honey” is a term of endearment.
The Queen and Her Court
Plain as day. And they’re not going away.
The estimated ratio of insects to humans is 200 million to one, say Iowa State University entomologists Larry Pedigo and Marlin Rice in their newly published (sixth edition) textbook, Entomology and Pest Management. Rice is the 2009 president of the Entomological Society of America.
Rice is the 2009 president of the Entomological Society of America.
There's an average of 400 million insects per acre of land, they say.
“The fact is, today’s human population is adrift in a sea of insects,” they write in their introduction.
Well, what about biomass? Surely we outweigh these critters?
No, we don't. The
There you go. The insects are the land owners; we are the tenants. “They are the chief consumers of plants; they are the major predators of plant eaters; they play a major role in decay of organic matter; and they serve as food for other kinds of animals,” Pedigo and Rice write.
Insects represent the good, the bad and the ugly.
Insects represent the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good: they give us honey and pollinate our crops. They spin our silk. They serve as natural enemies of pests. They provide food for wildlife (not to mention food for some of us humans). They are scavengers. They provide us with ideas for our art work. They are fodder for our horror movies.
And what scientist hasn't benefitted from the inheritance studies of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogasta? What ecologist hasn't studied water pollution by examining the mayfly population? Mayflies are the counterpart of canaries in the coal mine.
The bad: they eat our food crops, forests and ornamental plants. They devour or spoil our stored grain. They chew holes in our clothing. They pester us. They annoy our animals, too.
The ugly: They can—and do—kill us. Think mosquitoes. Think malaria,
But wait, there's more! Many more. Scientists have described more than 900,000 species of insects but there could be seven times as many out there, the authors point out.
Ironically, despite the huge numbers of insects, many people don't know the meaning of the word, entomology, the science of insects. They should. Insects outnumber us and always will. They've lived on the earth longer than us (400 million years) and adapt to changes better than we do. Most are tiny. Most can fly. And most reproduce like there's no tomorrow.
"Based solely on numbers and biomass, insects are the most successful animals on earth," the authors claim.
You can't argue with that.
We're in a recession, but the mosquitoes aren't.
The mortgage meltdown and the resulting green swimming pools are perfect breeding sites for mosquitoes, which can transmit the deadly West Nile virus (WNV). So far this year WNV has sickened 411 Californians, killing 13.
Research just published by UC Davis research entomologist William Reisen and colleagues from Kern County should be required reading. Titled "Delinquent Mortgages, Neglected Swimming Pools and West Nile Virus, California" and published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, it relates that in 2007, the mortgage crisis caused a 300 percent increase in notices of delinquency in Kern County.
"This led to large numbers of neglected swimming pools, which were associated with a 276 percent increase in the number of human West Nile virus cases during the summer of 2007," the authors wrote.
They concluded "These new larval habitats may have contributed to the unexpected early season increase in WNV cases in Bakersfield during 2007 and subsequently have enabled invasion of urban areas by the highly competent rural vector Culex. tarsalis."
If you check out the California WNV Web site, you'll notice that Kern County tallied 140 of the statewide 380 human cases in 2007. (The second highest WNV-afflicted county was Los Angeles with 36.) Total WNV-related fatatlies in 2007 in California: 21.
Bottom line: unmaintained swimming pools are turning into algae-clogged ponds. It's a public health issue that taxes the mosquito and vector control districts and threatens the health and welfare of the community.
What this means is: We are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper. We are our neighbor's keeper. NIMBYS (Not in My Backyard) need to be replaced by YIMBY (Yes, in My Backyard) and YLGI (Yes, Let's Get Involved).
The tiny female insect that needs a blood meal to develop her eggs is going green and we're seeing red.