Backyard Orchard News
When a rotten apple tree was cut down last week on private property in Davis, scores of eyes peered from the drilled holes. Soon, adult male Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta)--those green-eyed golden bees known as "teddy bears"--emerged with their female counterparts. The males and females look nothing alike; the females are solid black.
As entomologists know, the females drill holes in wood to lay their eggs. When the adult females and males emerge from their cells, they "wait it out" until spring or when the weather warms enough for them to take flight. It gets pretty cold in Davis.
Talented insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis got the carpenter-bee call. "My good friend's son, a football player up from Claremont, cut down the rotten apple tree," Jones said. Surprise! Insects began crawling from the drilled holes.
Jones knew immediately what they were. He's photographed hundreds of them. He picked up the golden bees, knowing that "boy bees can't sting" and delivered them to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The golden boys were all clinging together in a little ball when I left (the Laidlaw facility)," Jones said.
Thorp plans to keep them chilled to see if they survive the winter. They also will be part of "show and tell" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The male Valley carpenter bees are often mistaken for a new species of bumble bee. In fact, some refer to them as "golden bumble bees."
The Valley carpenter bees are the largest carpenter bee in California. They are included in the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, entomologist-photographer Rollin Coville and UC Berkeley botanist and curator Barbara Ertter.
Xylocopa varipuncta inhabits the Central Valley, Santa Clara Valley, and Southern California. At many garden events, visitors are surprised when Thorp picks up a male Valley carpenter bee and lets them hold it and feel the vibrating buzz.
"Boy bees can't sting," he tells them. "They're bluffing."
A male Valley carpenter bee (right) peers from a hole. A female (all females are solid black) occupies the hole next to him.
A cluster of male Valley carpenter bees.
Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen holds a handful of male Valley carpenter bees.
This male Valley carpenter bee backed into its drilled hole to keep warm.
So, pull on your boots, gather your posse, grab your nets and head off to where you think a cabbage white butterfly might be. That would include vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow.
Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has sponsored the annual contest, "Beer for a Butterfly," since 1972. If you collect the first one, and it's verified by judge Shapiro, you'll win a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Professor Shapiro says it's too cold out for the cabbage white to fly. "Both yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 1) and today (Friday, Jan. 2) were too cold for even the 'hibernator' Vanessas to come out," he said. "I don't expect rapae before AT LEAST the 13th. By the way, the prognosis looks quite dry through mid-January, but the 90-day outlook is quite wet. In late September, I forecast 130 percent of average rainfall for the season. I'm sticking with that."
Shapiro not only knows butterflies but he knows the weather. His opinion of what's happening with the California weather? (Heavy rains, flooding, heavy rains, flooding.)
"It's a drought. We'd need at least 150 percent, better 200 percent of average seasonal rainfall to get the reservoirs to the point where water managers could undeclared the drought," he said in an email today. "But even if we got that--say with a series of Pineapple Express storms--prudence would dictate releasing some of the inflow to make room for more. It's a crap shoot. This is California, where booms and busts are born. By the way, the snow level has been high so far, so even though the snow is Sierra cement and has a high water content, the pack is mostly above 7500', so the area is pretty small (look at a satellite photo) and no part of the Sierra is carrying more than 50 percent of its seasonal storage capacity."
The "Beer for a Buttterfly" contest is all part of Shapiro's four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter. Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.”
Shapiro says his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate "are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, usually wins his own contest. He knows where and when to look. In 2014, he netted the winning butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972."
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
Shapiro has been defeated only three times since 1972. And all were his graduate students. Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He and biologist/writer/photographer Tim Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
Cabbage white butterfly on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's a buggy new year! One of the fascinating things about beginning the new year is the Entomological Society of America's "World of Insects" calendar. Amazing images of insects (and one spider!) jump out at you.
One of my favorites is a black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, an image captured by entomologist Jena Johnson of Athens, Ga. It's "Mr. October."
