July 24, 2012
Today, we launched our latest Citizen Science project, ZomBee Watch, in partnership with San Francisco State University. Yes, that's right folks, we want you to become a real life ZomBee Hunter! To inspire you to do so, sit back and relax while I tell you this epic story of zombification!
Dead honey bee parasitized by the Zombie Fly.
Can you see the white maggot emerging from the neck region?
In the darkness of night zombified honey bees (ZomBees) abandon their hives and embark upon a flight of the living dead! These honey bees, Apis mellifera, have been infected by the Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, brethren of the nefarious ant-decapitating flies.
Female Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, 2.5 mm long
Photo courtesy of Brian Brown
It all starts when a Zombie Fly finds her way into a bee hive and lays her eggs inside of an unsuspecting bee. After a few days, the eggs hatch and the maggots slowly eat the bee from the inside out. Sensing something is amiss (really, really amiss), the ZomBee abandons its hive under the cover of darkness and "drunkenly" flies towards the light (no pun intended). The zombified bee, like real-life zombies, show symptoms of disorientation (not surprising, since the maggots may well have eaten one, if not all of their brains), such as walking in circles, the inability to stand on their legs, and a fair bit of staggering about.
After the sun rises, the stranded ZomBee slowly dies. Left undisturbed, about seven days later up to 13 maggots emerge, alien-like, from the ZomBee and pupate away from the now lifeless body.
ZomBeee with pupa
Photo thanks to John Hafernik, the scientist who discovered
that Zombie Flies are parasitzing honey bees
Zombie Fly parasitism is not new to science. We've known for a long time that these flies parasitize some of our native bumble bees and paper wasps. But now that Zombie Flies have been discovered "infecting" honey bees, scientists and beekeepers alike are concerned. How will this affect the honey bee? They have already been contending with such difficulties as Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa mites, and a plethora of other diseases and infections. Right now, we are waiting to see what the research shows us. How will this new threat affect the beekeepers’ livelihoods and our bee-dependent dinner plates?
Now that you’ve heard my gruesome tale, I am sure you are compelled, by all that is right and good, to become a ZomBee Hunter. For instructions on how to participate, check out our ZomBee Watch website.
Check out the discovery paper co-authored by Museum Curator of Entomology, Brian Brown
A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis
June 29, 2012
Last week, I collected the first garbanzo bean out of the Erika J. Glazer Family Home Garden. After showing the seed to some of my colleagues, who exclaimed, "Wow, that’s a garbanzo bean," I realized what a profound thing I was holding in my hand. From this tiny package an entire plant can spring, the potential for new life was right there in my hand.
Garbanzo bean close-up
To tell you more about this tiny seed I'll pass you over to Vanessa Vobis, one of our Gallery Interpreters that works in the garden.
Vanessa stopped working for a quick photo opp.
"When I look at garbanzo beans, Cicer arietinum, I think of humus, Indian dishes, and the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are legumes with a rich and nuanced history across many cultures. Over 7,500 year-old remains have been found in the Middle East; making garbanzo beans one of the oldest cultivated vegetables! Presently, India grows the most chickpeas in the world. These climbing vines grow to about 10-20 inches tall and the beans are a good source of zinc, protein, and fiber.
If we think rhyzomatically, like the way fungi create vast webs across forest floors, we realize we are part of that food web. A larvae chews on the leaves of a garbanzo plant, that plant feeds on the nutrients and minerals in the soil, and those nutrients are made accessible by the fungi, earthworms, and micro-organisms breaking down materials. The Home Garden is not just an edible landscape, it is also a functioning habitat that provides homes and food for countless other creatures. While the plants in the Home Garden are closely linked to what we eat, we have already begun to notice insects, birds, and even squirrels that have come to feast and forge relationships with our plants. We are especially welcoming of the bees because they help pollinate our flowers, and word on the street is that bees are responsible for pollinating every third bite of the food that we eat!"
Companion plantings to encourage pollinators
and other beneficial bugs in the garden.
Looking at this tiny bean and all the other ripening food in the Home Garden, there are many connections to be made. We can be awed by a seed's potential to spring forth new life, amazed at the intricate relationships plants and animals can have right in our own backyards, and be thankful for the sustenance a plant will give us at our next meal.
June 7, 2011
We here at the Museum really like bees, so much so that we are building them a hotel! This hotel will contain over 200 deluxe suites for native bees. We've specifically designed the hotel to accommodate various solitary bees found in L.A. We'll keep you posted as we see what moves in. Thanks to exhibit fabricator, Jerome Brown, the hotels are nearly ready to be put out in the Butterfly Pavilion yard.
Cedar log with pre-drilled bee holes
It seems that other bees have heard how luxurious our accommodations are and stopped by to check them out! Last Friday we got reports of a European honey bee, Apis mellifera, mass in one of the Magnolia trees on the west side of the Museum. Brent "the Bug Guy" Karner, went to check it out and took this picture below, thanks Brent!
Honey bees, Apis mellifera
This mass of bees is called a swarm and likely contains over 1,000 bees! Swarming is a natural part of a honey bee colony lifecycle and provides the colony with a means of reproducing. This is the season for seeing swarms, as colonies have increased in size and no longer comfortably fit in their nests. In preparation for this big move, the old queen lays eggs that will turn into new queens and she takes off with about half of the colony to find new a new home. If you come across a honey bee swarm, don't worry, since they are all adults with no nest to defend, they are not quick to sting.
May 26, 2011
I know you've seen a lot of still images from the Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans, nest, but I just had to share this footage. Honestly, it is too good not to post. At the beginning of the video you'll see one of the adults (hard to tell if it's the mom or dad, they both help to care for the nestlings) feeding a European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, to one of the young. This in and of itself is pretty awesome to see, but it gets even better! Remember the Bushtit post? I told you all about how some species of birds produce fecal sacs, to make it easier to keep the nest clean and disease free. Well, Black Phoebes also produce fecal sacs, and this video gives you an insight to this behavior. I'll let you judge for yourself whether you think it's gross, cool, or just plain interesting.