Posts Tagged: Robbin Thorp
A good time to photograph the European wool carder bee is in the early morning when it's warming its muscles to prepare for flight.
It lies perfectly still.
That's what it did in our yard last weekend. It warmed itself on the sunny side of a leaf.
Not unlike the sunny side of a street...
The European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), so named because the female "cards" or collects plant material to line her nest, is a relative newcomer to the United States. UC Davis research entomologist Tom Zavortink of the Bohart Museum of Entomology says it was accidentally introduced into New York State before 1963.
Writing in a 2008 edition of the Pan-Pacific Entomologist, Zavortink and fellow entomologist Sandra Shanks now of Port Townsend, Wash., pointed out that several papers “have documented its spread from neighboring areas in the northeastern United States and southern Canada” and that the species has since crossed the country. It was confirmed in Colorado in 2005, Missouri in 2006, and Maine, Michigan, Maryland and California (Sunnyvale) in 2007, the entomologists wrote.
The bee is mostly black and yellow. At first glance, its stark markings remind you of a yellowjacket. The females, about the size of a worker honey bee, range in body length from 11 to 13 millimeters, while the males are 14 to 17 mm.
The males can be aggressive in defending their territory, sometimes body-slamming honey bees and other insects to the ground.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, says that this kind of contact has a purpose. The male wool carder bee is "merely defending its territory from honey bees and other flying insects to keep the area free of potential competitors that might interfere with its mating opportunities," he says.
One thing's for sure: they do move fast!
Except in the early morning when they're warming their flight muscles...
Wool carder bee sunning itself on a plum leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of a wool carder bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Often you'll hear kindergarten students asking one another: "What's your favorite color?"
Beekeepers do that, too--in a joking sort of way. Some like to rear the blond Italians; some prefer the darker Carniolans, developed from the area of the Carniolan Alps in southeastern Europe; and others opt for the even darker bees, the Caucasians, originating from the Caucasus Mountains of eastern Europe.
It's the desirable traits, not the color, though, that really matters.
"More than 20 breeds of bees have been identified, and many of these have been tested by beekeepers for their ability to live in manmade hives, as well as their adaptability to the moderate climates of the world," writes Bee Culture editor Kim Flottum in his excellent book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden.
"Many species," Flottum continues in his book, "have been abandoned by beekeepers because they possess undesirable traits, such as excessive swarming, poor food-storage traits, or extreme nest protection."
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a dual appointment with the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, is partial to her New World Carniolans, a bee line she established.
Overall, the Carniolans are known as a good colder-weather bee. The Italians, though, are the most common bee in the United States. Sometimes you'll see an Italian bee so blond it's lemony.
Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, chair of the California State Apiary Board, rears Italians, which leads to good natured-ribbing between her and Cobey about "the best bee."
If you're interested in genetic diversity, mark your calendar for May 2, 2012. Cobey will speak on “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" at her seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. It's part of a series of seminars that the UC Davis Department of Entomology is sponsoring. Plans are to webcast this; so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, take a look at foraging honey bees in your neighborhood. Like the patchwork coat in the Dolly Parton song, "Coat of Many Colors," you'll see many colors.
Many, many colors. And some belong to young bees with a fuzzy thorax and fresh wings, and some to old bees with a bare thorax and tattered wings.
What's your favorite bee? Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology who maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, says that "beauty is only skin (integument) deep."
"I prefer the ones with a good disposition regardless of their external appearance even on a 'bad hair day,'" Thorp says.
As for me, to paraphrase American humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935), "I've never met a bee I didn't like."
I haven't met any of those highly aggressive, super-defensive Africanized bees, though.
Darker bee and a light-colored bee foraging on sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beautifully striped honey bee working the sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caucasian bee (from the Caucasus Mountains) on saliva. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A field of green ribboned in yellow.
Anyone who drives down Pedrick Road in Dixon, Calif., and sees the spectacular sunflower fields can't help but smile.
Yellow sunflowers do that to you. They make you smile.
A native of the Americas and the state flower of Kansas, the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) brightens gardens and run-down neighborhoods, but when it's planted in rows and each head turns toward the sun, it's like a thousand suns and a thousand smiles.
