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Posts Tagged: Robbin Thorp

Bees 'n Blooms

Co-author Gordon Frankie (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees 'n blooms. Blooms 'n bees.

Add "California" to it and you have California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.

It's a book that's well-planned, well-executed, well-written and well-photographed.

Bees are hungry. What plants will attract them? How can you entice them to your garden and encourage them not only to visit but to live there?

The book, the first of its kind, profiles some of the most common bee genera found in California gardens; their preferred plants, both native and non-native; and how to attract them.

Most folks are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees. But what about the other bees, such as mining, leafcutting, sweat, carpenter, digger, masked, longhorned, mason and polyester bees?

Co-author Barbara Ertter
The authors point out that of the 20,000 bee species identified worldwide, some 4000 are found in the United States, and 1600 in California.

Published by the nonprofit Heyday Books in collaboration with the California Native Plant Society, the book is the work of four scientists closely linked to UC Berkeley: urban entomologist Gordon Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley; native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of UC Davis (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley); insect photographer and entomologist Rollin Coville, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley; and botanist/curator Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. 

“This book is about urban California's bees: what they are, how and where they live, their relationships with ornamental flowers, and how to attract them to urban gardens,” they wrote. “It was written in the urgency of knowing that bees are critical to the health of our natural, ornamental and agricultural landscapes and that populations of some, perhaps many are in rapid decline.”

Co-author Rollin Coville
Frankie, who has researched bees in urban gardens in California for 13 years, says: “While the book is specific to California, larger insights can be gathered about the role of native bees in developed landscapes (such as agriculture), and native bee conservation."

Frankie studies behavioral ecology of solitary bees in wildland, agricultural and urban environments of California and Costa Rica.  He teaches conservation and environmental issues. He is involved in how people relate to bees and their plants and how to raise human awareness about bee-plant relationships.

Co-author Robbin Thorp, who retired in 1994 after 30 years of teaching, research and mentoring graduate students, continues to conduct research on pollination biology and ecology, systematics, biodiversity and conservation of bees, especially bumble bees. He is one of the instructors at the The Bee Course, affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The course is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.

“The book is profusely illustrated with photos and drawings of bees and flowers, especially notable are the magnificent close-up images of bees by co-author Rollin Coville,” Thorp said.

Ertter thoroughly explores the anatomy of a flower. Bees and flowers constitute what the authors delightfully describe as "a love affair."

California's bees differ in size, shape and color, as do the flowers they visit. “The tiniest bees are ant-sized; the largest rival small birds,” the authors wrote. “Some are iridescent green or blue, some are decked out with bright stripes, some are covered with fuzzy-looking hairs.”

“Nature has programmed bees to build nests and supply their young with nutritious pollen and nectar, and their unique methods for collecting these resources are fascinating to observe. Their lives are dictated by season, weather and access to preferred flower types and nesting habitat.”

California Bees and Blooms lists 53 of urban California's best bee attractors identified through the Urban California Native Bee Survey. Among them:  aster, bluebeard, catmint, California lilac or Ceanothus, cosmos, California sunflower, red buckwheat, California poppy, blanket flower, oregano, rosemary, lavender, gum plant, and salvia (sage). With each plant, they provide a description; origin and natural habitat, range and use in California; flowering season; resource for bees (such as pollen and nectar), most frequent bee visitors, bee ecology and behavior and gardening tips.

The book offers tips on how readers can “think like a bee.” It devotes one chapter to “Beyond Bee Gardening: Taking Action on Behalf of Native Bees.” In addition, the book provides quotes on bees and/or bee gardens from Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (retired) of UC Davis: Ellen Zagory, horticulture director of the UC Davis Arboretum; and Kate Frey of Hopland, a designer of sustainable, insect-friendly gardens throughout California and in some parts of the world.

For more data on the book, the authors, and purchase information, access the publisher's website at  https://heydaybooks.com/book/california-bees-and-blooms/.

And for ongoing research on California's bees and blooms, be sure to check out the UC Berkeley website, appropriately named www.helpabee.org..

A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 5:42 PM

A Fly Is a Fly Is a Fly

Honey bee nectaring on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A bee is a bee is a bee is a bee.

'Cept when it's a fly.

Lately we've been seeing lots of images on social media (including Facebook and Twitter), news media websites, and stock photo sites of "honey bees." 

But they're actually flies. 

Will the real flies come forth?

Today we saw several drone flies, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, jokingly calls this drone fly "the H bee." Why? There's an "H" pattern on its abdomen.

The drone fly and honey bee are similar in size and both are floral visitors in their adult stages. However, the drone fly is quite distinguishable from a honey bee. The fly has large eyes, stubby antennae and one pair of wings.

The larvae of the drone fly is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, pooled manure piles and other polluted water.

Unlike a honey bee, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. The  fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as flower flies, hover flies and syrphids) and the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.

The case of mistaken identity can cause excruciating pain.  A journalist will spend half a day interviewing bee experts about bee health--investigating colony collapse disorder, malnutrition and Varroa mites--only to have a copy editor illustrate the prized bee story with a fly.  It's more horrific than Halloween.

Likewise, Facebook editors have been known to turn a fly into a bee faster than the beat of a wing. And photographers who know more about "F" stops than "H bees" post misindentified photos on Flickr or sell their mislabeled images to stock photo businesses.

