Backyard Orchard News
Yes, honey bees have six feet, and that's the title of a keynote speech to be presented May 9 at the University of California, Davis by Distinguished McKnight Professor and 2010 MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota.
To take place in the UC Davis Conference Center, the daylong symposium on "Keeping Bees Healthy" will be hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Registration is now underway for the 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. event.
“This educational program is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees,” said Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center. “In addition to our speakers, there will be an active ‘Buzz Way' featuring graduate student research posters, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants and much more.”
Among the speakers will be honey bee scientists Brian Johnson and Elina Lastro Niño and native bee scientist Neal Williams, all with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and bee molecular scientist Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames Iowa. Also planned is a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Center on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Bee garden manager Christine Casey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will lead the tour.
General admission is $75 and student admission is $25. Both include a continental breakfast, lunch and post-event reception. For registration, access this page. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is providing financial support.
As for Marla Spivak, back in 2010 she was named a recipient of the $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a "genius award."
Nearly two million people have accessed her TED talk at which she comments on the "big bee bummer that we have created," why we should care about bees, and how we, as individuals can help them. Honey bees, she says, have thrived for 50 million years, but in the last seven years, the bee population is declining rapidly. On the average, beekeepers report losing 30 percent of their winter bees. They don't make it to spring.
"We can't afford to lose bees, so what is going on?" Spivak asks. In 1945, the U.S. honey bee population stood at 4.5 million colonies in 1945. Today it's about 2 million.
In her TED talk, Spivak expresses deep concern about bee health and calls attention to what she calls "the multiple, interacting causes of death: diseases, parasites, pesticides, monocultures and flowerless landscapes." She sprinkles in such colorful words as "flower feeders," "agricultural food deserts," "bee social healthcare system" and "tomato ticklers" (referring to the buzz pollination of bumble bees on tomatoes).
Honey bee foraging on a tulip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The email arrived in my UC Davis inbox at 9:10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 8.
An employee from the UC Davis Plumbing Shop wondered what was happening in front of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. "There are dead bees everywhere," he wrote, adding that "There were some grounds workers waiting for the UC Davis bus in front of Mondavi, and they commented that they also saw dead bees everywhere in their grounds-keeping areas."
Did the cold spell have something to do with this? But why would honey bees be outside their colony? Honey bees don't fly until the temperature reaches around 55 degrees.
What was happening?
Super sleuth Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, arrived on the scene. He was appropriately dressed in a trenchcoat, a la Sherlock Holmes (Note that Sherlock Holmes, aka physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a beekeeper, too, according to Wikipedia).
Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service, picked up some of the dead bees and noticed that nearly half had small-to-large pollen loads on their legs. Their wings were not tattered. He quickly deduced that the bees had not worn themselves out foraging.
"However, this early in the season, many of the foraging bees are bees that survived since last fall," Mussen said. "Depending upon their overall health, they were working toward the ends of their lives."
Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights showed him dead bees on an upper outdoor patio. So the bees were not only dying at ground level but upper levels, Mussen realized.
He noticed some bees flying up over the roof and some live bees "resting" on various parts of the building.
"There's a colony up there somewhere," Mussen said, pointing toward the roof.
Mussen cupped some of the sluggish bees in his hands, and once warmed, off they flew. The other survivors? They were too cold to fly and they would die overnight as the temperature dropped.
Mystery solved. "Elementary, my dear Watson?" No, not really. It's a scene that non-beekeepers rarely see.
"So, it appears that an older population of bees from a colony nesting around the top of the building were foraging near the ends of their lives," Mussen said. "They could not adequately produce enough body heat to keep foraging and they could not adequately produce enough body heat to fly back to their colony and they were falling to the ground, basically exhausted."
"This is normal and no reason for alarm," Mussen said, "except that people usually are not that close to bee colonies to notice the normal demise of substantial numbers of overwintering bees."
So, it wasn't pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition or stress.
Old bees and a cold spell...
This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Reporter Lizzie Wade, Science's Latin America correspondent based in Mexico City, led with: "It started with the best of intentions. When evidence emerged that monarch butterflies were losing the milkweed they depend on due to the spread of herbicide-resistant crops in the United States, people across the country took action, planting milkweed in their own gardens. But a new paper shows that well-meaning gardeners might actually be endangering the butterflies' iconic migration to Mexico. That's because people have been planting the wrong species of milkweed, thereby increasing the odds of monarchs becoming infected with a crippling parasite."
Wade pointed out that "tropical milkweed—at least when planted in warm environments like southern Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast—doesn't die back in the winter like native milkweed does. When presented with a place to lay their eggs year-round, many monarchs don't bother making the trip to Mexico at all." Some think the year-round tropical milkweed is "an even more direct threat to the butterflies. Milkweed hosts a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). As caterpillars, monarchs ingest the parasite along with their normal milkweed meals, and when they hatch from their chrysalises they are covered in spores."
She quoted a butterfly scientist as saying that infected monarchs are much weaker than their healthy counterparts and don't live nearly as long. And if an OE-infected monarch tries to migrate, it will probably die long before it arrives in central Mexico, she wrote.
Shapiro has been monitoring and studying populations of butterflies in central California for more than four decades and posts the information on his website. In an email response to inquiries from a UC Master Gardener and Farm Advisor (initially sent my way), wrote: “The story is basically correct, but there has to be more to it. Monarchs are normally in 'reproductive diapause' in winter, which means their sex organs and sex drive are inactive; this condition (as in migratory birds) is believed to be induced by seasonal day-length changes. We never used to get attempted winter breeding. Tropical milkweed has been in gardens in California for decades, but only very recently are we seeing attempted winter breeding, first in Southern California and now in the Bay Area. Many of us would like to understand why these animals are NOT in diapause! There have been unexplained changes in the seasonal geography of monarch breeding: for example, here in the Sacramento Valley, there is now virtually no spring breeding (as before) but tons of fall breeding (which didn't use to happen; the animals migrating coastwise were generally in reproductive diapause)."