Add honey bees and native bees, and nature's canvas is complete.
If you visit a sunflower field early in the morning, you might see male long-horn bees, genus Melissodes, sleeping in aggregations, on the heads.
As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, points out: "Males of native solitary bees do not have nests to return to at night as the females do. So they fend for themselves in a variety of different ways such as these sleeping aggregations, or within tubular flowers that close up each day, like squash bee males do in squash flowers."
That's bee heaven.
Honey bee foraging on sunflower in a field off Pedrick Road, Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dixon, Calif. farmland ablaze with sunflowers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of sunflowers. Just add bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Head's up! A lone sunflower head towers above the field as bees buzz toward to it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
First you give them roots, then you give them wings.
That's what's happening in our bee condo, a wooden block (nest) with drilled holes for leafcutting bees (Megachile).
They flew in, laid their eggs, provisioned the nests with pollen and leaf fragments, and capped the holes.
We had 11 tenants. Now there's a hole in one.
Success! A leafcutting bee emerged. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, says that "Some leafcutting bees, especially the introduced ones like the alfalfa leafcutting bee, have more than one generation per year. Bees of the second and third generation may clean out or partly clean out old nest holes like this and construct a new nest inside. Sometimes you can find new leaf material inside the old cocoon of the previous nest builder. Thus, the tunnels get smaller in diameter with succeeding generations. Kind of like the build up of old cocoons in honey bee comb and resulting smaller inner diameter of the brood cells in old dark comb."
It's all rather exciting being a "beekeeper." We've never had a hole in one--'til now.
If you, too, want to keep native bees, Thorp has compiled a list of where you can buy homes for them or where you can learn how to build your own. The list is on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research facility website.
You can also buy them at beekeeping supply stores.
Now that we have a hole in one, 10 tenants to go...
Hole in one--a hole signifying the emergence of a leafcutting bee (Megachile). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutting bee provisioning her nest. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutting bee on sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When you install bee condos--those wooden blocks with holes drilled in them to attract nesting native bees--sometimes you get the unexpected.
Home invasion! Home invasion!
We installed two bee condos, each about the size of a brick, in our yard. One is for leafcutting bees (genus Megachile) and is filled quite nicely, thank you, with 10 tenants. Another, with larger holes, is for blue orchard bees (BOBs, genus Osmia). Despite our "vacancy" sign (discounted rates, free WiFi, free continental breakfasts), nothing is occupying it except earwigs.
Earwigs! We're wigged out.
They were especially persistent in the damp weather.
Native bee guru Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who has researched native bee holes with colleagues John Barthell and Gordon Frankie, told us: "We found that mostly wasps and earwigs occupied the largest holes. Only a few of the introduced leafcutting bees that could not find appropriate size holes when bee populations were abnormally high would make aberrant nests in the larger cavities. By 1990, we scaled back to the three diameters that our bees use: 4.5, 6.5 and 8 mm (3/16, 1/4, and 5/16 inch) for our studies in California."
The earwigs, Thorp says, "are not so likely to be present now that the weather is hot and dry, but in shady, damp, cool areas, and especially early in the year when it is wet and cool, they can be a problem."
Their research, published in Environmental Entomology in 1998 and titled “Invader Effects in a Community of Cavity Nesting Megachilid Bees (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae)” involved native bee species and their introduced competitors.
In their paper, they wrote that the European earwig (Forficttla auricularia L) from Eurasia and northern Africa, was introduced into North America at the turn of the century. "It has invaded most counties in the state of California since its apparent introduction in the late 1910s (Essig 1923, Langston and Powel! 1975)," they wrote. "Its populations have grown to high numbers in natural areas, especially in riparian zones where humidity levels are relatively high (Barthel! and Stone 1995). The earwig is most active during evening hours, climbing into tree crowns to scavenge and hunt but hiding in cracks, crevices, or holes during the daylight hours."
Active indeed. Those European earwigs soon found our condo for BOBs (which perhaps should now mean Big ol' Blast).
Earwig inside a blue orchard bee condo, which has larger holes than one for leafcutting bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This bee condo for leafcutting bees has 10 tenants. It is about the size of a brick and has smaller holes than a bee block for blue orchard bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutting bee provisioning her nest. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)