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Posts Tagged: honey bee

Short Cut

We all take shortcuts.

We look for the shortest line at the supermarket, we use keyboard shortcuts, and we text ”how r u?”

So, why shouldn't honey bees use shortcuts? They do.

If you've ever watched a carpenter bee drill a hole in the corolla of a tubed flower to get at the nectar—this is "nectar robbing" or bypassing pollination—you may have seen a honey bee come along and sip nectar from the hole. Why work hard to get at the nectar when it's right there for the taking?

This is the insect version of a convenience market!

Take the foxgloves (family Plantaginaceae, genus Digitalis). Sometimes you'll see a honey bee trailing or shadowing a carpenter bee that moves from corolla to corolla.

Short cut to the nectar!

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM

Prayers Answered

Praying mantids are, oh, so patient.

They perch on a flower, their spiked forelegs seemingly locked in a praying position, and wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

A green praying mantis recently did just that on our cosmos.

Usually we have to hunt for the mantids because they are so camouflaged or concealed.

Not this one.

This one was as visible as a green elephant in a field of snow.

Despite its conspicuous visibility, the attempts of this lean green machine proved fruitful. First, a honey bee. Then a fiery skipper.

His prayers were answered.

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 6:49 PM

Brother, Can You Spare a Meal?

A freeloader. A moocher. A sponger.

That's the freeloader fly.

A praying mantis is polishing off the remains of a honey bee. Suddenly a black dot with wings edges closer and closer and grabs a bit of the prey.

So tiny. So persistent. So relentless. That's the freeloader fly.

Don't look at the mangled honey bee. Don't look at the hungry praying mantis.

Look at the freeloader fly. Wait a few seconds and you'll see another.

The scene: a camouflaged praying mantis is tucked beneath some African blue basil leaves and the light is fading fast.  (You could say I took this image "on the fly.")

Senior Insect Biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) identified these "freeloader flies"  as family Milichiidae and "likely the genus Desmometopa." See Wikipedia.

They are so tiny, Hauser says, that the mantids, spiders and Reduviidae (think assassin bugs) "don't bother chasing them away or even trying to eat them."

Hauser pointed out images of freeloader flies from BugGuide.net: http://bugguide.net/node/view/23319/bgimage

And look at all the freeloaders on this prey: http://bugguide.net/node/view/512989/bgimage

Back in March of 2012, agricultural entomologist Ted C. MacRae who writes a popular blog, Beetles in the Bush,  posted an image of an assassin bug eating a stink bug. Check out all the flies engaging in what he calls kleptoparasitism--stealing food.

Everybody gets fed. Nobody leaves hungry.

Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Bad Day for a Bee

It was a good day to be a praying mantis. It was not a good day to be a honey bee.

Just before noon today, we watched a green praying mantis lurking in the African blue basil, like a camouflaged soldier ready to ambush the enemy. His eyes remain focused on a single honey bee gathering nectar for her colony. She is moving slowly but methodically, buzzing from one blossom to another.

The predator and the prey. An epic battle. A battle that's been waging for millions of years.

The honey bee keeps nectaring. The praying mantis keeps watching. He is not admiring her nectaring skills. He is seeking a bee breakfast like the one he had yesterday.

Suddenly, with one swift leap, the praying mantis snares and traps the honey bee in his spiked forelegs. The bee struggles to escape but the mantis tightens his grip with his needlelike vise.

The bee will not be returning to her hive tonight.

Wait...what's this...a dive-bombing attack?

It is. A male leafcutter bee is dive-bombing the predator. Is he trying to protect his cousin, the honey bee, or just being territorial? At any rate, he is a double blur as he dive-bombs from above, targeting the predator and then pulling up to do it again. Five passes. Some near misses, some near body slams. Some passes are so close that their antennae touch.

The praying mantis glances at the leafcutter bee and continues eating, somewhat like the Carl Jr. commercial, "Don't bother me, I'm eating."

"I'm eating and you're next."

A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 1, 2014 at 4:22 PM

A Taste of Honey

A honey bee collecting nectar from lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey connoisseur Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, opens the jar of lavender honey from France and sniffs the aroma. She breathes in deeply.

The "miel de lavande" produced by "apiculteur Marc Agnel" is creamed, as most lavender honeys are, she says. It arrived in San Francisco from France last week via my relatives (who love it).

"Honey from a specific plant doesn't always taste like the plant," Harris is saying, as she turns the wheel of the center's newly published Honey Flavor Wheel, a project benefitting bee health research at UC Davis. "Sometimes there is a bit of a surprise."

"Have the honey at room temperature, or slightly warmer, and covered," she advises. "This keeps all the volatiles inside the jar or cup."

Her observations about the honey and the procedure:

Aroma:  The first scent is very floral with a touch of lilac. The next, overwhelming smell is fruit! Something very juicy.

Next: take a taste. Let the honey sit on your tongue and dissolve slowly. Try to assess all the flavors that might be occurring. floral – lilac; fruity – cherry

Primary taste: This honey is simply sweet.

Texture: This is a smooth and creamy honey. Quite unusual.

Finish: Notice how the taste lasts. This honey is delicate – that is, it has a very light and very distinct flavor. It has a short duration with a lasting aroma that is filled with a bit of cherry, lilac and the first taste of lavender!

Honey Flavor Wheel
The Honey and Pollination Center produced the Honey Flavor Wheel after six months of research and development. “We brought together a group of 20 people--trained tasters, beekeepers and food enthusiasts--who worked together with a sensory scientist to come up with almost 100 descriptors,” Harris recalled.  “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.” 

“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey. And its aromas, too. Developing the wheel has been an astonishing learning experience at all levels. I now truly pay attention as I taste many different kinds of foods. I notice flavors from beginning to end.  

“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series," she recalled. "The sensory scientist we worked with, Sue Langstaff, had been to New Zealand and brought back several honeys. One was a wild flower called Viper's Bugloss. What an amazing aroma! Imagine sitting in a garden. The sun has just set. And the heady aromas of jasmine and  orange blossom together crowd the air. This is the scent of Viper's Bugloss. An astonishing honey. Now I want more!” 

The front of the colorful wheel lists the descriptors, including fruity, floral, herbaceous, woody, spicy, nutty, confectionary, caramel and earthy. No longer can you just say “sweet” when you taste honey or “sour, salty and bitter.”  If it's fruity, can you determine if it's berry, citrus, dried fruit, tree fruit or tropical fruit? If it falls into the confectionary category, can you pinpoint marshmallow, vanilla, maple, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, cotton candy, crème brûlée, burnt sugar or brown sugar? There's even an “animal” category” where you may opine that your sample of honey reminds you of a barnyard.

The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel tells you how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles (Florida tupelo, California orange blossom, Northwest blackberry and Midwestern clover) “so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product,” Harris said. 

(Check out the Sacramento Bee's YouTube video on Amina Harris's demonstration of the Honey Flavor Wheel.)

The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each, with all proceeds supporting bee health research at UC Davis. The product is available online and at several locations: the Honey and Pollination Center, located at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road; at the UC Davis Campus Bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore; and online.

 

Jar of lavender honey rests next to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's Honey Flavor Wheel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Jar of lavender honey rests next to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's Honey Flavor Wheel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Jar of lavender honey rests next to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's Honey Flavor Wheel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The jar of lavender honey,
The jar of lavender honey, "miel de lavande," is from France. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The jar of lavender honey, "miel de lavande," is from France. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Amina Harris sniffs the aroma. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Amina Harris sniffs the aroma. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Amina Harris sniffs the aroma. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 5:32 PM

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