The reference to OE is correct, Shapiro said. "However, there is an easy 'fix' that nobody talks about for some reason: just cut the plants to the ground a few times a year. This will encourage new growth, which will be cleaner, prettier, more nutritious, and uncontaminated with OE. There is nothing inherently 'bad' about winter breeding if it's clean. Infected winter breeding is a population sink. The animals are often too feeble to fly, and may be unable to expand their wings. But perfectly healthy ones are being produced right now in the East Bay on clean plants."
Many of the public comments that people posted about the research, Shapiro said, show a large amount of ignorance. “Observation: the commonest eastern (Asclepias syriaca complex) and Californian (A. fascicularis) milkweeds are usually almost if not quite non-toxic, which means the monarchs that feed on them will be edible to birds. If you want to breed monarchs as bird food, by all means plant those! But if you want to breed nasty monarchs that will make birds vomit and never try one again, plant one of the more toxic species! There is no good evidence that the females discriminate between high-and low-cardenolide milkweeds, or that larvae do better on one than on the other. There is no garden equivalent of "one size fits all." You want to use species that make sense where you are located! That's what gardening 'zones' are there for...The genus Asclepias extends south to Argentina (the s-most species, A. mellodora, is the major host of the South American Monarch, Danaus erippus) so yes, there are milkweeds in Mexico…. There are so many resources readily available, but people are lazy, don't know how to search properly, or prefer to create their own 'facts' a la Fox News...it gets discouraging. God bless Master Gardeners and Farm Advisers!”
A male monarch nectaring Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
You'll learn more about honey bees if you attend the Crop Pollination Workshop next month.
UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will speak on “Multiple Stresses Impact Honey Bees” at the Crop Pollination Workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 3 on the Colusa County Fairgrounds, 1303 10th St., Colusa.
Niño is the first of six speakers at the workshop, which begins at 1 p.m. and continues through 3:30 p.m.
Pollination is important for a number of crops grown in Colusa County, said workshop coordinators Katharina Ullmann of the Xerces Society and Farm Advisor Rachael Long, Yolo County Cooperative Extension Office. At the Crop Pollination Workshop, regional experts will share the latest on honey bee health, onion pollination, management practices that support pollinators of cucurbits and almonds, and how to encourage beneficial insects on your farm using hedgerows.
The event is free and open to all interested persons. No reservations are required. Sponsors include UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Xerces Society, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Colusa County Resource, and UC Agricultural and Natural Resources.
The complete schedule:
1 p.m. Welcome
1:05 p.m. "Multiple Stresses Impact Honey Bees" by Elina Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
1:25 p.m. “Insecticides Reduce Honey Bee Visitation and Pollen Germination in Hybrid Onion Seed Production” by Rachael Long, Farm Advisor, UCCE, Yolo County
1:50 p.m. “Best Management Practices for Squash and Pumpkin Pollinators” by Katharina Ullmann, Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Xerces Society and formerly of UC Davis (she received her doctorate in entomology last year)
2:15 p.m. “Enhancing Habitat in Almonds and Almond Pollination” by Kimiora Ward, staff research associate, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
2:40 p.m. “Hedgerows Enhance Pollinators and Pollination Services” by Lauren Ponisio, graduate student, Environmental Sciences and Policy Management, UC Berkeley
3:05 p.m. “Hedgerows Enhance Biodiversity and Provide Crop Benefits in Agricultural Landscapes” by Rachael Long, Farm Advisor, UCCE, Yolo County
3:20 p.m. “USDA-NRCS Financial and Technical Support for Hedgerows,” Andrea Casey, Colusa NRCS DC
For more information, contact Long at (530) 666-8734 or email@example.com.
Katharina Ullmann, who just received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now a pollinator conservation specialist for the Xerces Society, is co-coordinator of the workshop. (Photo by Neal Williams)
Me, being a cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae)?
No? No one else has, either.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, is looking and waiting. Every year he sponsors "A Beer for a Butterfly" contest, and the first person who finds and collects the first cabbage white of the new year--within the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano counties--receives a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, usually wins his own contest. He has been defeated only three times since he launched the contest in 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.
In 2014, Shapiro 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."
Well, Jan. 14, 2015 has come and gone, and no winner.
Shapiro was out looking for it today in the Gates Canyon area of Vacaville, one of the butterfly populations he regularly monitors. Apparently the butterfly was in a "no fly" zone.
A woman visiting the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house last Sunday reported seeing one in Davis but hadn't netted it. Yet.
"Do you like beer?" we asked her.
"I love beer," she said.
"Well, if you win, you'll get a pitcher of it," we told her.
To remind herself to net the cabbage white "on the way home or early in the morning," she inked "Cabbage White" on her hand.
Apparently she didn't net it, because Shapiro reported no winners today.
Shapiro sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. It's all part of his 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 maintains a butterfly website, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. The cabbage white, he said, is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here. It inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow.
The contest rules?
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and must 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 initially predicted he'd net "the first of 2015" on Jan. 13, unless he were selected for jury duty.
Was he selected? "No. They filled the jury before I came up for voir dire," he said. "Just as well--I would have had some serious questions, given what I know about the case."
We don't imagine the lawyers would have excused him, anyway. "Chasing butterflies" does not seem like a valid excuse.
Meanwhile, Shapiro believes the contest will end sometime next week. "We should have a winner by then," he said.
Today Art Shapiro looked for a cabbage white butterfly along Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville, but didn't find it. The photo is from one of his 2014 field trips up Gates Canyon Road. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Where, oh, where is that cabbage white butterfly? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)