Just call it going for the roses.
Or a hot spot.
In between the showers and the sunshine, the bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, emerge from their hives to forage.
They buzz over to the nearby Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre garden with year-around blooms.
One bee on a rose.
Two bees on a rose.
Three bees on a rose.
Four bees on a rose.
It's not often you see four honey bees sharing the same blossom.
In his poem, "Ode to the West Wind," English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) asked: "...if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
Yes, especially on a December day that looks and feels like spring.
The garden, a year-around food resource for bees that also functions as a demonstration garden, is open from dawn to dusk for free, self-guided tours. Come spring, plans call for guided tours in a project headed by Christine "Chris" Casey (email@example.com) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. There will be a small fee for guided tours.
Bring your camera!
It's the Big 4-0 for the Almond Board of California's annual almond industry conference this week.
Some 1000 convention-goers are gathering in the Sacramento Convention Center. The 40th annual conference opened Tuesday, Dec. 11 and runs through Thursday, Dec. 13.
A contingent from the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, is there--including some from chemical ecologist Walter Leal's lab and some from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Many came to hear U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
After all, almonds are California's biggest export. With some 750,000 acres of almonds in production in the state, the National Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting a record-breaking 2.10 billion meat pounds this year, valued at approximately $3 billion. Eighty-percent of the global supply of almonds is grown in California, and about 70 percent of California’s crop is marketed overseas.
Over at the Laidlaw facility, you can't help but notice the sign that graces the entrance. The work of self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick of Davis, it shows a skep, honey bees, DNA strands, and almond blossoms.
Then if you walk a few steps east of the facility to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, you'll run into the gigantic worker bee sculpture, also the work of Donna Billick. It's a six-foot-long morphologically correct worker bee, right down to the wax glands.
If it appears to be on a pedestal, that's the way it should be. Honey bees, those tiny agricultural workers, pollinate one-third of the food we eat.
As for the almonds, the pollination season begins around Valentine's Day. The orchards will be buzzing. It takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's almond crop.
It's no secret that bees are fond of germanders or Teucrium, a genus in the mint family, Lamiaceae.
And it's no secret that praying mantids are fond of bees.
Although it's a little late in the season for praying mantids, we spotted this one hiding in a bush germander last Friday in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden located on Bee Biology Road next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis.
The mantid's abdomen bulged. She was very much pregnant.
Nearby honey bees from the nearby Laidlaw apiary nectared on the blue flowers. One bee tucked herself inside the blossom, oblivious of the nearby predator.
Current score: Praying mantis: 0. Honey Bee: 0.
But tomorrow is another day.
Note: The garden is open from dawn to dusk for self-guided tours. Groups who'd like a guided tour may contact Christine "Chris" Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
When the Onward California tour rolls into Davis next week, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility will share the limelight.
First of all, the tour of 10 campuses and their adjoining communities is a campaign to draw attention and support for the University of California in these tough economic times.
Or, as Dan Dooley, UC senior vice president for External Relations, told Dateline, UC Davis: "This tour brings the University to Californians in their own communities and gives them the opportunities to engage with UC in a new and unexpected way. We hope that building understanding of how UC contributes to the daily lives of all Californians will further strengthen public appreciation and support for the mission of public higher education in the state."
So, how does the honey bee fit in?
Naia's 10 UC gelato flavors show the value of what UC delivers to California through higher education--"in agriculture and nutrition; health and brain science; astronomy, computers and energy; and sustainability and the arts," Jones wrote.
Which brings us to the flavor selected for UC Davis: "Bar Gelato Honey Bee."
The label indicates that "UC Davis' honey bee research facility is the largest and most comprehensive state-supported apiculture facility in North America and the only one in California."
So the spotlight next week is on the bee scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Laidlaw facility; the 80 research hives they maintain; and the honey bees.
And the free bar of gelato? That's one honey of a deal.
Here's where you can get yours:
Wednesday, Oct. 3: Davis Farmers' Market, Central Park, 3rd and C streets, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 4: UC Davis campus on the East Quad from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Onward California tour will share the site with the Davis Chamber of Commerce; this is the annual day that Davis businesses meet and greet the students.
On that note, if you want to know more about what UC is doing for us and how you can get involved, be sure to read Jones' article, "UC's Statewide Tour Heads to Davis--City and Campus." in Dateline and access the Onward California website.
And if you're the curious type and want to know the gelato flavor selected for each of the 10 campuses (okay, who got the chocolate and why?), you'll have to read Jones' sidebar, "A Honey of a Treat Just for UC Davis."
Some folks enjoy a doughnut, bagel, muffin or fruit for breakfast--and maybe some cream cheese on the bagel and honey on the muffin.
Not so the praying mantis.
If he were in a restaurant, he'd tell the waiter "I'd like a bee for breakfast, please."
Or maybe he would leave off the "please" and tell the waiter "Hurry, I'm hungry. Move it, will ya?"
A bee for breakfast is not only perfectly fine for him, but also a bee for lunch, and a bee for dinner.
This young bee (below) was nectaring some salvia (sage) near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, when a cunning praying mantis, lying in wait, nailed her. He grabbed her in his spiked forelegs and swoosh, it was all over. No more buzzing around the salvia. No more sipping the sweet nectar. No more sharing with her colony back at the hive.
Every time this happens--when a mantid nails a honey bee--I want to say outloud: "Why don't you go after a fly? Or a spotted cucumber beetle? Or an aphid?"
Indeed, dear mantid, why not have a nutritious fly for breakfast and a colorful spotted cucumber beetle for lunch? And maybe a succulent aphid for dinner?
Alas, you cannot tell a mantid what to stalk and what to eat.
It was bee for breakfast.