Backyard Orchard News
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.
A light rainstorm strikes the garden, pummeling and shredding some of the blossoms.
As the rain lets up, a honey bee buzzes into a rock purslane blossom for a sweet shot of nectar.
She is not alone.
If you look closely, you'll see three green aphids on an unopened blossom next to her.
There are, entomologists say, about 450 different species of aphids in California.
One specie found the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora).
Score: Beneficial insect: 1. Destructive pests, 3.
Aphids and Honey Bee
Humans aren't the only calendar pin-up models.
Think native bees.
Think the 2010 Native Bees Calendar.
The Xerces Society and the Great Sunflower Project have joined forces to produce a calendar showcasing 12 commonly found native bees. You'll be able not only to to identity them, but to learn more about them, such as the plants they prefer and their nesting needs.
What are these two organizations?
The Great Sunflower Project, led by San Francisco State University associate professor Gretchen LeBuhn, "empowers people from pre-schoolers to scientists to make the world a better place for bees. The idea is simple; gardeners plant a sunflower and time how long it takes for five bees to visit. Gardens that quickly see bees are healthy. Gardens that don’t see bees aren’t. The sunflowers are both a thermometer measuring the health of the bee community across the continent and a wonderful resource making each garden where they are planted a better place for bees."
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is "an international nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of life through the protection of invertebrates and their habitats," says Xerces Society senior conservation associate Matthew Shepherd. The group "works at the forefront of invertebrate protection, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of local citizens to implement conservation and education programs with a focus on endangered species, aquatic invertebrates, and pollinators."
One of the nation’s leading native bee conservation organizations, the Xerces Society provides advice and information to gardeners, land owners, farmers, agency staff and other interested persons.The native bee photos are by noted insect photographer Rollin Coville, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1978. His close-ups are truly magnificent. (You can also see more of his work on his Web site.) Coville collaborates with scientists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis on a number of projects involving the study of urban bees. Their work recently appeared in the California Agriculture journal.
Shepherd tells us the story behind the story. "Celeste Ets-Hokin, a bee enthusiast in the San Francisco Bay area, came up with the idea and pursued it. At Xerces, we've considered doing a calendar but had always shied away from it because of the time involved. Celeste took the idea to Gretchen LeBuhn, who was looking for fundraising ideas for the Great Sunflower Project. The calendar is really their project and they should get credit for it."
Shepherd modestly says his contribution "has been to answer Celeste's steady stream of questions."
Well done, and for two good causes.
And who says bees can't be pin-up models?
It probably bugs her but it doesn't kill her.
An entomologist at the University of Montreal is investigating why parasitic wasps (Dinocampus coccinellae) that lay their eggs on ladybugs (Coccinella maculata) do not kill them.
Often a parasitic insect, such as a tachinid fly, kills its host.
"What is fascinating is that the ladybug is partially paralyzed by the parasite, yet it's eventually released unscathed," says biocontrol specialist and professor Jacques Brodeur. "Once liberated, the ladybug can continue to eat and reproduce as if nothing happened."
It works like this: a larva cocoons between the ladybug's legs. Once the parasite matures, it leaves the host. Brodeur hopes to understand the cycle duration, success rate and the host-parasite relationship.
Talk about hostage-taking.
"Can the ladybug refuse to be used?" he wonders. "We don't know. Our plan is to reproduce a variety of situations in the lab and see which is most favorable to reproduction."
Luck be a lady?
Frankly, we're happy that the aphid-eating ladybug, one of our favorite beneficial insects, doesn't succumb to the wasp.
We need more of them around.
Searching for More Aphids