Search for first bumble bee of year kicks off Jan. 1

The black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus. (Kathy Keatley Garvey/Courtesy photo)

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By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Special to the Express

Wanted: the first bumble bee of the year in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano.

The third annual Robbin Thorp Memorial First-Bumble Bee-of-the-Year Contest will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1. The first person to photograph a bumble bee in the two-county area and email it to the sponsor, the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will receive a coffee cup designed with the endangered Franklin’s bumble bee, the bee that Thorp monitored on the California-Oregon border for decades.

Contest coordinator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum, said the image must be taken in the wild and emailed to, with the time, date and place.

The contest memorializes Professor Thorp (1933-2019), a global authority on bees and a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, who died June 7, 2019 at age 85. A 30-year member of the UC Davis faculty, he retired in 1994 but continued working until several weeks before his death. Every year he looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee in the area.

Two scientists shared the 2022 prize: UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. They each photographed a bumble bee foraging on manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in the 100-acre Arboretum at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1.

Page photographed a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, while Zagory captured an image of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii.

Fittingly, they both knew and worked with Thorp, a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation and the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).

This marked the second consecutive win for a member of the Williams lab. Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson of the Williams lab and the Elina Lastro Niño lab, won the 2021 contest by photographing a Bombus melanopygus at 3:10 p.m., Jan. 14 in a manzanita patch in the Arboretum.

The prized coffee cup features an image of the bee specimen, photographed by Bohart scientist Brennen Dyer, now collections manager, and designed by UC Davis doctoral alumnus Fran Keller, a professor at Folsom Lake College.

Previous winners are ineligible to win the prize.

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