Backyard Orchard News
President Obama caught a little flak when he smacked a fly during a recent press interview in the White House.
During the interview, a pesky fly buzzed around his head and then landed on his hand. Big mistake. The commander-in-chief nailed him.
The bug stopped there. "I got the sucker," he said.
That prompted the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to protest the fly "execution."
And now YouTube, Facebook, My Space, the bloggers and the tweeters are all getting into the act.
The President killed a fly.
So have I.
To be honest, I'm not one to participate in a catch-and-release program.
However, I do photograph them occasionally. See, there's this forensic entomologist at UC Davis named Robert Kimsey who shows fly images in his PowerPoints.
Last weekend I photographed a blow fly that landed on my pink-petaled cosmos. Did it for Bob. Honest.
Surely it's true that "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar" but frankly, I wouldn't waste the honey. Or the vinegar. Or the time. And why would I want to catch flies anyway? The fly is not my favorite pollinator. It's a notorious disease transmitter.
Still, it can be pretty in pink.
Got the sucker.
Blow Fly on Cosmos
The Shadow Knows
John Emery is a spider man.
Oh, he’s not a super hero who clings to city skyscrapers and chases villains and rescues damsels in distress.
He’s the IT manager for Sue Mills,
But he's truly a spider man. He has "his" very own spider cocoon right outside his office window on
In a recent e-mail, he wrote: “My co-workers think I'm strange (they want to kill the spiders) and my friends (and wife) to whom I've been sending pics today (taken with my iPhone through a handheld magnifying lens, using a flashlight for lighting) seem unimpressed.”
So Emery kindly e-mailed some of his photos to the UC Davis Department of Entomology thinking we'd enjoy seeing them and share his excitement.
We did and we do!
"It's like a nature documentary right next to my desk," he wrote. "How lucky am I?”
Frankly, we’re a little envious, too. Today outside my window in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, a mud dauber cruised past and bounced off the window pane. A crane fly bumbled by. Several ants crawled unceremoniously across the ledge.
But a spider home outside my window? I wish!
“I’ve always loved the bees and the bugs,” Emery said. He annually attends the UC Davis Picnic Day, which, like any good picnic, includes bugs.
At this year's Picnic Day, he and his wife (a 2000 graduate of UC Davis with a degree in English), pointed out the insect displays in Briggs Hall to their three-year-old daughter. She didn't seem at all impressed. "She didn't want to hang out near any of the bugs,” Emery lamented. “She was already traumatized by the snakes we'd seen earlier” and “we had to leave.”
Meanwhile, the spiders aren't leaving. Not just yet. "They're probably yellow sac spiders,” said Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses seven million specimens (plus live displays of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks and black widows spiders).
Unlike a web weaver, a sac spider builds a silken tube or sac. It does so in a protected area, such as under a log, in a corner of a room—or right outside John Emery’s San Francisco office window.
"Omigosh!" exclaimed Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon when he saw the spider sac bulging with little ones. "Look at them all! I think they're yellow sac spiders, but without a specimen, I can't be certain."
Heydon IS certain, however, how many black widows are in an average egg case, a question he’s asked periodically during school tours at the museum. And, ahem, just how many are there? 175. He counted them. Took him an hour. No escapees, either.
Meanwhile, John Emery continues to make us all envious by capturing wonderful images of the spider family outside his office, using an iPhone and a handheld magnifying glass.
But wait! John Emery, our San Francisco Spider Man, is likely to become a bee man.
“I’ve recently been really, really wanting," he said, "to start a bee colony in my backyard.”
UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility, is the kind of person who would give you the shirt off her back.
And that's exactly what she did when several visitors recently toured the Laidlaw facility.
Cobey let one visitor borrow her long-sleeved denim shirt. Then, bare-armed, Cobey opened a hive to display the colony. That says two things: her generosity and the temperament of her bees: gentle.
"Sue's bees are polite," observed beekeeper Steve Godlin of Visalia, vice chair of the California State Apiary board member, duirng an apiar board meeting Oct. 3, 2008 at the Laidlaw facility.
Indeed they are.
Apiary visitors are customarily issued a bee veil, and, depending on the activity taking place and the time of year, may also be provided a full protective suit.
Or a long-sleeved shirt from Cobey.
