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A Fly Is a Fly Is a Fly

Honey bee nectaring on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A bee is a bee is a bee is a bee.

'Cept when it's a fly.

Lately we've been seeing lots of images on social media (including Facebook and Twitter), news media websites, and stock photo sites of "honey bees." 

But they're actually flies. 

Will the real flies come forth?

Today we saw several drone flies, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, jokingly calls this drone fly "the H bee." Why? There's an "H" pattern on its abdomen.

The drone fly and honey bee are similar in size and both are floral visitors in their adult stages. However, the drone fly is quite distinguishable from a honey bee. The fly has large eyes, stubby antennae and one pair of wings.

The larvae of the drone fly is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, pooled manure piles and other polluted water.

Unlike a honey bee, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. The  fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as flower flies, hover flies and syrphids) and the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.

The case of mistaken identity can cause excruciating pain.  A journalist will spend half a day interviewing bee experts about bee health--investigating colony collapse disorder, malnutrition and Varroa mites--only to have a copy editor illustrate the prized bee story with a fly.  It's more horrific than Halloween.

Likewise, Facebook editors have been known to turn a fly into a bee faster than the beat of a wing. And photographers who know more about "F" stops than "H bees" post misindentified photos on Flickr or sell their mislabeled images to stock photo businesses.

The old saying, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck" doesn't ring true in "the drone bee vs. the honey bee" identity crisis.

If it looks like a bee, acts like a bee and buzzes like a bee, it may be...a drone fly.

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The
The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 9:03 PM

Have You Seen Me? A Tagged Monarch?

This Pacific Northwest-reared Monarch butterfly was found in San Mateo on Oct. 10. It had flown 330 miles in 10 days. (Photo by Albert Wong)
The next time you see a Monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.

It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.

James, an associate professor at Washington State University,  studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in  central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.

“There are currently more than 2000 monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the Northwest that are carrying tags and many of these I have good reason to believe are in the general Sacramento to San Francisco area," James said this week.

“Last Friday, Oct. 10, one of our tagged Monarchs was seen near San Mateo--this one was tagged 10 days earlier in Applegate, southern Oregon. It had flown 330 miles! Then a few weeks ago (Sept. 27) another was seen at Glen Ellen, Calif. This one had flown a whopping 600-plus miles from Yakima in central Washington."

James explained that “we have very little data to support the notion that they all fly to coastal California for overwintering. Before our project there was just a single tagged Monarch from Washington recovered in California. Recent observational evidence suggests that some PNW Monarchs fly in a more southerly-south-easterly direction, away from California and we speculate these may end up in Mexico! We have had one tag to date that supports this idea...a monarch released at Walla Walla turned up at Brigham City in Utah.”

Because the summer Monarch population in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho is so small, James and his team have had to resort to mass breeding of Monarchs for tagging.

“We obtain wild females in Washington and rear their progeny,” the entomologist said. “Much of the rearing is done by inmates at Walla Walla Penitentiary.” He described it as “a very successful program for the butterflies and the prisoners! “

James is also increasingly using citizen scientists to rear and tag as well. See more details of recent recoveries and information about the program at the program's Facebook page.

You don't need a professional camera to capture an image. James said that "the two California recoveries we have had so far were both confirmed by cell phones or regular cameras! This technology definitely aids recoveries. It's so easy to take a high quality 'snap' that can be used to determine the tag details."

“I am confident there are a number of tagged Monarchs currently in your area," James told us. "We are actually still releasing them here in Washington, so the opportunity to see one will persist for a few weeks yet. “

He figures they are "likely heading to the overwintering sites at Bolinas, Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove--maybe further south as well.”

So, if you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact: david_james@wsu.edu or the Facebook page.

For more information about the project, see WSU's Monarch Butterfly news story.

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)
Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch.  This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.
Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the  release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)
Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch  butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)
This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Bee BMP: 'A' for Communication

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Can you say "Bee BMP?"

That's a short-cut for "Bee Best Management Practices."

The Almond Board of California today unveiled its long-awaited "Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds."

It's an important document because it is aimed at protecting the honey bees that pollinate California's 900,000 acres of almonds. Last spring some 80,000 colonies died because pesticides reached them before the beekeepers did, that is, before the beekeepers could remove them from the orchards after pollination season. It amounted to a lack of communication.

The editors spelled out the importance of the document at the onset:

"Honey bees are essential for successful pollination of almonds and the long-term health of the California Almond industry. Why should almond growers — and all parties involved in almond pollination — care about healthy, strong bees? First, bees are a valuable resource and almond production input, and the time they spend in almonds impacts hive health throughout the year, from the time they leave almond orchards until they return the next season. Second, although almonds are only one of more than 90 foods that rely on pollination by bees, because of its size and number of bees needed, the California Almond industry is increasingly being watched by the public on matters related to the health and stability of honey bee populations. Of particular concern at this time is how to manage the use of pest control materials in ways that minimize their possible impact on honey bees. It is important that growers of all crops implement best management practices to support bee health, and for those whose crops rely on honey bee pollination, to consider honey bee health not only during the pollination season, but during the entire year."

