Backyard Orchard News
Build it and they will come.
Baseball’s “Field of Dreams?”
No, a bee nesting block. Think "bee condo."
It’s an artificial nesting site made of wood and drilled with different-sized holes and depths to accommodate the diversity of native pollinators. Often the bee block is nailed to a fence post. Native bees, such as leafminer bees and blue orchard bees, build their nests inside the holes.
Fact is, North America is home to about 4,000 species of native bees. (The common honey bee is not a native; colonists brought it here from Europe in the 1600s.)
Members of the Xerces Society, an international organization "dedicated to protecting biological diversity through invertebrate conservation," are keen on protecting the habitat of native bees and other native invertebrates. As part of their public outreach program, they publish books, pamphlets and fact sheets. These include Pollinator Conservation Handbook, Farming for Bees, and the fact sheet, Bumble Bees in Decline.
As for the bee condos, thousands are sold each year in the
Vaughan, who escorted a group of us on a recent Yolo County farm tour, said many of our native bee species are much more efficient than honey bees at pollinating some crops.
"For example, only 250 female orchard mason bees (genus Osmia, also called blue orchard bees) are required to effectively pollinate an acre of apples, a task that would require 1.5 to 2 honey bee hives--approximatley 15,000 to 20,000 foragers." (Source: Farming for Bees, a Xerces Society publication.)
Native bees sport such names as miner, carpenter, leafcutter, mason, plasterer or carder, reflecting their nesting behaviors.
See the bee (below) heading toward the bee block? Xerces Society member Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who researches native pollinators, including bumble bees, says this is a female leafcutting bee, "probably the introduced Megachile apicalis, a specialist on Centaurea species, especially yellow starthistle."
The leafcutter bee, as its name implies, cuts leaves to form its nest.
We've all heard of the cuckoo clock.
And most of us have heard of the cuckoo bird (Cuculus canorus), which lays its eggs in the nest of birds of other species.
But the cuckoo bee?
Yes, there is a cuckoo bee. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other solitary nesting bees.
They resemble wasps. You can see these slender-waisted bees hovering low to the ground, sneakily searching for burrows of other solitary nesting bees.
Like an identity thief, they try to avoid detection. They slip into a a burrow and lay their eggs in the host's nest. The hatched larvae then eat the host's food and parasitize (kill and eat) the host's larvae.
Some cuckoo bees are more abrupt and don't smuggle their eggs into a nest. In Insects of the World, Walter Linsenmaier writes how a few species of Sphecodes, invade the nests of mining bees (Halictus), and "with naked force when necessary" slaughter "everything that opposes them."
Then the cuckoo bee flings the opposition out the entrance. Did anybody say "cruel world?"
Cuckoo bees are not nice and they're not ready to make nice. If this is a world of The Givers and The Takers, then they're the takers.
I captured this image of a cuckoo bee last week. Said Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis: "It's a cuckoo bee, probably the genus Triepeolus (maybe Epeolus) and probably a male."
Robber at work.
No, this isn't a bank heist or a gas station hold-up or a home invasion.
A carpenter bee is slitting the sides of salvia (sage) to steal the nectar.
Floral larceny! Book 'em, Danno!
Carpenter bees are nectar robbers. Nectar robbers pierce or bite into the corolla of a flower to remove the nectar. They can be birds, insects or other flower visitors.
But wait, nectar robbers aren't all that bad. They pave the way for our beloved honey bee to gather nectar.
But wait, nectar robbers aren't all that bad. They pave the way for our beloved honey bee to gather nectar.
The carpenter bee is often mistaken for a bumblebee because of its size and color. The most striking difference: the carpenter bee's abdomen is shiny, smooth and black, while the bumblebee's abdomen is fuzzy, covered with dense black and yellow hairs.
Unlike the bumblebee, the carpenter bee is a pest. To make its nest, the C-bee tunnels into wood, often weakening structures. It's a fairly decent pollinator, however, when it lands on open-faced flowers.
The C- bee can't creep into a tubelike flower to steal nectar, so it bites a hole into the corolla with its proboscis. It's a show of force. An end run. Touchdown!
If you see a floral larceny in process, don't dial 9-1-1 or consult Section 211 of the Penal Code. Just think of our besieged, beleagured and embattled honey bees that will benefit from this "act of crime."
Carpenter bee robbing nectar
It's a mighty mite and it's causing beekeepers fits.
The varroa mite (see photo below) is an external parasite that attacks honey bees. It sucks blood from the adults (apparently preferring drones, the male bees) and from the brood (immature bees). "It's commonly found in most hives," says UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.
