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It's a Butterfly Week!

A cabbage white butterfly nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When the week is about butterflies instead of guerrilla attacks, murderous rampages, measles outbreaks, and deflated footballs, it's a good week.

Butterflies draw smiles instead of scowls, pleasure instead of pain, glee instead of grief.

So, here's Part 1 of the good news. You still have a chance to win the Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest. No one has come forth in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano to deliver the first cabbage white butterfly of the new year to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. If you collect the first one of 2015 and you're the verified winner, you'll receive a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.

Shapiro, who usually wins his own Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest, hasn't found one either.  Every day has amounted to a "No Fly Day" and a "No Beer Day."

Reports are surfacing that the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae) are flying in Santa Rosa, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), Santa Rosa is in Sonoma County, not in Sacramento, Yolo or Solano counties.

Shapiro has sponsored the annual contest since 1972. It's all part of his four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter. Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20." Shapiro says his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate "are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."

Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, knows where and when to look. In fact, he's been defeated only three times since 1972, and all by his graduate students. Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.

In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972.

The contest rules include:

  • It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
  • It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.)
  • Shapiro is the sole judge.

Part 2 of the good news about butterflies: a mid-winter gathering of Northern California Lepidopterists and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will take place at an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31 in the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. Hosts are Bohart senior museum scientist-entomologist Steve Heydon and entomologists John De Benedictis and Jeff Smith.

Lepidopterists are researchers or hobbyists who specialize in the study of butterflies and moths in the order Lepitopdera.
All interested persons are encouraged to bring specimens, photos, PowerPoint presentations or slides from collecting trips and tales of collecting triumphs to share with others.  Butterfly t-shirts and other entomological merchandise are available from the gift shop.

The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, and is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It was founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007).

For more information on the mid-winter gathering of lepitopterists, contact Steve Heydon at (530) 752-0493 or slheydon@ucdavis.edu.

Meanwhile, The Great White Cabbage Butterfly Hunt is still underway. Can you find one before Art Shapiro does?

Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015 at 9:37 PM

Waiting for the Bees

Where, oh where, is that first bumble bee of the year?

It's about this time of the year when the queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and the queen yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, emerge. 

One of our area readers asked if there's a chart or calendar indicating what time of year the various native bees emerge. One of the best sources is native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. (By the way, he's giving a public presentation on native bees at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24 at Solano County's Rush Ranch Nature Center, Suisun City. All interested persons are invited; there's no admission.)

"Each species of bee has its own particular season," Thorp says. "Some start in late winter to early spring, others start late spring, early summer.   Some don't fly until fall.  Some bees, especially our social bees (honey bees, bumble bees and some sweat bees) fly most of the flowering year (January-February into October-November)."

"It's probably best to frame the bee calendar in context of the bloom of various plants," Thorp points out. "Manzanita is one of the first flowering shrubs and when they come in to bloom that is the time to look for queens of our two early bumble bee species, Bombus melanopygus and B. vosnesenskii.  Some of our large digger bees like Habropoda and some Anthophora come on during that bloom.  In the vernal pools, early flowering starts in late February and some of our solitary ground nesting mining bees, Andrena start about then.   When the red bud comes into bloom about mid-March the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB), some other species of bumble bees, and some sweat bees come out.  Leafcutting bees (Megachile) and some long-horned digger bees (Melissodes and Svastra) start their activity about mid-May. "

A great book to learn about native bees and the flowers they visit is the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). It's co-authored by Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, all with UC Berkeley connections.

For example, if you look up manzanita (genus Arctostaphylos and family Ericaceae), in California Bees and Blooms, you'll see that there are more than 90 species and subspecies in California, and you'll learn which bees visit them. The authors provide a description of the plant, its origin and natural habitat, its range and use in urban California, its flowering season (late winter to early spring), the resources it provides for bees (pollen and nectar), bee ecology and behavior, and gardening tips.

The book is a treasure.

As are the bees! 

A queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on pansies on Jan. 22, 2014. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on pansies on Jan. 22, 2014. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on pansies on Jan. 22, 2014. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, on rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, on rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, on rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 9:19 PM

Why Spring Doesn't Seem So Distant

The honey bees are hungry.

Those venturing out from their colonies as the temperatures edge toward 55 degrees or more aren't finding much. It's the dead of winter. Spring seems so distant.

But wait, the flowering quince is blooming.

The flowering quince (genus Chaenomeles) from the rose family (Rosaceae) is among the first flowers of the new year to bloom.  The soft pinks loaded with gold--yellow pollen--are the best!

There's no argument from the honey bees.

Somehow or another, spring doesn't seem so distant.

