Sharing 'The Secret Life of Bees'

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey

"Where can kids learn beekeeping for free?" someone asked us last week.

One of the ways is through the 4-H Youth Development Program. Who can join 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands and which follows the motto, "making the best better?" It's open to all youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H representative. They develop leadership skills, engage in public speaking, and share what they've learned with other through presentations.

At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at Sierra K-8 School, Vacaville, 4-H'ers presented demonstrations, educational displays, illustrated talks, an improv,  and an interpretative reading.

The interpretative reading was about bees.

Kailey Mauldin, 15, a sixth-year 4-H'er and member of the Elmira 4-H Club, Vacaville, delivered an award-winning presentation on Sue Monk Kidd's New York Times'bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees. Kailey read and interpreted passages, and answered questions from evaluators JoAnn Brown, April George and Kelli Mummert.

Kailey related that the story is set in a fictitious rural town in South Carolina in 1964 during the civil rights era. Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens "has just run away from her abusive father named T-Ray," Kailey recounted. "Her mother passed away at an early age." In going though her mother's belongings, Lilly finds an address that leads her to a farm where she meets three sisters, May, June and August, strong African-American women who run a beekeeping business.

Kailey read several passages about Lily's first experience with bees. The book is in Lily's voice.

August, opening a hive, tells Lily: “Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She's the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don't care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She's the mother of thousands.”

The way the bees poured out, rushing up all of a sudden in spirals of chaos and noise caused me to jump.

“Don't move an inch,” said August. “Remember what I told you. Don't be scared.”

A bee flew straight at my forehead, collided with the net, and bumped against my skin.

“She's giving you a little warning,” August said. “When they bump your forehead, they're saying I've got my eye on you, so you be careful. Send them love and everything will be fine."

I love you, I love you, I said in my head. I LOVE YOU. I tried to say it 32 different ways...

Eventually, Lily experiences "a frenzy of love" as the bees seem to say: "Look who's here, it's Lily. She is so weary and lost. Come on, bee sisters."

Interpreting the passages she'd just read, Kailey said: "I learned all bees have mothers and that love isn't who or what, it is now...The way they took her (Lily) in, that was love. Love is everywhere."

Kailey isn't enrolled in a 4-H beekeeping project--yet.

(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño offers beekeeping classes at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. See website.)

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Our 'Bee-Eye Camera' Helps Us Support Bees, Grow Food And Protect The Environment

To help draw bees’ attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. Credit:  Shutterstock

To help draw bees’ attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. Credit: Shutterstock

Walking through our gardens in Australia, we may not realise that buzzing around us is one of our greatest natural resources. Bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of food for human consumption, and data on crop production suggests that bees contribute more than US$235 billion to the global economy each year.

By pollinating native and non-native plants, including many ornamental species, honeybees and Australian native bees also play an essential role in creating healthy communities – from urban parks to backyard gardens.

Despite their importance to human and environmental health, it is amazing how little we know how about our hard working insect friends actually see the world.

By learning how bees see and make decisions, it's possible to improve our understanding of how best to work with bees to manage our essential resources.

How bee vision differs from human vision

A new documentary on ABC TV, The Great Australian Bee Challenge, is teaching everyday Australians all about bees. In it, we conducted an experiment to demonstrate how bees use their amazing eyes to find complex shapes in flowers, or even human faces.

Humans use the lens in our eye to focus light onto our retina, resulting in a sharp image. By contrast, insects like bees use a compound eye that is made up of many light-guiding tubes called ommatidia.

Insects in the city: a honeybee forages in the heart of Sydney. Credit: Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Insects in the city: a honeybee forages in the heart of Sydney. Credit: Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

The top of each ommatidia is called a facet. In each of a bees' two compound eyes, there are about 5000 different ommatidia, each funnelling part of the scene towards specialised sensors to enable visual perception by the bee brain.

Since each ommatidia carries limited information about a scene due to the physics of light, the resulting composite image is relatively "grainy" compared to human vision. The problem of reduced visual sharpness poses a challenge for bees trying to find flowers at a distance.

To help draw bees' attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. We may find them beautiful, but flowers haven't evolved for our eyes. In fact, the strongest signals appeal to a bee's ability to perceive mixtures of ultraviolet, blue and green light.

Building a bee eye camera

Despite all of our research, it can still be hard to imagine how a bee sees.

How we see fine detail with our eyes, and how a bee eye camera views the same information at a distance of about 15cm. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

How we see fine detail with our eyes, and how a bee eye camera views the same information at a distance of about 15cm. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

So to help people (including ourselves) visualise what the world looks like to a bee, we built a special, bio-inspired "bee-eye" camera that mimics the optical principles of the bee compound eye by using about 5000 drinking straws. Each straw views just one part of a scene, but the array of straws allows all parts of the scene to be projected onto a piece of tracing paper.