Johnson writes: "Soldier flies, like many other dipterans, have beautifully patterned eyes attributable to cornea filters that cause colorful metallic reflections. Adults of this species are black with dark wings and are 14-17 millimeters long. Although harmless, they are somewhat similar in appearance to mud dauber wasps, and they even mimic their movements. They also have two distinctive translucent spots on their first abdominal segments that make them appear to have narrow, wasplike waists. The larvae develop in decomposing organic matter and are considered to be beneficial in helping to reduce large amounts of animal manure and other biological wastes. Soldier fly larvae are a good protein food source for livestock, exotic pets and even humans. In the summer, adults are often attracted to fluorescent lights, which is how this one was lured in for a photograph in Athens, Georgia."
"The first time I looked into the eyepieces of a microscope to see the magnified beauty of an insect I knew I would spend my life involved somehow in learning more about this diverse and fascinating group of animals," Johnson told Bug Squad. "After working at the University of Florida for a couple of years I went on to earn a master's degree at Clemson University. I worked as an entomology laboratory technician at the University of Wisconsin and am currently at the University of Georgia. For many years I photographed insects with a 35mm film camera but when digital cameras became more affordable a few years ago, my passion for insect photography was reignited. I photograph insects for the pure joy it brings me. I live in Athens, Georgia with my husband Michael Strand, who is also an entomologist."
Michael Strand, by the way, will be the featured speaker April 8 in the series of noonhour seminars hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (See list of seminar speakers.)
Jena Johnson, who is currently hotographing a variety of mosquito species emerging from pupae at the water's surface, is an alumnus of BugShot, an insect photography workshop. One of the instructors is noted insect photographer Alex Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, with professor/ant specialist Phil Ward. Wild, who has just accepted a position at the University of Texas, Austin, blogs about insects at myrmecos.net and about photography at Compound Eye, Scientific American. Wild's Oct. 26 2011 seminar at UC Davis on "How to Take Better Insect Photographs" is the department's most viewed seminar on UCTV.
It's obvious that people like bugs, and people enjoy capturing macro images of bugs!
A colorful image of a clown grasshopper by Francisco Lopez-Machada of Cali, Colombia, graces the cover of ESA's "World of Insects" calendar. It also appears as "Mr. August."
The list of images and the photographers:
January: Spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica, by Daniel D. Dye II of Brooker, Fla.
February: Speckled-winged grasshopper, Arphia conspersa, by Johan Pretorius of Scottsbluff, Neb.
March: Imperial moth, Eacles ormondei peruviana, by Christopher Conland of Escondido, Calif.
April: Red dwarf honey bees, Apis florea, by Darren McNabb of Iowa City, Iowa
May: Stink bug, Edessa sp., by Francisco Lopez-Machado of Cali, Columbia
June: White-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, by Keith Kennedy of Raleigh, N.C.
July: Dog-day cicada, Tibicen canicularis, by Keith Kennedy of Raleigh, N.C.
August: Clown grasshopper, Paramastax rosenberg, by Francisco Lopez-Machado of Cali, Colombia
September: Rove beetle, Philonthus caeruleipennis, by Tom Myers, Lexington, Ky.
October: Black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, by Jena Johnson of Athens, Ga.
November: Luna moth, Actias luna by Tom Myers, Lexington, Ky.
December: Flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, by Kathy Keatley Garvey of UC Davis
The 7000-member ESA recently held its annual meeting in Portland, Ore., with president Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and an integrated pest management specialist at UC Davis, presiding.
This photo of a black soldier fly, by Jena Johnson, is "Mr. October" in the ESA calendar. (Photo by Jena Johnson, used with permission)
The ESA calendar cover features this clown grasshopper by Francisco Lopez-Machado of Cali, Colombia. (Photo courtesy of ESA)
"Mr. December" in the ESA calendar is this image of a flameskimmer dragonfly, taken by Kathy Keatley Garvey of UC Davis.
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 the last day of the year.
Looking back, it was a year of wonder in our pollinator garden, a year filled with flourishing lavender, salvia, catmint, honeysuckle, lantana, passionflower vine, foxgloves, cosmos, California poppies, rock purslane, basil and oregano, with three towers of jewels (Echium wildpretii) anchoring the garden. The bees sipped nectar, praying mantids ate the bees, bluejays ate the praying mantids, and hawks ate the bluejays. As we watched the hawks splash in our birdbath, we wondered about the bees, jays and mantids that were all part of this circle of life that happened in our garden.
