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Posts Tagged: UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology

National Pollinator Week: Open house at UC Davis Bee Garden

June 18-24 is National Pollinator Week.

Do you know where your pollinators are? Think bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

And think flies. Especially syrphid flies, also known as "flower flies" and "hover flies."

The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is hosting an open house during National Pollinator Week from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its bee garden, Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus.

Here's what you can expect to see or do:

  • learn how to catch and observe bees up close
  • see honey bees at work in an observation beehive
  • learn about bee diversity and identification
  • learn about what and how to plant for bees
  • learn about growing and good pollination in home fruit gardens
  • see easy-to-grow bee plants and solitary bee houses available for a donation to the garden.

The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, installed in the fall of 2009 and located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road, is a half-acre garden devoted to bee pollinator conservation and education. It was founded and sprang to life during the term of interim department chair, Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, who coordinated the entire project. Kimsey was singled out for her work when the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America honored her and four others – "The Bee Team"– with the 2013 outstanding team award. 

A Sausalito team – landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki – won the design competition. The judges were Professor Kimsey; founding garden manager Missy Borel (now Missy Borel Gable), then of the California Center for Urban Horticulture; David Fujino, executive director, California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis; Aaron Majors, construction department manager, Cagwin & Dorward Landscape Contractors, based in Novato; Diane McIntyre, senior public relations manager, Häagen-Dazs ice cream; Heath Schenker, professor of environmental design, UC Davis; Jacob Voit, sustainability manager and construction project manager, Cagwin and Dorward Landscape Contractors; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Others with a key role in the founding and "look" of the garden included the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, founded and directed by the duo of entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick of Davis. Miss Bee Haven, a six-foot long worker bee sculpture, the work of Billick, anchors the garden. The art in the garden is the work of their students, ranging from those in Entomology 1 class to community residents. Eagle Scout Derek Tully planned, organized and built a state-of-the-art fence around the garden.

Why are pollinators so crucial? Take it from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:

"Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. The United States alone grows more than 100 crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. In many places, the essential service of pollination is at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced diseases."

So, on Saturday, June 23, you won't see any red-backed voles or grizzly bears. But you'll see bees, butterflies, birds and beetles.

And flies. Syprhid flies.

For more information on the open house, access

A honey bee foraging on a blanket flower, Gallardia, in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)


A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, nectaring on a California native, foothill penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulis, was a frequent visitor to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven during the early years. Note the spider lurking beneath the zinnia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This sculpture of a six-foot long worker bee, titled "Miss Bee Haven," anchors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It is the work of self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick (pictured) of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A syprhid fly, aka "flower fly" or "hover fly," foraging on Echium wildpretii, the "tower of jewels." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 2:29 PM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

California: A good place to bee

Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño (Photo by Anand Varma)
“Honey bees are good teachers and we can all learn from them,” says Elina Lastro Niño, the new Cooperative Extension apiculturist for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Each hive has its own personality and own temperament.”

Niño, based at UC Davis, is as busy as the proverbial worker bee during a colony's spring build up as she settles into her new position involving research, education and outreach.

“California is a good place to be,” she said. “I just wish I could have brought some of that Pennsylvania rain with me to help out California's drought.”

Her lab not only aims to conduct applied research that leads to practical solutions, but to alert the state's beekeepers about new research, and develop web-based educational tools. She writes the bimonthly newsletter, “from the UC apiaries." (See her newsletter section on her website, and see the archived editions by Eric Mussen on his website). In addition, she will be serving on various advisory boards to allow “us to guide decision making and legislation based on the most up to date scientific information.”

Niño operates her field lab at Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. She also maintains a lab and office in Briggs Hall. Her aims: to conduct practical, problem-solving research projects; to support the state's beekeepers through research, extension and outreach; and to address beekeeper and industry concerns.

Niño, who studies honey bee biology, health, reproduction, pollination biology, insect ecology, evolution, genomics and chemical ecology, replaces Eric Mussen, who retired in June 30 after 38 years of service.

“Elina is a very accomplished scientist,” said Mussen. “Her research involves the reproductive processes involved in queen bee mating, including the impacts of oviduct manipulation, insemination volume and insemination substances. The induced changes include measurable behavioral, physiological and molecular alterations that occur, including differences in behavioral interactions between queens and worker bees.”

