Backyard Orchard News
The warmth of the sun and the lure of nectar beckoned the hover flies or flower flies to our bee friendly garden.
We saw this one nectaring the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) last weekend. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as "family Syrphidae, probably the genus Platycheirus."
It stood quite still, sipping the nectar and soon honey bees and a mason wasp joined it.
But for a minute, it seemed to have a "Mine" sign slapped on the blossom.
Hover fly on rock purslane
Ready for Take-Off
Ever wonder how a honey bee sees?
Its compound eyes are comprised of hundreds of single eyes (ommatidia), each with its own lens. It can distinguish colors, but can't see red, which it interprets as black.
Honey bees can even recognize human faces, according to a December 2005 article in the Journal of Experimental Biology. University of Cambridge scientists did a Pavlov-dog type experiment, in which they showed bees black-and-white photos of human faces. They trained the bees to recognize faces with a reward (sugar syrup) or a bitter quinine solution (punishment). In ensuing tests, the researchers took away the rewards and punishment. Result: the bees made a beeline for the "reward faces" 80 to 90 percent of the time.
If you want to see how bees see, check out scientist-artist Andy Giger's Web site, B-Eye. "There are differences between the bee's view of the world and ours," he says. "The bee has a lot fewer ommatidia than we have photoreceptors, and they are not evenly spaced."
B-Eye, Giger says, "ignores most of these differences, simulating just the optics of the honey bee's compound eyes. It shows what a bee would see of a flat image, with the bee facing straight at the plane of the image."
Seeing is bee-lieving.
If you're having cranberries, squash, pumpkins, carrots, cucumbers (and pickles) onions, grapefruit, oranges, apples, pears, cherries, blueberries, sunflowers and almonds, you can thank the honey bee.
“A substantial portion of the meal is pollinated by the honey bee,” said Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty and a noted authority on honey bees.
Cole crops, such as cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, chard, and broccoli, are pollinated by bees.
Almonds often garnish parts of the meal, and those, too, are pollinated by bees--along with macadamia nuts, said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harrry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Even milk and ice cream are linked closely to the honey bee. Cows feed on alfalfa, which is pollinated by honey bees (and other bees). Ice cream ingredients usually include fruits and nuts, other bee favorites.
And the turkey? If it eats sunflower seeds--and it does--sunflowers are pollinated by bees.
Vegetarians can also be thankful. Bees visit soybeans (made into tofu for tofu turkey and other meatless dishes). “And bees can make a honey crop foraging on lima beans,” Mussen said.
And don’t forget the honey: honey-glazed carrots, honey rolls and honey-baked ham…
No wonder "honey" is a term of endearment...
I slipped into the back yard today to see how many honey bees were nectaring the lavender, one of the few plants still blooming.
A few here. A few there.
That's when I saw her.
A bee the color of pure gold. And she was carrying a load of pollen that was equally pure gold.
The bee? An Italian. A very blond Italian.
Folks at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis like to tease bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, Laidlaw manager, about her "dislike" of the Italians (Apis mellifera ligustica). They know she doesn't "dislike" any bees--she just prefers the Carniolan bees (Apis mellifera carnica), a darker bee with a more sunny disposition. ("Sue's bees are polite," a member of the California State Apiary Board once said.)
Italians (originating from Italy) and Carniolans (from Slovenia) are common subspecies of the European or Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, which arrived here in America in the 1600s with the European colonists.
No matter the color, every honey bee is to agriculture what security is to Fort Knox.
In a way, it's "tea for two."
The New Zealand tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium, aka "manuka," "tea tree," and "Leptospermum," is a favorite of the light brown apple moth AND honey bees.
We captured images of bees on Leptospermum scoparium keatleyi recently in Sausalito. (No, we didn't see any light brown apple moths.)
The keatleyi was discovered by Capt. Edward John "Ted" Keatley (1875-1962), a New Zealand sea captain known as a navigator, horticulturist and humorist (and probably a distant relative).
Information from the Maritime Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, indicates that the skipper commanded 28 of the Northern Steam Ship Company's vessels. He was not only a master of the sea, but of horticulture. Considered an authority on the flora of the Auckland province, he discovered several new plants, one he named Leptospermum scoparium keatleyi.
In June 1961, the Royal Horticulture Society awarded Capt. Keatley the "Award of Merit" for his discovery of the keatleyi, or "royal pink manuka."
Capt. Keatley's home and gardens in Auckland drew many visitors. In one published account, he said: "We used to have many garden parties in earlier days. In fact I remember coming home from my ship one Saturday afternoon and being surprised to find the street lined with cars. When I got to the gate I was a little bit taken aback when an attendant asked for a shilling entrance fee. I thought it was a bit tough for an owner to have to pay to enter his own home."
Now, back to the bees.
Bees that visit Leptospermum scoparium produce a special honey called "manuka honey," prized for its health benefits, including its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Health benefits? Don't know. But we all benefit from the beautiful blossoms.