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Bee My Valentine!

A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Remember receiving valentine cards that read "Bee My Valentine?" Well, every day can be Valentine's Day when there are bees in your garden. We...

A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Ooh, this nectar is good! The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, can't get enough of this salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ooh, this nectar is good! The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, can't get enough of this salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Ooh, this nectar is good! The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, can't get enough of this salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yes, I can
Yes, I can "bee" an acrobat when I want to "bee." A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, on a salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yes, I can "bee" an acrobat when I want to "bee." A yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, on a salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 12:45 PM

See Bugs, Bees and Nematodes on UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day

A six-foot-long mosaic and ceramic sculpture, Miss Beehaven, anchors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It is the work of Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It's going to be a long weekend, but it's a short one when you consider all the things you can do and see at the eighth annual UC Davis Biodiversity...

A six-foot-long mosaic and ceramic sculpture, Miss Beehaven, anchors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It is the work of Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A six-foot-long mosaic and ceramic sculpture, Miss Beehaven, anchors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It is the work of Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A six-foot-long mosaic and ceramic sculpture, Miss Beehaven, anchors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. It is the work of Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A colorful--and viable--bee hive at the  Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Bees don't usually fly until the temperature hits 55 degrees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A colorful--and viable--bee hive at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Bees don't usually fly until the temperature hits 55 degrees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A colorful--and viable--bee hive at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Bees don't usually fly until the temperature hits 55 degrees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis nematologist and graduate student Christopher Pagan (center) greets visitors at a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis nematologist and graduate student Christopher Pagan (center) greets visitors at a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis nematologist and graduate student Christopher Pagan (center) greets visitors at a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterflies are a popular attraction at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterflies are a popular attraction at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterflies are a popular attraction at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, visitors can hold the stick insects. This is a black velvet walking stick with red wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, visitors can hold the stick insects. This is a black velvet walking stick with red wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, visitors can hold the stick insects. This is a black velvet walking stick with red wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gratitude

I took advantage of a sunny afternoon to get out in the backyard.  Everything was still quite soggy from the recent rains. There were several chores to accomplish.  The grapevine needed pruning.  I wanted to gather flowers to make some arrangements for the house.  There was also a call for frost that evening so I thought I'd better harvest the remaining tangerines off my small potted tree.  The last chore for late afternoon/ early evening would be to spread my assortment of old sheets over my succulents and citrus to protect them.

While I was puttering around it struck me just how wonderful it was to be able to garden, outside, in February.  The television reports of the last few weeks of the Midwest and East Coast suffering from horrendously cold storms that brought temperatures plunging far below zero had been mesmerizing.  It almost seemed surreal to be outdoors surrounded by greenery.

I also realized that 2019 would mark thirty years of living in this house.  I have enjoyed watching the landscape grow and evolve over the years, changing from a barren lot to a lush (okay, some would say, overgrown) environment.  As a child, I was a military brat, moving every three years or so. Being in one spot has allowed me the experience of watching a tree grow from a skinny sapling to a mature shade-giving beauty. Our yard now welcomes birds, squirrels, amphibians and insects.  A morning frequently starts with a squirrel floor show. An afternoon may include aerial demonstrations by dragonflies or hummingbirds. The garden and its inhabitants have brought so much pleasure into our lives.

Another joy of being out in the garden has been capturing that beauty with photography.  The advent of smartphones with their built-in, simple to use, but powerful cameras have allowed even novices like me to take a decent picture. I thought I would share some of my favorites from the yard and garden this last year.

Stapelia is a striking plant, but other-worldly in appearance.  This variety of eggplant demonstrates how the plant got its name.  Orchid Cactus is always stunning in bloom.  The brilliant color of iris makes up for their short bloom time.

Batik iris. Photos by Karen Metz
Batik iris. Photos by Karen Metz

Eggplant.
Eggplant.

Iris and Geum.
Iris and Geum.

Orchid Cactus.
Orchid Cactus.

Stapelia.
Stapelia.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 9:40 AM

Tsetse Flies: Who Knew?

Close-up of a gravid tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans morsitans). (Photo by Geoffrey Attardo)

Did you read the article in today's New York Times about tsetse flies and the scientists who research them? Totally fascinating. Tsetse fly expert...

Close-up of a gravid tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans morsitans). (Photo by Geoffrey Attardo)
Close-up of a gravid tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans morsitans). (Photo by Geoffrey Attardo)

Close-up of a gravid tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans morsitans). (Photo by Geoffrey Attardo)

Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo in his office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo in his office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo in his office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Slug-Garden Pest and War Hero

It's almost spring. Once again, my plants are prey to slugs. Damp overcast yet warmer days provide the ideal environment for these slimy shell-less mollusks. Their stealth but obvious presence is unmistakable. Hiding by day, foraging by night slugs slide across the smooth leaves of succulents, chewing erratic holes. Up and over the daffodils they glide, nipping off tender petal tips and leaving behind their tell-tale silvery mucous trail. Most gardeners agree that slugs have little chance of redeeming their repulsive reputation.
 
But during World War I, this common but destructive garden pest saved countless American soldiers who themselves were falling prey to mustard gas. In 1917, when the Germans first used this deadly chemical weapon, troops had difficulty detecting it when entering a contaminated area or during a direct attack. The gas lingered in the trenches for days, especially during cold temperatures.
 
Hydrochloric acid is produced when mustard gas comes in contact with moisture. Lung membranes are damaged. Severe respiratory complications follow. Thousands of soldiers were either incapacitated or died from exposure, along with horses and dogs — the military working animals also stationed on the Western Front.
 
Then along came the slug — thanks to Dr. Paul Bartsch, a curator in the Division of Mollusks at the U.S. National Museum (currently the National Museum of Natural History). Curious why slugs (Limax maximus) in the furnace room of his home were sensitive to the fumes, he studied and tested their olfactory capabilities, discovering their extraordinary ability to protect the lung membrane by closing the breathing aperture. He also learned that their tentacles were so sensitive to smell they could detect the scent of fungi in gardens and in the woods.
 
According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Dr. Bartsch's slugs were three times more sensitive than humans to mustard gas, reacting at levels of one particle per 10-12 million by compressing their bodies and closing off their breathing pores, then surviving the gas attacks without a problem — unlike the often fatal response of humans, horses and dogs.
 
As a result, the U. S. Army in June of 1918, enlisted ordinary garden slugs to fight in the trenches. They were carried in by the troops. During their five-month tour of duty, these gas-detecting heroes saved thousands of lives by alerting soldiers to the presence of mustard gas. By observing the slugs' compressed bodies, soldiers could put on gas masks before they had any hint of this dangerous chemical weapon.
 
For further information on slugs, check out the following:
 
“Serpents, Slugs and Science: The Interesting Career of Paul Bartsch” at: 
https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/serpents-slugs-and-science-interesting-career-paul-bartsch

“Snails and Slugs,” Pest Notes, Publication 7427, at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PDF/PESTNOTES/pnsnailsslugs.pdf
Posted on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 9:39 AM

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