Untreated infestations of varroa mites can weaken and kill honeybee colonies
Initially from Asia, the eight-legged reddish brown parasite was first detected in the United States in 1987. It was discovered in two states that year: Florida and Wisconsin (from the same beekeeper colonies). It's now all over the United States.
"Bees try to brush it off with their legs," Mussen said.
Mussen, editor of the bi-monthly newsletter, "from the UC Apiaries," writes about varroa mites in his July-August edition. He's been writing the newsletter since 1976.
In addition to the UC Apiaries newsletter, Mussen writes Bee Briefs, where you can read about such topics as "getting started in beekeeping," "removing swarms" and "honey bees and California native plants."
Both publications are invaluable to the beekeeping world and to folks who just want to know more about bees.
Mussen, a Cooperative Extension apiculturist at UC Davis for more 31 years, is the 2008 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
In national demand for his expertise on honey bees, Mussen appeared on Good Morning America on March 12, and has also been interviewed for The Lehrer Hour, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the television documentary, California Heartland. Coverage also includes Sticky Stuff of Modern Marvels, the History Channel.
“Eric is the primary conduit of information on apiculture, certainly for the entire western U.S. and perhaps even broader than that,” said UC Davis entomologist Larry Godfrey, past president of the Pacific Branch of ESA.
Widely recognized for his work, Mussen received the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999; Apiary Inspectors of America’s Exceptional Service Award in 2000, and the California State Beekeeper Association’s Beekeeper of the Year Award in 2006.
In 2007, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists honored him with an Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture, one of only five awards the group has presented in 20 years.
Mite on drone
Eric Mussen with panel of bees
Okay, be honest.
If you were attending class at 7:30 a.m., could you get excited about flies? No? How about the gender differences? Still no?
You would if Mary Frances “Fran” Keller were there teaching you.
You won’t find anyone more enthusiastic about entomology than Fran Keller.
A doctoral candidate in entomology, she recently received an outstanding teaching award at UC Davis.
She's amazing. Take it from pre-med student Shawn Purnell, one of Keller’s students.
“My perception and expectations of teacher assistants were forever raised when I met Fran,” he said.
“Truthfully, the very first time I had lab, I thought Fran was a little crazy. I had never before seen anyone become so enthralled in explaining the differences between male and female flies, especially at in the morning. I thought to myself, why would I ever be interested in this and how is this knowledge ever going to benefit me? To my surprise, by the very next lab I found myself blissfully explaining the conditions of Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium to my lab partner. Fran’s passion toward her students and enthusiasm for not only zoology, but also all aspects of academia, created an irresistible learning environment.”
If it creeps or crawls or flies or jumps, Fran wants to know about it. She's especially partial to tenebrionids or darkling beetles (see her Web site). She’s also an accomplished artist, illustrator and nature photographer. And a wife and mother of two.
Her four years as the teaching assistant (TA) in an insect physiology class taught by Charles Judson, emeritus professor of entomology and professors Bruce Hammock and Walter Leal, led to the teaching honor. The trio nominated her for the award, which Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef presented to her at a May ceremony on the UC Davis campus.
How does she do it? Excel at teaching? Fran gets to know her students individually and then focuses on their interests. “She showed me countless examples of how the subject (biological sciences) applied to medicine," Shawn Purnell said. "I especially remember her telling a story about how a graduate student willingly ate a tapeworm to further her research, and what the doctors had to do in order to remove it.”
"It's reassuring to know that out of a maze of 30,000 students and faculty at Davis," he said, "that there are people like Fran who really care."
Said Fran: “Not all students learn in the same way. There are global, linear and kinesthetic learners. I believe that illuminating a student’s learning style opens the door for thinking critically.”
"My very best teachers would not accept less than what they knew I was capable of doing. They understood my potential and treated me as an individual in a sea of many.”
Fran, scheduled to receive her doctorate next June, studies with major advisor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology.
The doctoral candidate is based at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, where she also designs museum posters, such as the Butterflies of Central California, Dragonflies of California, California State Insect (California Dogface Butterfly) and Pacific Invasive Ants. Currently she's coordinating a sale of gift items listed on the Bohart Web site. Proceeds benefit the museum's outreach program.
What’s she been up to lately? I hope you're sitting down!
This fall she will be TA’ing Entomology 100 with her major professor Lynn Kimsey, who describes her as "one of my most gifted students ever."
She's an invited speaker for the first California Desert Research Symposium (CDRS), set Nov. 8 at the University of the
Fran is also organizing the Coleoptera symposium at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting set Nov. 16-19 in R
And for all you dragonfly enthusiasts out there, she's designing a new dragonfly t-shirt for the museum gift shop.
And about those flies she so eagerly discusses at 7:30 in the morning? How much time do you have?
Fran Keller and daughter Rachael