New Year's Eve. It's a time not to make resolutions, but renewals. It's a time to refocus and recharge; to sharpen the focus and recharge the batteries; to see Mother Nature snag a little more of Father Time.
So, Bug Squad on the last day of 2014 will include four photos of two Gulf Fritillaries becoming one. These Gulf Frits (Agraulis vanillae) provided us with eggs, larvae, chrysalids and more adults. They, along with the other pollinators that inhabit our garden, make our flowers complete, our garden complete and our lives complete.
May all your gardens be filled with the buzz, the flutter and the whirl of pollinators in 2015!
Happy New Year!
Two Gulf Fritillaries becoming one in the lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A showstopping move and a show of orange. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Spreading the wings! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Soon there will be eggs, larvae, chrysalids and more adults. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From 75 to 80 feet below, they bore no resemblance to monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), the most familiar butterfly in all of North America.
"Wait 'til the sun shines on them," a docent whispers. "That will be about 10 to 15 minutes." State park rangers and docents do not yell; they whisper.
At around 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 27, the sun's rays struck the cluster. Soon after, a bluejay scattered them.
The crowd below broke into applause. It's not often that a crowd applauds a miracle of nature, but that's exactly what it is. A miracle of nature as roosting monarchs winter in a Eucalyptus grove.
The Natural Bridges State Park is the only monarch butterfly preserve in the United States, according to a park publication. More than 100 permanent overwintering colony sites dot the California coast. They include Pismo Beach and Pacific Grove.
At the Natural Bridges State Park Visitors' Center, guests can see the four stages of the monarch: egg, larva, chrysalis and adult. Milkweed, the host plant, grows in a demonstration garden outside. Last Saturday the milkweeds were blooming as if were spring.
The winter-generation monarchs are usually born in late August or September "as the sun's rays and the days begin to shorten," according to a park publication. "This shortening of the light seems to trigger several important changes in these monarchs:
(2) They have the ability to store fat, which summer generations do not have, and they feed earnestly to build up stored body fats for the migration and the overwintering periods.
(3) They begin a serious migration to safe wintering roosts. They arrive at sites in California during October and in Mexico in November.
(4) At the wintering sites, they reduce their activity, extend their life span and wait until spring, usually February, to begin mating activities and producing the next generation of monarchs."
The roosting monarchs cluster like shingles on the limbs, needles and leaves of a number of trees, including the Eucalyptus, native to Australia. Among the other trees they favor: native Monterey pine, Monterey cypress and sycamore.
How are the monarchs able to hold on? With their tarsi, or backfacing claws. They roost in areas where winter temperatures don't dip to freezing. "The monarchs are looking for the refrigerator, not the freezer" in order to slow their metabolism, a park publication pointed out.
Other predators include the chestnut-backed chickadees, mockingbirds, phoebes, shrews and mice. In addition, several flies and wasps lay their eggs on the caterpillar.
School children touring the preserve soon learn how they differ from monarchs. Humans have two legs; butterflies have six legs; humans travel with their feet; butterflies with their wings; human smell with their noses; butterflies smell with their antennae. Humans taste with their tongues; butterflies have taste sensors on their feet, which are reportedly 2000 times more sensitive than the human taste buds.
Unfortunately, North America's monarch butterfly population is declining. Wintering groves are disappearing due to coastal development in California and logging in Mexico. And inland, loss of milkweed resources means a loss of their host plant. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently related that the North America population of Monarchs has decreased by 90 percent in the past 20 years.
The good news, however, is that we humans are focused on the plight of the Monarch.
On Dec. 29, a Xerces press release proclaimed: "Monarch Butterfly Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection."
"In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said today that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for monarch butterflies," the press release began. "The agency will now conduct a one-year status review on monarchs, which have declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years."
Sarina Jepsen, the Xerces Society's endangered species director, was quoted as saying: “We are extremely pleased that the federal agency in charge of protecting our nation's wildlife has recognized the dire situation of the monarch. Protection as a threatened species will enable extensive monarch habitat recovery on both public and private lands.”
Monarchs roosting on the leaves of a Eucalyptus tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sun rays light up the cluster. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of monarchs in flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)