The old saying, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck" doesn't ring true in "the drone bee vs. the honey bee" identity crisis.

If it looks like a bee, acts like a bee and buzzes like a bee, it may be...a drone fly.

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The
The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 9:03 PM

A, B, and C: What They Really Stand for...

Give me an "A" (for excellence).

Give me a "B" (for bee).

Give me a "C" (for Cosmos).

Watching honey bees collect nectar and pollen on the showy Cosmos (Cosmos bipannatus) is not to be missed.

As if performing a ballet, the enchanting bees enter stage left and are such show-stoppers that you want to erupt with applause at every precise move. Bravo!

Cosmos is a spectacular annual with saucer-shaped floral heads, ranging in color from white and pink to lavender and crimson. It's a relatively late bloomer. In our family bee garden, they began blooming in late summer and are continuing into fall.

In their newly published book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis teamed with photographer Rollin Coville (UC Berkeley-trained entomologist) and botanist Barbara Ertter (UC Berkeley) to offer interesting information on bee species and advice for growing and managing bee friendly plants. It's a "must-have" for every gardener and naturalist or would-be gardeners and naturalists. Did you know there are more than 1600 different species of bees in California alone, and some 4000 throughout the country?

One section goes into depth about plants, including Cosmos. You'll learn its description, origin and natural habitat, range and use in urban California, flowering season, resource for bees (nectar and pollen), most frequent bee visitors, and bee ecology and behavior. It's not surprising that the book, by Heyday, is published in collaboration with the California Native Plant Society.

And what are the most frequent bee visitors? "A wide variety of bee species, especially Melissodes robustior, Melissodes species, and Halictus ligatus. In the Central Valley, it attracts honey bees, Agapostemon texanus, Anthophora urbana, Xeromelecta californica, and Svastra obiqua expurgata."

The authors describe all those species--and more. Some we know generally as longhorned bees, sweat bees, metallic green sweat bees, digger bees, and sunflower bees.

Blooms. Bees. Beautiful.

Honey bee heading for a Cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for a Cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for a Cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

All the right moves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
All the right moves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

All the right moves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The grand entrance. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The grand entrance. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The grand entrance. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The reward: nectar and pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The reward: nectar and pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The reward: nectar and pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 5:34 PM

Hide the Cactus!

Hide the cactus! There's a Mexican cactus fly in our midst.

A large black fly hovers over a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden and then drops down to sip some nectar. At first glance it looks like a carpenter bee but this one hovers like a syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly.

"Hover fly," I say.

Entomologists Martin Hauser, Lynn Kimsey and Robbin Thorp quickly identified the critter.

Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, says it's in the genus Copestylum (with over 350 species in the new world) and figured it to be the species,  mexicanum, commonly known as the Mexican cactus fly.

Said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis: "Nice, this is actually a kind of syrphid flower fly, better known as a cactus fly. The larvae breed in rotting cactus tissue."

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, also figured it to be a Mexican cactus fly, Copestylum mexicanum.  "It's commonly known as a cactus fly (Syrphidae, Tribe Volucellini).  "It used to be in the genus Volucella, But now it's in the genus Copestylum."

This fly is not small. It's about 3/4 of an inch long. It lays its eggs in rotting plant material "and they really like rotting cacti," Hauser commented. "As far as I know, they only go into dying cacti and do not attack healthy cacti…. But there is actually not much known about their biology."

The resident cacti expert at our house is worried, showing his best prickly pear expression. He quickly canvasses the yard. Whew! No rotting cacti. All thriving and in good health.

So far, so good...

Black hover fly, aka Mexican cactus fly, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Black hover fly, aka Mexican cactus fly, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Black hover fly, aka Mexican cactus fly, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the black syrphid fly, a Mexican cactus flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of the black syrphid fly, a Mexican cactus flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the black syrphid fly, a Mexican cactus flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Mexican cactus fly ready to take off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mexican cactus fly ready to take off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mexican cactus fly ready to take off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 5:29 PM

Quit Mimicking Me!

Last weekend a little critter made its first-ever appearance in our family bee garden. It was neither a grand entrance nor a grand insect.   

"A fly!" I thought, as I looked at its knoblike bristle or arista on the end of each antenna.

But its body--what little I could see of it before it winged out of there--definitely resembled a wasp. A Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) or European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, identified it as a syrphid fly, genus Ceriana, family Syrphidae. 

Talented Davis photographer Allan Jones captured an excellent photo of Ceriana in 2012. A full body shot: head, thorax and abdomen! His excellent image (second one, below) shows the distinguishing characteristics: two wings (fly), not four wings  (bees, wasps), as well as the arista (fly) and the spongelike mouthparts (fly).

BugGuide.Net posted some excellent images of Ceriana on its site. Class: Insecta. Order, Diptera. Family: Syrphidae: Genus: Ceriana.

Ceriana is a genus of wasp mimics. Basically, it's a syrphid fly, a pollinator. It's also known as a hover fly or flower fly as it hovers, helicopterlike, over flowers before drops down to forage.

Would-be predators, no doubt, avoid Ceriana because of its coloration. "Oops, don't mess with that! That's a wasp!"

Picnickers who don't know a faux wasp from a real one would probably run from it, or swat at it.

"It's definitely a good mimic and probably gets a lot of protection from that coloration," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.

So true!

This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic  image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 8, 2014 at 6:07 PM

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