The resulting image can then be captured using a digital camera. This project can be constructed by school age children, and easily be assembled multiple times to enable insights into how bees see our world.

Because bees can be trained to learn visual targets, we know that our device does a good job of mimicking a bees visual acuity.

Student projects can explore the interesting nexus between science, photography and art to show how bees see different things, like carrots – which are an important part of our diet and which require bees for the efficient production of seeds.

Yellow flower (Gelsemium sempervirens) as it appears to our eye, as taken through a UV sensitive camera, and how it likely appears to a bee. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Yellow flower (Gelsemium sempervirens) as it appears to our eye, as taken through a UV sensitive camera, and how it likely appears to a bee. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Understanding bee vision helps us protect bees

Bees need flowers to live, and we need bees to pollinate our crops. Understanding bee vision can help us better support our buzzy friends and the critical pollination services they provide.

In nature, it appears that flowers often bloom in communities, using combined cues like colour and scent to help important pollinators find the area with the best resources.

Having lots of flowers blooming together attracts pollinators in much the same way that boxing day sales attract consumers to a shopping centre. Shops are better together, even though they are in competition – the same may be true for flowers!

This suggests that there is unlikely to be one flower that is "best" for bees. The solution for better supporting bees is to incorporate as many flowers as possible – both native and non native – in the environment. Basically: if you plant it, they will come.

We are only starting to understand how bees see and perceive our shared world – including art styles – and the more we know, the better we can protect and encourage our essential insect partners.

How a bee eye camera works by only passing the constructive rays of light to form an image. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

How a bee eye camera works by only passing the constructive rays of light to form an image. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Clip from “The Great Australian Bee Challenge, Episode 2.

Looking at the fruits and vegetables of bee pollination; a bee camera eye view of carrots. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Looking at the fruits and vegetables of bee pollination; a bee camera eye view of carrots. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

It's Time to Revisit the 13 Days of Christmas!

Eric Mussen, Extension emeritus (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen, Extension emeritus (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey December 16, 2018

It's time to revisit the "13 Bugs of Christmas!"

Back in 2010, two innovators with the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) decided that "The 12 Days of Christmas" ought to be replaced with insects.

Remember that iconic song, "The 12 Days of Christmas?" Published in 1780, it begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree?" Eleven more gifts follow: "2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, 4 calling birds, 5 gold rings, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans-a-swimming, 8 maids a'milking, 9 ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping."

The two innovators--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (with the department from 1976-2014 and now emeritus) and yours truly (with the department since 2005)--decided that "5 gold rings" ought to be "five golden bees." The duo also figured that varroa mites, and other pests of California agriculture, should be spotlighted. Don't know what happened to the varroa mites! Hey, Eric, where did you put the varroa mites?

They penned the lyrics for the department's holiday gathering. Then Mussen, who sings with a Davis-based doo wopp group, led the department in song.

That was supposed to be the end of it. Not so. It went viral when U.S. News picked it up.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see: 13 Kaphra beetles, 12 Diaprepes weevils, 11 citrus psyllids,
10 Tropilaelaps clareae, 9 melon fruit flies, 8 Aedes aegypti, 7 ash tree borers, 6 six spotted-wing Drosophila, 5 five gypsy moths, 4 Japanese beetles, 3 imported fire ants, 2 brown apple moths, and a medfly in a pear tree."

Mussen, although retired in 2014, keeps bee-sy. A co-founder of Western Apicultural Society (WAS), he completed his sixth term as president in 2017. WAS, which serves the educational needs of beekeepers from 13 states, plus parts of Canada, was founded in 1977-78 for “the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America."

Mussen also continues to answer bee questions from his office in Briggs Hall and recently updated the "13 Bugs of Christmas" lyrics with some more agricultural pests:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
One the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two peach fruit flies
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three false codling moths
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four peach fruit flies
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gypsy moths
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six white striped fruit flies
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven imported fire ants
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight longhorn beetles
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine melon fruit flies
On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten brown apple moths
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven citrus psyllids
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve guava fruit flies.
On the 13th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, thirteen Japanese beetles

You're welcome.

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees.” This is one of them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees.” This is one of them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Varroa mite on a honey bee—not something beekeepers want to see on their bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Varroa mite on a honey bee—not something beekeepers want to see on their bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen bee with her retinue, “On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 queen bees piping.” (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen bee with her retinue, “On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 queen bees piping.” (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)