Backyard Orchard News
The rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) attracts its share of insects.
This morning the brilliant magenta blossoms drew honey bees, carpenter bees and hover flies.
As a hover fly (aka syrphid fly or flower fly) gathered nectar, a spider crawled up a leaf of the succulent, presumably to check out the best place to weave a web.
The rock purslane is drought-tolerant and a good plant for xeroscaping.
And perfect for attracting pollinators--and an occasional spider.
It looks like a giant mosquito.
But it isn't.
It's a crane fly (family Tipulidae), also known as a "mosquito hawk."
It's a slender, long-legged insect that cats like to target. Our cat, Xena the Warrior Princess, loves to bat them out of the air--and then look around for more.
Most crane flies "feed on decaying organic matter, but some are predaceous or feed on living plants such as mosses," according to entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their guidebook, California Insects.
Don't worry. This gangly mosquito-like insect won't feed on you. You're safe.
Ever seen bees at a watering hole?
Bees not only bring back nectar, pollen and propolis to the hive, but also water.
"Water dilutes the concentrated food, maintains humidity in the brood nest, and it's used to air-condition the hive, like an evaporative cooler," said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, who's entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Beekeepers use a variety of watering devices to make sure their colonies have a steady supply of water. For example, some beekeepers slant a wooden board under the slow drip of an outdoor faucet. Others offer a shallow pan of water or a birdbath.
What's important is this: Bees prefer to stand where it's dry when they're taking a drink.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, a regularly watered plant provides a favorite source of water. The distinct odor of the water makes it easier for bees to find or return to the source.
The Laidlaw facility's "watering hole" is an example of a honey bee watering device that beekeepers can use "to prevent bees from becoming a nuisance, or a perceived nuisance, to neighbors," Mussen said. "If beekeepers don't provide a water source, the bees may head over to a neighbor's dog bowl, sprinklers, birdbath or hanging damp laundry."
So, what do you do about those pesky mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water? Buy floating mosquito tablets that break up in the water. "That strain of bacteriuum will not harm the honey bees," Mussen said.
What's happening with the honey bees?
Those following the mysterious phenomonen known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)--characterized by bees abandoning their hives--are eagerly waiting the latest developments.
So, when UC Davis bee breeder-genetist Susan Cobey recently offered a class on queen-bee rearing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, she invited Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen to address the group.
Mussen, who is entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is considered one of the top authorities on honey bees in the country, and indeed the world. News media--including the Associated Press, New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC, Los Angeles Times and Good Morning, America--seek his expertise.
Lately he's been asked if the newly published research work in Spain "solves" the global mystery of CCD. It does not.
"It is true that we have available to us an antibiotic that, when used properly, practically eliminates the disease-causing fungus, Nosema ceranae, from our colony populations," he wrote today in answer to an inquiry. "However, in many cases, nosema-free colonies continued to dwindle to nothing very quickly in many parts of the country. Whatever the causes of that collapse may be, elimination of nosemosis, alone, is not adequate to improve the health of our colonies enough that they survive."
"We need to increaes our research efforts on this malady," Mussen said, "so that we can assure the existence of healthy honey bee colonies for the production of the fruits, vegetable and nuts that make up the healthiest one third of our daily diets."
Freerk Molleman, a postdoctoral scholar in professor James Carey's lab at UC Davis, kindly video-taped Mussen's hour-long lecture to Cobey's class.
Here it is: what's happening with the bees.
Great article in the Tuesday, April 28 edition of The New York Times on "Let's Hear It for the Bees."
And did I mention that the photo accompanying the article is one I shot last year on a Yolo County farm tour? The bee is nectaring a button willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
In The Times' article, Leon Kreitzman writes about the rhythmic opening and closing of blossoms. "Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments--say 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees' time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes."
That's fascinating stuff. Kreitzman is so right when he calls honey bees "nature's little treasures." He points out that "They are a centimeter or so long, their brains are tiny, and a small set of simple rules can explain the sophisticated social behavior that produces the coordinated activity of a hive. They live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines--do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on."
Kreitzman's new book on seasonal rhythms will be published in May. He earlier penned Rhythms of Life with neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford.
If we all paid more attention to the honey bees, we'd appreciate all the work they do and maybe we'd try to protect them more.
Yes, let's hear it for the bees!
Honey bee on button willow