Backyard Orchard News
Butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs and honey bees.
What exists in nature is replicated in art.
We sculpt them, draw them and paint them. We create their images on everything from clothing and jewelry to quilts and stepping stones. We never tire of their shapes, colors, textures and the extensive variety.
Many replicas find their way into exhibits at county fairs.
We saw more than a dozen "insects" today in McCormack Hall at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo. A butterfly morphs into a quilt. Another butterfly yields its shape for a stepping stone. A honey bee transforms into a keychain. Dragonfly and ladybug decorations glide and crawl among the exhibits.
The 60th annual event, set July 22-26, is themed "Raisin' Steaks" but it's also raising awareness of nature.
And why not?
Insects reign supreme in sheer variety and abundance. Scientists have recorded some million insects to date. Millions of others await identification. In total volume, there could be as many as 200 million insects for every human on the planet. They're all around us.
Interesting that we seek beneficial insects for our gardens, but the "revolting ones" we set aside for horror movies.
It's not just two-legged humans that take a dip in the pool.
So do six-legged honey bees searching for water.
When temperatures soar, honey bees scramble to collect water for their colony. They release droplets of water in the hive as their hardworking sisters fan their wings to "cool it." This airconditioning system works much like a swamp or evaporative cooler.
Usually honey bees seek water from bird baths, fish ponds, streams, fountains, dripping faucets, freshly watered potted plants or sprinkling systems--and sometimes even Uncle John's wet laundry dripping from the clothesline.
Unfortunately, however, bees inadvertently seek another source: swimming pools. They seem to have no depth perception.
Last weekend, scores of bees plopped into our pool. We netted the struggling bees one by one.
One small step...one giant leap...
Almost all of the Apis mellifera we fished out of the pool were Italian--the common amber-colored honey bee that we’re all accustomed to seeing. But one was a Carnolian, a dark honey bee.
The Carnolian looked quite ragged, observed UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, who rears New World Carniolans.
This bee certainly didn't look like a well-groomed bee fresh out of the bee-ty parlor.
To avoid wayward bees, it's a good idea to cover your pool when you're not using it. You can also provide a nearby bee friendly watering device so they'll go there instead of your pool. .
When bees deliver water to the hive, the other bees recognize the source by its scent, said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
"They can tell its origin, where that water came from," he said.
All the more reason to provide a better watering hole.
Up and Over
It’s triple-digit hot and you’re relaxing in a swimming pool when suddenly you realize you have company.
A knat-sized insect with a red abdomen lands next to you. It looks like a wasp. No, it looks like a bee. Wait, what is it?
In this case (see photo below), it's a female cuckoo sweat bee from the genus Sphecodes, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Sweat bees are attracted to perspiring skin and often drop into swimming pools where they greet you with a brief but sharp sting.
Sphecodes are cuckoo or parasitic bees. They don’t collect pollen or provide for their young because they don’t need to. They lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. When the larvae hatch, they turn villainous and eat the young of the host bee. They also steal the provisions.
These bees, from the family Halictidae, are really tiny, about 0.2 to 0.6 inches. You’ll see them from late spring until early fall
It’s a large genus, with about 80 known species in the United States and Canada, says entomologist Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society.
In most species, females are dark red with a shiny abdomen, Vaughan says, while males have a partially or entirely black abdomen.
Call them cuckoo bees. Call them parasitic bees. Call them clepto-parasitic bees. Whatever you call them, you’ll remember that red abdomen and sharp sting.
You'll see red for just a little while.
The economy is tanked. The cuts keep coming. The smiles fade.
Friday afternoon, July 17 is the seventh annual Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs.
Bruce? That would be Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and a longtime member of the National Academy of Sciences. He and fellow researchers, faculty, staff and students will leave their offices and labs at 1:30 p.m. to fill up 2500 water balloons, and then exactly at 3:45 they will...ahem... throw them at each other on the north lawn of Briggs Hall.
Fact is, they work hard and they play hard. The annual balloon battle is how they spell R-E-L-I-E-F.
Hammock's research and daily schedule would overwhelm most scientists. He holds a joint appointment in cancer research with the UC Davis Medical Center. He directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Program on the UC Davis campus, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Program in Biotechnology and the NIEHS Combined Analytical Laboratory. His discovery of an enzyme inhibitor that holds promise to control human diseases (such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and cystic fibrosis) is now a first-in-class drug in human clinical trials.
But this noted entomologist who switched his research from pest control to human pain control, also excels at water balloon battles--so much so that nobody, but nobody can beat Bruce Hammock.
Still, Hammock lab researcher Christophe Morisseau, coordinator of the 2009 and 2008 battles, tries. Morisseau's aim is good, but Hammock's feet are faster.
The best part is when the water warriors deplete their water supply and chase each other with tubs and buckets of water.
Just water--nothing else--is tossed.
Oh, but what if...
Aftter the 2006 battle, we asked Jason Graham, a forensic entomology researcher who works with blow flies and maggots, if he planned to compete the following year. "I'd like to participate next year," he said, "but I don’t think they’d appreciate what we have to throw.”
Honey bees--what do you know about them?
Do you know what the queen bee, worker bees and drones do? Do you know why bees swarm? Do you want to learn to be a beekeeper? Or, if you already are a beekeeper, how do you keep your hives healthy? If you're a researcher, what are your colleagues doing? Are we closer to finding the cause/causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
You'll find the answers to those questions--and more--on a newly launched Bee Health Web site, the work of Cooperative Extension or "eXtension."
Coordinated by John Skinner, a professor and Extension apiculturist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this Community of Practices project is the work of scores of experts across the country, including our own Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. In fact, he and UC Davis native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, are among those featured in videos on the site. In addition, yours truly has some bee photos on the site.
Our hat (okay, our bee veil) is off to Skinner; vice chairs Keith Delaplane, professor at the University of Georgia; Jeffery Pettis, research leader at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., and IT technologist Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee.
Skinner hopes this will be the "go to" site for beekeeping information and bee science.
Indeed! This is like having the best and brightest minds in the research laboratories and bee industry at your workplace or in your living room.
If you have a question about bees, all you need do is ask. The cadre of experts will "bee" there for you.
Honey bee on Almond