Posts Tagged: Robbin Thorp
So you want to learn about native bees...
Be sure to attend Robbin Thorp's presentation on "Buzzed for Bees" on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19 at the Rush Ranch Nature Center, Suisun.
Thorp, a native pollinator specialist and an emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, will share his knowledge about bees in a two-hour presentation from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Rush Ranch Educational Council and the Solano Land Trust.
Thorp, a noted authority on native bees in vernal pools, the ecology of bumble bees, and honey bee pollination, will talk about the importance of native bees as crop pollinators and encourage folks to provide for them. He will display bee specimens, including bumble bees, sweat bees, and carpenter bees.
Thorp, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1964 "officially" retired in 1994, but unofficially, he didn't. He continues to do research, write publications, and deliver lectures. He maintains his office/lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
He teaches at The Bee Course, an annual workshop held at the annual Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. It draws conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
Thorp is also co-authoring a book on urban bees and is a docent and instructor at the Solano Land Trust's Jepson Prairie Reserve.
One of his numerous research projects is monitoring the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden and demonstration garden planted south of the Laidlaw facility. Over the last several years, he has found and identified more than 75 bee species in the haven. California has some 1600 species of native bees. Globally, there are more than 20,000.
So, attend the "Buzzed for Bees" presentation and ask him how you, too, can help promote bee health. You won't find anyone more knowledgeable or more passionate about bees than Robbin Thorp.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male sweat bee, Halictus tripartitus, as identified by Robbin Thorp. It is leaving a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What an unexpected find!
It was the first day of 2013 and what did we see: a queen bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, aka black-tailed bumble bee.
Like scores of others, we decided to take a walk on Jan. 1 in the Benicia State Recreation Area. Located in Solano County, just outside the city of Benicia, the 447-acre park on State Park Road offers a view of the Carquinez Strait amid lush grasslands, rocky beaches and a marsh filled with cattails about to lose their charm as they go to seed.
It's a good place to walk, run, cycle, and engage in picnicking, fishing, and bird watching.
And bee watching.
When the temperature hits 55 degrees, it's common to see honey bees foraging among eucalyptus, manzanita and wild mustard this time of year.
In mid-morning, Jan. 1, the temperature registered 50 degrees. No honey bees did we see. But as we stopped to admire the manzanita in the native plant garden, we spotted her: a black-tailed queen bumble bee, as later identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Department.
"Yes, a queen of Bombus melanopygus, earliest of our bumble bees to emerge from hibernation and start nests each year," Thorp said. "I had heard that some were flying in December in the Bay Area. Keep an eye out for the first workers or first queens with pollen loads. Those will be the signs that nests have been established. Otherwise, seeing queens out on a nice sunny warm day, even sipping nectar, may mean that they are just stretching their wings and checking things out between naps, before getting down to the serious business of starting a new nest."
This species of bumble bee is native to western North America and is found from California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho. "In the southern part of its range, the third and fourth segments of the abdomen are black instead of the red color seen in the northern populations, and this black color form was formerly known by the name Bombus edwardsii," according to Wikipedia.
Now it's Bombus melanopygus.
Soon we saw that we were not alone. Several other queen bumble bees quietly appeared, all to sip the sweet nectar of manzanita on the first day of 2013.
Soon we expect to see them with a load of pollen.
A queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, heading for manzanita blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Long tongue of the queen bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, sipping nectar from manzanita. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Queen bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, in flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's that? A honey bee and a male yellowjacket on the same blossom?
Honey bees and yellowjackets belong to the same order, Hymenoptera, but different families. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is in the Apidae family, while the yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica, belongs to the family, Vespidae.
When beekeepers open the hives at the adjacent Laidlaw facility, trouble can start between the honey bees and the yellowjackets. It's no secret that female yellowjackets establish their nests near apiaries to prey upon honey bees and their brood. They need the protein for their offspring.
But here they were--the honey bee and the yellowjacket--together.
The first occupant: the honey bee. She began foraging on a rose blossom when suddenly a male western yellowjacket approached her. Seemingly unaware of his presence, she kept foraging. He poked her with his antennae. She ignored him. He crawled up next to her and took a close look at her. She kept foraging.
A few seconds later, he left.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, later commented: "I can't help but wonder why the male yellowjacket was visiting a rose flower--no nectar there, so no reward for him."
"Maybe he was just checking out the other occupant 'while searching for love in all the wrong places.' "
Indeed, the male yellowjacket may have been looking for a suitable mate.
This one? Definitely not suitable!
Male yellowjacket heads toward a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Male yellowjacket checks out the honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee continues to forage, while the male yellowjacket crawls away. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The latest edition of Fremontia, a publication of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), is devoted to the state's declining prairies and grasslands.
"Humans are largely responsible" for this decline, writes editor Bob Hass. "We exploit natural resources for basic human needs and for consumable. But too few of us pay attention to the effect our actions have on the environment. Fewer still make the connection between an eroding environment (polluted water, air, soil from toxic chemicals) and cumulative impacts to human health (cancer, birth and immune system defects) or to plants and animals (disease, acid rain, increased toxins accumulating in the food chain)."
So true. And as Hass says "Nature cannot protect itself from what we humans do to the environment, but we can."
We were especially interested in the article, "Native Bees and Flowers in California Prairies and Grasslands" by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and a 35-year member of CNPS.
He quoted John Muir in his book, The Mountains of California: "When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden throughout its entire length...the Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that in waking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step."
Not so today! No wonder the bees are suffering from malnutrition (not to mention other issues).
Thorp calls attention to some of the flowers found today in the Central Valley grasslands. "Our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) produces no nectar, but only pollen as a reward to bees...Generalist bumble bees (Bombus spp.) and sweat bees (Halictus spp.) are the main visitors, along with small pollen feeding beetles."
Thorp illustrated his article with a beautiful photo by Davis plant/insect enthusiast and photographer Gary Zamzow of the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) foraging for pollen on a California poppy. Thorp also included several other photos.
No doubt you've seen honey bees foraging on California poppies, but as Thorp says, poppies provide no nectar, only pollen.
Worker bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on a California poppy. (Photo by Gary Zamzow)
This photo, of a female sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, on a gumplant also appears in the Fremontia article. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Male cuckoo bee (Triepeolus sp.) foraging on a gumplant. This is another photo in the Robbin Thorp. piece. Cuckoo bees do not gather pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's not often you see a monarch butterfly and a digger bee in the same photo.
Such was the case on a recent visit to a lantana patch at a west Vacaville home.
The monarch butterfly touched down on a blossom and was beginning to nectar when along comes a digger bee, a male Anthophora urbana (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the Universit of California, Davis.)
"Maybe it was planing on dive bombing the big intruder from his territory," Thorp said. "However, these males are not known to be especially territorial. Maybe he's just checking out the competition for nectar."
This is the solitary, ground-nesting bee that Leslie Saul-Gershenz, graduate student in the Neal Williams lab at UC Davis, is researching. She's published research on a species of digger bee, Habropoda pallida, a solitary ground-nesting bee, and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, found in the Mojave Desert ecosystem.
Now she's also including Anthophora.
“Our preliminary data show that the blister beetle exploits four other native California bees including important pollinators in the genus Habropoda and Anthophora," she recently told us.
Historically, the blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, was known to be a nest parasite of Anthophora edwardsii, distributed throughout California.
See her amazing photo of the parasitic larvae of the blister beetle on the digger bee, Habropoda pallida, on the UC Davis Entomology website.
Monarch butterfly nectaring lantana, while a digger bee, Anthophora urbana, heads toward it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)