Backyard Orchard News
If you like to take nature walks and lean against an occasional tree, you might rub shoulders with a red-eyed, red-shouldered bug.
On warm, springlike days, soapberry bugs are exploring their territories--and doing what comes naturally.
These predominately black-and-red bugs are seed feeders on plants but they're much more than that. Scientists consider them the evolutionary “canary in the coal mine.”
I captured these photos of soapberry bugs last Friday in the UC Davis Arboretum. UC Davis biologist Scott Carroll, biologist who studies basic and applied aspects of evolutionary biology, specifically soapberry bugs, considers them "good mothers and avid lovers." .
“Soapberry bugs are tame, pretty, good mothers, avid lovers, and among the best native guides to ongoing evolution on the planet," he writes on his under-construction Web site.
"They respond quicky to changes in the environment and can be good models for observing evolution in action."
They're also good photographic models./o:p>/u1:p>/o:p>/u1:p>/o:p>/u1:p>/o:p>/o:p>/u1:p>/o:p>
Up a tree
Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) lamented in his poem “To a Mouse” (1786) that “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
He had just plowed into a mouse nest on his farm. The loss of life disturbed him.
Today folks have only to hear "best laid plans" and know about the "awry" or "astray" part..
Friday we were out looking for bumble bees (Plan A).
A brilliant pink shrub,
But the honey bees were all over it.
From Plan A to Plan Bee.
Close-up of Honey Bee
A sure sign of approaching spring...
As the cold weather subsides, out come the overwintering queen bumble bees. They're gathering nectar and pollen, building their nests and laying eggs.
Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, found a young queen bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus) on campus yesterday.
The confused queen managed to fly into Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
These particular bees, native to North America, are nicknamed "the orange-rumped bumble bees." They're basically your fuzzy-wuzzy, yellow-banded black bumble bees.
Last year UC Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp tended a nest of Bombus melanopygus on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility grounds at UC Davis. The story behind the story: an area resident was seeking a temporary location for the bumble bees, which were nesting in his birdhouse. Thorp obliged.
The photos below:
Kimsey's queen bumble bee (which rates a solid 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for fuzzy-wuzziness) and a bumble bee ready to take flight from the birdhouse. The bumble-bee-in-the-birdhouse photo, taken Feb. 29, 2008, received an online presence when the North Carolina State University Museum asked to borrow it to illustrate some text.
All hail the humble bumble bee...ever beautiful and ever resourceful./o:p>
Queen Bumble Bee
It's a wonderful gift.
Häagen-Dazs last December committed $125,000 to the UC Davis Department of Entomology to establish a bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and today, the winner of the design competition takes center stage.
The winner...drum roll, please...a team from Sausalito.
The four-member team created a series of interconnected gardens with such names as Honeycomb Hideout, Nectar Nook and Pollinator Patch to win the international competition, which drew 30 entries--one from as far away as
Landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki submitted an amazing design that will be brought to life this summer on a half-acre site on the Laidlaw facility grounds. (View the 21-page design on this page
.The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-round food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own.
It all started in February 2008 when Häagen-Dazs launched a national campaign to help the honey bees. They donated a total of $250,000 for honey bee research at UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University; launched an educational Web site, formed a scientific advisory committee, and created a new ice cream flavor, Vanilla Honey Bee.
And now comes the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Or bee heaven.
“We’ll not only be providing a pollen and nectar source for the millions of bees on campus, but we will also be demonstrating the beauty and value of pollinator gardens,” said design competition coordinator Melissa “Missy” Borel, program manager for UC Davis’
“The winning design fits beautifully with the campus mission of education and outreach, and it will tremendously benefit our honeybees at Bee Biology,” said Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. “The garden will be a campus destination.”
And it’s a close destination for the 50-some colonies at the Laidlaw facility and for neighboring bees, native pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Worker bees live only four to six weeks during their peak season. Now they won’t have far to travel to gather nectar, pollen and propolis in an environmentally friendly garden filled with some 40 different varieties of flowering plants.
Meanwhile, honey bee research to determine what's causing the declining bee population continues unabated.
Honey bees will never know the source of their gift, but the people who support them, care for their needs and admire them will.
It's a wonderful gift.
Lots of them, but what are they?
Vacaville residents Mark and Julie Vasquez began finding little flies in Birds Landing, near Rio Vista, in late January 2009.
Their numbers are increasing rapidly.
“They’re everywhere,” said Mark. “They’re in our storage shed and inside Julie’s parents’ home and grandmother’s home. They were under my rubber boots in the storage shed.”
“They come every year and get into everything,” Julie told Mark.
Everything—including Mark’s parked pickup truck. Last weekend the flies slipped through the vents and inside the cab. With no "thumbs up," they hitched a ride from Birds Landing to Vacaville.
"Some are still flying around in the cab," Mark said.
What are they?
The picture-winged fly (Ceroxys latiusculus). Order: Diptera. Family: Ulidiidae.
The insect is about the size of a house fly, but doesn’t move as fast, as Mark can attest. He captured a dozen in a jar.
Little is known about the biology of this common fly, but it's often confused with the walnut husk fly.
Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University says this about the picture-winged fly "It's a moderate sized fly (9-12 mm) about the size of a house fly. Its general coloration is grayish-brown but the most notable physical features are the the wings which have dark patterned markings."
Cranshaw says the picture-winged fly is commonly found indoors from early fall through spring. It is most often noticed around windows.
Meanwhile, several of the little buggers are still flying around in the cab of Mark's truck.
These picture-winged flies were captured in Birds Landing in mid-February and popped into a jar for identification. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of picture-winged fly.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Up close--This macro shot shows the head of a picture-winged fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)