That's just one of the things that Cobey does behind the scenes.
Update: For her contributions to the Laidlaw facility, the university and the bee industry, she recently received a citation for excellence from the UC Davis Staff Assembly. She was one of 21 individuals, plus 13 teams, receiving the award at a ceremony in the courtyard of Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's home.
Some 6000 staff employees were eligible for the award sform a total pool of 12,000 UC Davis staff, according to Staff Assembly coordinator Tiva Lasier.
Cobey was praised for raising awareness for the plight of honey bees at local, state, national and global levels. She maintains a close relationship with the beekeeping industry at all levels, especially the California Bee Breeders, who produce half the nation’s supply of mated queen honey bees. “If an individual beekeeper is having trouble, she takes a personal interest in solving the problem as if the bees were hers,” the nomination letter read.
Cobey maintains collaborative research projects with many honey bee researchers in the
Cobey, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in May 2007 from
“Our nominee treats bees as she does people: both politely and respectively,” said UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976.
Indeed she does.
The Smithsonian Institution is the place to "bee" on Monday, June 22.
The location: Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History. The Smithsonian is located at the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington D.C.
Thorp will discuss "Western Bumble Bees in Peril." Sydney Cameron and Jeff Lozier of the University of Illinois will examine "The Status and Trends of Midwestern and Southern Bumble Bees." Then Leif Richardson of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife will cover "Bumble Bee Trends in Northeastern North America."
- Stephen Buchmann, University of Arizona, "USA Native Bee Diversity: Rarity, Threats and Conservation Ideals"
- Paul Williams, Natural History Museum, London, "A Global View of Bumble Bees and Their Conservation Status."
Michael Ruggiero of the Smithsonian Institution will moderate. He's the senior science advisor of the Smithsonian's Integrated Taxonomic System (ITIS).
Following the symposium, bumble bee experts and other scientists will continue to meet at the Smithsonian for the next two and a half days to discuss concerns about the declining bumble bee population.
The symposium is part of National Pollinator Week, which starts Monday, June 22 and continues through Sunday, June 28.
Thorp delivered a presentation on Franklin's bumble bee May 27, during one of the UC Davis Department of Entomology's noonhour sessions. Franklin's bumble bee, feared extinct or nearing extinction, is found only in one part of the world: southern Oregon and northern California. Thorp's talk was Webcast.
Thorp, a member of the California Academy of Sciences since 1986, says that the loss of a native pollinator "could strike a devasting blow to the ecosystem, economy and food supply."
Locally, we've noticed far fewer bumble bees than in past years. Last summer we spotted a few in the UC Davis Arboretum (see below). This is the yellow-faced bumble bee or Bombus vosnesenskii, the most common Califonria bumble bee.
Not so common any more.
Pollen-Packing Bumble Bee
Faster than a speeding bullet...
As soon as UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey opened a beehive and removed a chunk of honeycomb to show visitors, here came the speeding bullet. A fast camera shutter caught what the eye couldn't see.
It was a queen yellowjacket taking dead aim at the comb.
"The yellowjacket queen this time of year zeroes in on the honey as soon as you open a hive," said Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
"They build up their populations in the fall and eat the bees for protein to overwinter. They can actually kill bee colonies, especially weak ones. As meat-eating predators, these are common at picnic time, for which honey bees are often unfairly blamed."
Yes, honey bees are indeed unfairly blamed. Like human vegetarians, honey bees don't eat meat. They may land on your soda can for the sugar water, but meat doesn't interest them. They forage for nectar and pollen.
Now yellowjackets--they're predators. They love meats and sweets. You'll see these uninvited guests at your picnic or barbecue, boldly sampling your steak, hamburger or chicken; targeting your can of soda; or scavenging in and around your garbage can.
They also vigorously defend their nests, which look like paper combs. Do not go near their nests.
Their sting is painful. A yellowjacket recently nailed UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen beneath the collar as he was checking the honey bees at the Laidlaw facility.
Mussen noted that beekeepers inadvertently kill a few bees each time they open a hive and pry open the "stuck-together" frames with their hive tool. The dead bees fall to the ground--to the waiting yellowjackets. The yellowjackets then carry the bees off to their nest, chew them into pulp, and feed the "protein" to their brood.
More yellowjackets on the way.
And soon, more speeding bullets.