You often see a single solitary bee on a sunflower.
Perhaps it's a sunflower bee (Svastra) or a honey bee (Apis mellifera).
But four on one? Sharing a sunflower?
If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see Svasta, Apis and a sweat bee, Halictus ligatus on the sunflower head, plus another sweat bee, Halictus triparitus, "coming in for a landing," says native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
If you're curious about the sunflower bee, "Our Svastra obliqua expurgata is a native bee and exhibits a preference for sunflowers which are also native and other relatives of sunflower," Thorp said. "The genus Svastra has over 20, all occurring in North and South America. All are ground nesting solitary bees. Some other species of Svastra exhibit preferences for pollen from evening-primrose or cactus.'
The garden is open from dawn to dusk, with free admission. You can do self-guided tours. Soon, probably next spring, the UC Davis Department of Entomology will offer guided tours.
Bee friendly garden? Indeed. In fact, Thorp has found 75 different species of bees--and counting--since he began monitoring the plot in October 2009, a year before it was planted.
If you wander through the garden, be sure to bring your camera, especially if you love insects and flowers.
You may find five species of bees sharing a sunflower!
The drama unfolds slowly.
The crafty praying mantis that's perched atop a zinnia raises its spiked, grasping forelegs and silently waits for unsuspecting prey.
A sweat bee cruises by. Then a second one. Then a third.
They do not land and the praying mantis does not move.
Is it possible for an insect to be as still as a statue? It is. Praying mantids can lie in wait for hours. When their prey comes near, they lash out and grab it, holding it in their spiked forelegs while they eat it alive.
Meanwhile, this praying mantis in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, doesn't have long to wait. A honey bee lands on the predator's perch.
A predator. A prey. A pollinator garden.
The bee crawls slowly along the blossoms and is just about to forage when it spots the predator.
In a flurry of wings and legs, almost faster than a 1/640th-of-a-second shutter speed, the praying mantis lunges. Nothing but air! The bee escapes (probably in a "shudder" speed) and buzzes away.
This meal was not to bee.
It's a native bee.
It's a pollinator.
And it's a leafcutter.
This morning we admired this female leafcutter bee, Megachile fidelis, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
It was foraging on a Mexican sunflower in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre pollinator garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora), from the Asteracae or sunflower family, blazed like a fiery torch, its stamens screaming yellow and its petals ignited in a orange-red flame that only Mother Nature can create.
While the Tithonia glowed--no wonder it's a favorite of gardeners--the leafcutter bee kept piling on the pollen.
If you look at the second photo, you'll see "the brush of hairs on the underside of her abdomen where she is packing pollen for the trip back to her nest," as Thorp points out.
Indeed, the bee may be nesting in the haven itself. Thorp provides them with little bee condos, blocks of wood drilled with holes.
Within a few weeks, UC Davis graduate student/teaching assistant Sarah Dalrymple will finish installing art-decorated bee condos crafted in an entomology class linked with the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
Build them and they will come.
There are many reasons why honey bees don't come home at night.
One of them: a stealthy praying mantis.
If you like to photograph flowers, odds are that some day you'll see more than one insect on a blossom.
Look closely and you may see a praying mantis peering over the petals, watching a bee's every move.
It's not like a proud parent watching an offspring perform at a dance recital or lead a marching band or pitch in a Little League game. The look is fiercely intense, but for a different reason.
Such was the case yesterday at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
A honey bee nectaring on a zinnia turned to poke its proboscis deeper into the blossom, unaware of a hidden predator silently emerging from its stakeout.
Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Late night snack?
Not this time. The honey bee sighted the mantid and quickly buzzed off.
Eye-catching zinnias grace the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden planted in the fall of 2009 next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
The long-stemmed vibrant flowers attract honey bees from the Laidlaw apiary, neighboring bees, and assorted other pollinators, including sunflower bees (after all, zinnias belong to the sunflower family, Asteracae).
Last year the haven attracted the attention of Australian author Mark Leech, who was researching a book, Planting for Pollen and Nectar Supply for the Australian Rural Industries R&D Corp.
Leech, who lives in Lanceston, Tasmania, Australia, so far holds the record of traveling the greatest distance to visit the garden. The previous record-holder: beekeepers from Kentucky.
"The book," Leech wrote, "is to encourage planting for bee forage across the landscape from urban to the rural environment and all climate zones."
If you want to tour the garden, it's open from dawn to dusk--no admission. The key goals of the garden, the jewel of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and the California Center for Urban Horticulture, are to provide bees with a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees; to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own; and to provide research opportunities.
Volunteer gardeners meticulously tend the garden every Friday morning. Sometimes you'll see them planting and watering on the weekends.
The art work in the haven is magnificent. Donna Billick of Davis, a self-described rock artist, created the 6-foot long ceramic sculpture of a worker bee. She and entomologist/artist Diane Ullman co-founded the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, and spearheaded the art projects in the garden. The art itself is a magnet.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, monitors the garden for bees. To date, he's logged 70 different species of bees.
And some of them he found on zinnias.