The Bee BMP zeroed in on four key precautions:

1. Maintain clear communication among all parties involved, particularly on the specifics of pesticide application.
2. If it is necessary to spray the orchard, for instance with fungicides, do so in the late afternoon or evening.
3. Until more is known, avoid tank-mixing products during bloom.
4. Avoid applying insecticides during bloom until more is known about the effects on honey bees, particularly to young, developing bees in the hive. Fortunately, there are several insecticide application timing options other than bloom time treatments.

The document advocates that a clear chain of communication be established among all parties involved in pollination and pest management during almond bloom. This should definitely help prevent bee losses before, during and after the pollination season.

Three officials from the Almond Board of California did an excellent job editing the document and drawing input from the industries: 

  • Bob Curtis, associate director, Agricultural Affairs
  • Gabriele Ludwig, associate director, Environmental Affairs
  • Danielle Veenstra, specialist, Agricultural and Environmental Affairs

They received input from 10 contributing editors and reviewers: 

  • Gene Brandi, Gene Brandi Apiaries
  • Jackie Park-Burris, Jackie Park-Burris Queens
  • Orin Johnson, Johnson Apiaries
  • Gordon Wardell, director, Pollination Operations, Paramount Farming Company
  • George Farnsworth, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Karen Francone, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist retired, UC Davis
  • Thomas Steeger, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. EPA
  • CropLife America
  • Christi Heintz, Project Apis m.

You can download the document on the Almond Board of California website. (Look under "growers" at the top of the home page.)

Michael
Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Best Management Practices for Honey Bees

The Almond Board of California will unveil its Honey Bee Best Management Practices tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 16) in an ongoing effort to promote and protect bee health.

The board will do so by holding a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time with questions directed at Richard Waycott, CEO, Almond Board of California; 
Bob Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California
 and Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

It promises to be a comprehensive set of Best Management Practices or BMPs. Media members who wish to participate can access this page.

Remember last spring when beekeepers in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards reported losing 80,000 colonies?  Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site.

Mussen wrote about the issue in the March/April edition of his newsletter, from the UC apiaries, published on his website. We also blogged about it.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" Mussen asked. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."

Communication is key to a good BMP. The Almond Board recently published three informational pieces, “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,” "Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds,” and “Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds” (in English and Spanish).

The topics include:

  • Preparing for arrival
  • Assessing hive strength and quality
  • Protecting honey bees at bloom
  • Honey bees and insecticides
  • Honey bees and fungicides
  • Using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays
  • Honey bees and self-compatible almond varieties
  • Best management practices for pest control during almond bloom
  • Removing honey bees from the orchard
  • Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses
  • What to expect in an investigation

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), headed by Dennis van Engelsdorp, produced three short videos as the result of a 2012-2013 beekeeping survey.  Project Apis m (PAm) published some of the information online about varroa mites, nosema, honey bee nutrition and the like.

It's important for almond growers and beekeepers to keep the lines of communication open. Bees make a "bee line" toward the almond blossoms, but the growers and the beekeepers don't always make a timely "bee line" toward one another to resolve issues that surface.

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 9:26 PM

Go West, Young Monarch, Go West!

Westward, ho!

The western migration of the Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippusto their overwintering sites along the California coast is underway.

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, recorded four Monarchs at his Suisun monitoring site yesterday. He's been monitoring butterflies in Central California for some four decades.

This morning, a male Monarch fluttered into our yard to sip some nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (A distinguishing feature of the male Monarch: a  small black spot on each of its two hindwings. See photo below.)

Monarchs head for sites along the coast, including Santa Cruz, Monterey, Natural Bridges and Pacific Grove, to overwinter, Shapiro noted.

"There used to be a small site in Fairfield, near the old Juvenile Hall on West Texas Street, in a row of Eucalyptus. It's been gone for decades. Some years they try to overwinter in Marin and Sonoma counties, but usually give up and shift south in December. In the past few years there has been a little winter breeding on the south coast. This was never recorded before."

The migration of the Monarchs to overwintering sites in central Mexico is well-publicized, but some monarchs head for the California coast. According to the monarchwatch.org website, monarchs east of the continental divide generally migrate to central Mexico from as far away as Ontario, Canada. "Monarchs west of the divide fly to the coast of California to spend the winter. They cluster together on tree limbs during the winter months in California by the thousands, and in central Mexico by the millions."  (Download the PDF on the monarchwatch.org site.)

We're glad to see the huge national campaign to plant milkweed, the host plant of the Monarchs. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has posted a wealth of information on its website for us to take action. The Monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.

“Monarch butterflies are declining due to loss of habitat,” said Monarch Watch director Chip Taylor. “To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority.”

It also helps to provide nectar resources for the Monarchs to help them along in their migration. In our yard, they like the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and blue beard (Caryopteris × clandonensis). See list of Monarchs' favorite plants on the monarchwatch.org site.

Meanwhile, an occasional Monarch flutters into our family bee/butterfly garden to sip some nectar. Sometimes territorial native bees chase them away but the Monarchs return, determined to grab some flight fuel.

Westward, ho!

A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 5:37 PM

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