Backyard Orchard News
If there ever were a Christmas bug, it would be the ladybug, aka lady beetle.
The insects (family Coccinellidae) are brightly colored and spread joy in the garden when they feast on aphids.
Last summer we enjoyed watching them hanging out and hooking up. Their voracious appetites reminded us of holiday diners.
Please pass the aphids!
Ladybug on gardener's glove
You're sitting around discussing the importance of honey bees. The points include: they give us honey, they pollinate agricultural crops, and they serve as an example of a well-organized society.
But wait, there's more.
They scare off plant predators.
"Researchers in Germany discovered that the flapping of bees' wings scared off caterpillars, reducing leaf damage," writes BBC correspondent Richard Black in a Dec. 22 post.
"Many wasp species lay their eggs in caterpillars, and so caterpillars have evolved to avoid them. The sounds of bees' and wasps' wings are similar. Writing in the journal Current Biology, the scientists suggest this is an added bonus of having bees around, as well as the pollination they provide."
That makes sense. The sound of a bee buzzing can prompt a human or animal to leave the vicinity quite rapidly. Why wouldn't a caterpillar do so after "hearing" a buzz? Especially when it can't distinguish the sound of bee wings from wasp wings?
Lead researcher Jürgen Tautz of Wurzburg University says this is an unexpected advantage of why bees are important.
Look at it this way: our little honey bees are super heroes! They deserve to wear an "S" on their thorax.
Actually, they're "Super Girls" as the worker bees are all female. Worker bees are the ones that gather the nectar and pollinate the plants--and scare off those pesky caterpillars.
Superman, meet the "Super Girls!"
Seen any cabbage whites lately?
If you capture one before UC Davis professor Arthur Shapiro does, he'll trade you a beer for your butterfly. Actually, a pitcher of beer or its cash equivalent.
Yes, it's time for Shapiro's 38th annual Butterfly-for-Beer contest. The "state-of-the-Art" rules are easy: the first person to find and capture a live cabbage white butterfly outdoors in California's Central Valley (Sacramento, Solano or Yolo counties) after the first of the year, will win a pitcher of beer. You get the beer, he gets the butterfly. He gets the data, you get the recognition.
Shapiro, a noted lepidopterest equally renowned for his heavily accessed UC Davis butterfly site and field guide about butterflies in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions, almost always finds the first cabbage white of the year. It's tough to beat him because he knows where to look. Most likely the cabbage white will be in a vacant lot or by a roadside where wild mustards grow. It probably won't be in your backyard garden or neighborhood park.
The cabbage white is the Pieris rapae, a white or buff-colored butterfly about 1-1/4 inches long. It sports a black spot or spots near its wing base. The underside of its hindwing is yellow with a grayish cast.
The cabbage white is emerging about a week earlier than it did 30 years ago, Shapiro says. When was the first specimen found in 2008? Jan. 19.
Entries should be delivered to the receptionist in the Evolution and Ecology office, 2320 Storer Hall. Be sure to include when (time and date) you found it and where you found it. If it's on the weekend, when the UC Davis office is closed, store it live for a few days in your refrigerator.
Here's a photo I captured of two cabbage whites in Vacaville, Solano County on Sept. 7, 2008--about eight months too late for Shapiro's competition.
And no beer.
Two Cabbage Whites
You CAN have your cake and eat it, too.
You can also "have your BUG and eat it, too."
Even if you're not into entomophagy.
When Randy Veirs, executive assistant to Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology, brought cupcakes into the office that wife Faye made, atop each cupcake perched a little ladybug.
Little as in "M&M" size. Little as in a real "M&M." Little as in "Wow! How creative!"
Faye is a marketing and development assistant at the UC Davis School of Law. A native of Hawaii, she moved to California in 2000. She plays clarinet and ukulele. In fact, as teenager, she taught ukulele at the Roy Sakuma Studios in Hawaii. Husband Randy plays the trumpet in the UC Davis Symphony.
They both like insects.
Lately Faye has been reading a fun-filled book, "Hello, Cupcake!"
Who put the “killer” in “killer bees?”
Someone named “B. Melon” asked that question on the “Strange but True” segment of the Web site, readthehook.com.
To answer the bee question, Bill Sones and Rich Sones did what many do. They asked UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen, a Cooperative Extension specialist and UC Davis faculty member for the past 32 years.
The answer, printed today:
A single Africanized honeybee releases no more venom than other bees but does react more vigorously to the "alarm pheromone" released, staying agitated longer, says
So instead of a dozen frenzied bees pursuing a victim for 100 yards, thousands from the colony of 30,000 may pursue, some up to a quarter mile. Yikes.
Even a world class sprinter couldn't outrun them at 20+ miles per hour, though fortunately most of the bees won't pursue very far. But one
Scary, but true. The Africanized bees are the pit bulls of the bee world. With pit bulls, it's this scenario: Guy and his dog out for a walk, pit bull charges them, pit bull rips open the throat of the dog and/or man, police respond and kill the pit bull and/or pit bull is euthanized. Pit bull owner maintains dog is so gentle that it "wouldn't hurt a fly." Or a baby...
With Africanized bees, it’s this scenario: Guy out for a walk, bees attack him, guy moves fast, bees move faster, guy in serious condition. Guy says he never thought the swarm of bees would follow him that long. Or that there would be that many.
Which reminds me of the email I received about 10 years ago about two hunters walking through the woods when they encounter a bear. One hunger unlaces his boots and slides on a pair of running shoes.
“What are you doing? You can’t outrun that bear!”
“No, but I can outrun you.”
But back to Eric Mussen and Africanized bees. Mussen served as the content advisor for a children's book, Africanized Honey Bees by Barbara A. Somervill, published this year by Cherry Lake Publishing, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest."
The bees, Somervill continues, were Africanized bees, an invasive species that breeds with our honey bees.
It's an interesting book. The cover features an image of an Africanized bee (which looks about like any other bee). Fact is, the only way you can tell an Africanized bee from the common European or Western honey bee is through a microscope.
Run for cover.