Honey bee foraging in a flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging in a flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging in a flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a sea of pink: flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee on a sea of pink: flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a sea of pink: flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue skies, an early blooming quince, a honey bee and all's right with the world. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue skies, an early blooming quince, a honey bee and all's right with the world. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue skies, an early blooming quince, a honey bee and all's right with the world. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 9:44 PM
Tags: Chaenomeles (3), flowering quince (7), honey bees (223), Rosaceae (1)

Marla Spivak's Keynote Speech: 'Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet'

Marla Spivak (Photo by Dan Marshall)
"Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet."

Yes, honey bees have six feet, and that's the title of a keynote speech to be presented May 9 at the University of California, Davis by Distinguished McKnight Professor and 2010 MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota.

To take place in the UC Davis Conference Center, the daylong symposium on "Keeping Bees Healthy" will be hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Registration is now underway for the 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. event.

“This educational program is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees,” said Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center. “In addition to our speakers, there will be an active ‘Buzz Way' featuring graduate student research posters, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants and much more.”

Among the speakers will be honey bee scientists Brian Johnson and Elina Lastro Niño and native bee scientist Neal Williams, all with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and bee molecular scientist Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames Iowa. Also planned is a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Center on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Bee garden manager Christine Casey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will lead the tour.

General admission is $75 and student admission is $25. Both include a continental breakfast, lunch and post-event reception. For registration, access this page. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is providing financial support.

As for Marla Spivak, back in 2010 she was named a recipient of the $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a "genius award."

Nearly two million people have accessed her TED talk at which she comments on  the "big bee bummer that we have created," why we should care about bees, and how we, as individuals can help them. Honey bees, she says, have thrived for 50 million years, but in the last seven years, the bee population is declining rapidly. On the average, beekeepers report losing 30 percent of their winter bees. They don't make it to spring. 

"We can't afford to lose bees, so what is going on?" Spivak asks. In 1945, the U.S. honey bee population stood at 4.5 million colonies in 1945. Today it's about 2 million.

In her TED talk, Spivak expresses deep concern about bee health and calls attention to what she calls "the multiple, interacting causes of death: diseases, parasites, pesticides, monocultures and flowerless landscapes." She sprinkles in such colorful words as "flower feeders," "agricultural food deserts," "bee social healthcare system" and "tomato ticklers" (referring to the buzz pollination of bumble bees on tomatoes).

Honey bee foraging on a tulip.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on a tulip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on a tulip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 6:18 PM

'Super Sleuth' Solves the Mystery of the Dead Bees

Honey bee "resting," too cold to fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's killing the honey bees?

The email arrived in my UC Davis inbox at 9:10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 8.

An employee from the UC Davis Plumbing Shop wondered what was happening in front of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. "There are dead bees everywhere," he wrote, adding that "There were some grounds workers waiting for the UC Davis bus in front of Mondavi, and they commented that they also saw dead bees everywhere in their grounds-keeping areas."

Did the cold spell have something to do with this? But why would honey bees be outside their colony? Honey bees don't fly until the temperature reaches around 55 degrees. 

What was happening?

Super sleuth Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, arrived on the scene. He was appropriately dressed in a trenchcoat, a la Sherlock Holmes (Note that Sherlock Holmes, aka physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a beekeeper, too, according to Wikipedia). 

Bee colony could be "up there," on or near the roof. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Yes, dozens of dead bees were everywhere and many had been stepped on, their gold pollen loads smashed. There weren't as many as initially thought; no doubt hungry birds ate some of them, and others had been swept up.

Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service,  picked up some of the dead bees and noticed that nearly half had small-to-large pollen loads on their legs. Their wings were not tattered. He quickly deduced that the bees had not worn themselves out foraging.

"However, this early in the season, many of the foraging bees are bees that survived since last fall," Mussen said. "Depending upon their overall health, they were working toward the ends of their lives."

Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights showed him dead bees on an upper outdoor patio. So the bees were not only dying at ground level but upper levels, Mussen realized.

He noticed some bees flying up over the roof and some live bees "resting" on various parts of the building.

"There's a colony up there somewhere," Mussen said, pointing toward the roof.

Mussen cupped some of the sluggish bees in his hands, and once warmed, off they flew. The other survivors? They were too cold to fly and they would die overnight as the temperature dropped.

Mystery solved. "Elementary, my dear Watson?" No, not really. It's a scene that non-beekeepers rarely see.

"So, it appears that an older population of bees from a colony nesting around the top of the building were foraging near the ends of their lives," Mussen said. "They could not adequately produce enough body heat to keep foraging and they  could not adequately produce enough body heat to fly back to their colony and they were falling to the ground, basically exhausted."

"This is normal and no reason for alarm," Mussen said, "except that people usually are not that close to bee colonies to notice the normal demise of substantial numbers of overwintering bees."

So, it wasn't pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition or stress.

Old bees and a cold spell...

This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, January 19, 2015 at 5:35 PM

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