Niño has already met with many of the state's beekeepers, attended meetings of the California State Beekeepers' Association, the California Bee Breeders' Association, and the Almond Board of California, and charmed youngsters from the California School of the Blind, Fremont, who asked many questions about honey bees.

“I love meeting people,” she said. She delights in answering questions, including those from inquisitive school children.

Honey bee pollinating almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
One of the most common questions: “Do you get stung?” Answer: “Yes, many times.”

Some don't know that all worker bees are females, that they do all the work. They are fascinated with the queen bee, which can lay as many as 2,000 eggs a day during peak season. Once a youngster, thinking about the queen bee, asked: “What happened to the king?”

Bees are in a global decline due to pesticides, parasites, pests, malnutrition and stress. Niño says most people have heard of colony collapse disorder, and many know that the average beekeeper loses approximately 30 percent of the colonies each winter due to the combined effect of various pests, pathogens, environmental toxins, and poor nutrition.

“My research and extension goals are to provide stakeholders with practical tools that better equip them to confront these challenges. My primary research focus is to characterize biological factors that regulate honey bee queen reproduction. By better understanding these factors, we can improve the honey bee breeding protocols necessary for creating and maintaining resilient honey bee stock.”

Elina Niño wasn't always so totally devoted to bees. Born and reared in Bosnia in Eastern Europe, Elina moved to the United States with plans to become a veterinarian. She obtained her bachelor's degree in animal science at Cornell University, but while there, enrolled in an entomology class on the recommendation of her advisor. “I was hooked,” she recalled.

Following her graduation from Cornell in 2003, she received her master's degree in entomology from North Carolina State University and her doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University. While at Penn State, she sought to add to her applied-research expertise and gain experience in basic research. She joined the honey bee lab of Christina Grozinger, who studies the genomics of chemical communication and collaborates with researcher David Tarpy on understanding queen bee post-mating changes.

After attending her first lab meeting, “I was hooked again!” Niño recalled.

She and her fellow researchers confirmed that carbon dioxide causes queens to stop attempting mating flights and helps them start producing eggs. They also found that instrumental insemination triggers changes in Dufour's gland pheromone. Understanding the regulation of reproductive processes can lead to better management practices for improved colony productivity and health, Niño said.

Niño is now settled in Davis with her husband, Bernardo Niño, a former senior research technologist in the Grozinger lab and now a staff research associate at the Laidlaw facility; their toddler son, Sebastian; and their dog, a Doberman named Zoe. Bernardo, who managed some 40 to 50 colonies at Penn State, received his bachelor's degree in biology from St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas; and his master's degree in entomology from North Carolina State University, Raleigh.

Elina is building up her research team, which includes Bernardo; and staff research associate Billy Synk and doctoral candidate W. Cameron Jasper of the Brian Johnson lab.

“We view ourselves as the liaison between the beekeepers and other relevant growers and the scientific community,” Elina said. “We are continuing research on queen mating and reproduction, especially considering the importance of Northern California beekeepers for the queen rearing and bee breeding enterprises.”

They will expand their work to include studies “crucial for supporting honey bee health.” Current collaborate work includes examining the effects of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, Deformed Wing Virus and Nosema gene expression regulation and longevity in workers. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie individual responses to specific honey bee pathogens, Elina said, “can lead to the implementation of appropriate beekeeping practices.”

“In the near future, we plan to contribute to the general understanding of synergistic effects of pesticides on honey bee health and collaborate on research evaluating alternative Varroa mite control.”

How would she describe herself? “Like a rock. I don't get easily disturbed. There's not a lot that fazes me. I find a way to figure out a problem and find a solution.”

Now she and her “Bee” team--that is, Bernardo and Billy--are gearing up for their inaugural queen bee rearing short-course March 28-29 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. She will continue teaching these  short courses to beekeepers with basic bee experience who want to learn more about rearing queens.

Another pending activity: she'll be judging the California 4-H Honey Bee Essay Contest, “Planting for Bees from Backyards and Up” ( The contest closed Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, Niño has set up her lab's website at; a Facebook page at and has obtained an easy-to-remember email in the form of "el nino":

“California is a good place to be,” she reiterated.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Elina Lastro Niño working a hive. (Photo courtesy of Elina Lastro Niño)
Elina Lastro Niño working a hive. (Photo courtesy of Elina Lastro Niño)

Elina Lastro Niño working a hive. (Photo courtesy of Elina Lastro Niño)

Posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 10:02 AM
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