Backyard Orchard News
Perhaps it was searching for a thistle.
The Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) did not find the thistle—at least in our bee garden.
What it did find were the leaves of a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) where it sunned itself before fluttering off to parts unknown.
This butterfly breeds on thistles, says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He monitors the populations of Central California butterflies on his website.
"With the naturalization of weedy European species of Cirsium, Carduus and Silybum, it (the Mylitta Crescent) is now found in all kinds of disturbed (including urban) habitats," he says on this website.
Perhaps the next time we see the invasive bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, growing in a field or alongside a road, it will be occupied by not only a spotted cucumber beetle (a pest) but a Mylitta Crescent.
Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) on the leaf of a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Occupied! This bull thistle is occupied by a spotted cucumber beetle. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Over 30 nonprofit, educational and government organizations attended Parlier Earth Day in April, where about 2000 local residents increased their awareness of how these groups can help them. Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center provided information on how we work on integrated pest management strategies and uses for biopesticides to help ensure an abundant supply of affordable and safe food. Attendees were very interested in discussing how this work at Kearney directly helped them.
Rodolfo Cisneros sharing information about Kearney with a local resident at the 2014 Parlier Earth Day.
There's a good reason why lepidopterists call the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) "showy."
Its bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan all point to "showy."
The Gulf Frit is a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
Yes, the Gulf Frits are back. Thankfully, they've returned to creating a nursery of sorts on our passionflower vine and their host plant (Passiflora). The eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults are a delight to see.
However, the cycle of life is in full force in our bee garden. The hawks are eating the scrub jays; the scrub jays are eating the bees; and the bees are just trying to mind their own "bee business" by collecting pollen and nectar for their colonies. Always opportunists, the jays nesting in our trees are also targeting the butterflies and caterpillars. (So, too, are such predators as spiders and praying mantids.)
Today we captured several images of a Gulf Frit in flight. If you look closely, you'll see that part of her wing is missing.
That was a close one!
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) in flight over a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary checking out a place to lay her eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary warming her wings on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
These triple-digit temperatures make us all thirst for water.
Honey bees need water, too.
If you see them taking a sip from your birdbath or taking a dip in your pool, the "sip" means they're collecting water for their hive, and the "dip" could mean they're dying, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water," he points out. "Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do. Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food. They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive. Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."
On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease, Mussen says. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."
Unlike us, honey bees cannot simply turn on a faucet. "They will fly up to nearly five miles to find a suitable watering source," Mussen says. "Suitable to honey bees might not be suitable to us, but if it is moist, it may be visited. Suitable to the neighbors is a separate question. Honey bees can become quite a nuisance if they visit drippy irrigation lines or hose connections, birdbaths, pet water dishes, swimming pools, fountains, or wet laundry and the like. The water foragers become habituated to those sites. If you try to dissuade the bees by drying up the source for a while, it becomes evident that the bees will visit the site every so often so they'll be around quickly after the water is returned."What to do? "People have tried to use repellents in the water, but the bees are likely to use the odor as an attractant when attempting to relocate the water source," Mussen points out. "Some people have had success keeping bees and wasps out of their swimming pools with very lightweight oils or monomolecular films--their purpose is to prevent mosquitoes from being able to breathe. But, if the water is splashed very much, you'll require a new layer."
And all those bees struggling in your swimming pool? "Not all moribund honey bees in a swimming pool are there because they were trying to get a drink. Every day, approximately 1,000 old honey bees from each colony die naturally. This normally occurs during foraging, and the bees just flutter down to the ground, sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, or whatever they were passing over. Some flutter into swimming pools. They are not dead, yet, so they can and do inflict stings on people who bump into them on the surface of the water. "
Beekeepers should make sure there's a watering source on their property so the bees won't hunt for water elsewhere, Musssen says. It should be available all year around. "Once the bees are habituated to the site, most of them will use that source."
One good thing to know: Bees don't like to get their feet wet. In the Garvey birdbath, we have floating wine corks just for the bees. They can land on a cork to sip water or simply sip from the edge of the birdbath. Besides wine corks, you can also use a stone, a twig or a flat chunk of cork. The Melissa Garden, a privately owned garden in Healdsburg that was designed by internationally distinguished bee garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, includes a flat floating cork in a fountain. On any given day, you'll see bees claiming it as their own.
Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you've ever watched a karate competition, you've probably seen the roundhouse kick, tornado kick, the reverse roundhouse kick or the flying side kick.
But have you ever seen a bee do that?
We were photographing sunflower bees on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) yesterday, trying to catch the territorial dive-bombing. We were shooting with a Canon E0S 7D equipped with a 100mm macro lens. Settings: ISO, 1600. Shutter speed, 1/1400 of a second. F-stop, 10.
If bees could engage in humanlike conversation, imagine this dialogue:
"This flower is mine! Get off! I want my ladies to have that flower!"
"No, it's not! It's mine. I was here first! Leave me alone!"
For awhile, a large bee, a male longhorned bee, Svastra obliqua (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis), appeared to be the "king of the mountain." It held its ground...er...floral resource.
Suddenly, faster than my shutter speed, a smaller bee of a different species, a male longhorned bee, Melissodes (probably Melissodes agilis, Thorp said) headbutted Svastra, a scene reminiscent of a World Cup play.
One swift kick by Mr. Svastra and a surprised Mr. Melissodes shot straight up in the air, whirling end over end.
Roundhouse kick? Tornado kick? Reverse roundhouse kicK? Flying side kick?
Whatever it was, the "bee master" won.
And he wasn't even wearing a black belt.
A male longhorned sunflower bee, Svastra obliqua, foraging on a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male longhorned sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis (right), targets the larger Svastra obliqua. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melissodes agilis shoots straight up after a powerful kick by Svastra obliqua. (PHoto by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melissodes agilis (left) goes sprawling. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)