The State Fair: Bees, Butterflies and Sunflowers

Jul 26, 2013

Bees, butterflies and sunflowers at the California State Fair?


The state fair, which opened July 12 and ends July 28, is a good place to see a bee observation hive, honey bees on sunflowers, carpenter bees on petunias, and butterflies in the Insect Pavilion, aka Bug Barn.

If the purpose of a fair is to educate, inform and entertain, then that's what this fair does. A recent stop at the 160th annual fair provided a glimpse of what's going on in the entomological world--and what shouldn't be going on in the petunia patch.

At the California Foodstyles in the Expo Center, beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daughter, Rebekah Hough, urged folks to find the queen bee, worker bees and drones in the bee observation hive. Then the fairgoers sampled the honey.


At the Bug Barn, mounted butterflies drew "oohs" and "ahs." Just a few of the butterflies:  Monarchs, Western Tiger Swallowtails,  Great Purple Hairstreaks, Dusty-Winged Skippers, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, home of nearly eight million specimens, provided some of the butterflies.


Outside the Insect Pavilion, a garden thrived with tall-as-an-elephant's-eye sunflowers. Honey bees and sunflower bees buzzed among the heads--sunflower heads and fairgoers' heads.


The most disconcerting scene: teenagers screaming when they heard and saw the female Valley carpenter bees nectaring petunias. "Ick, big black bees!" said one as she quickly ran off.

"Carpenter bees," a middle-aged bystander commented dryly as she sauntered off to see the sturgeon display.

Another teenager approached the petunia patch, and she, too, bolted. "They're going to sting me!" she yelled.

It's rather sad that the first reaction on seeing bees in a flower bed is not "pollinator" or "pretty flowers"  or "pink petunias" but "sting."

When did "Big Fun" become "Big Scare?"