Let's Celebrate National Pollinator Week

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey June 14, 2019

A ceramic/mosaic sculpture, “Miss Bee Haven,” anchors the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. It is the work of self-described rock artist Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A ceramic/mosaic sculpture, “Miss Bee Haven,” anchors the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. It is the work of self-described rock artist Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey Bee Haven.jpg

Did you know that next week is National Pollinator Week?

It is. June 17-21 is the week set aside to celebrate pollinators and how we can protect them.

Actually, National Pollinator Week should be every day.

Launched 12 years ago under U.S. Senate approval,  National Pollinator Week zeroes in on the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, according to Pollinator Partnership, which manages the national celebration.  (Other pollinators include syrphid or hover flies, mosquitoes, moths, pollen wasps, and ants. Pollination involves the transfer of pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma.)

On the UC Davis campus, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be a "hive" of activity next week, announced manager Christine Casey, academic program management officer. "We'll be hosting National Pollinator Week events Monday through Friday, June 17 to 21, between 10 a.m. and noon each day." Activities include bee information and identification, solitary bee house making, and catch-and-release bee observation.

The haven volunteers also will sell bee friendly plants and bee houses to support the haven (cash and checks only).

A new event at the haven is hive opening. At 11:45 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, California Master Beekeeper Program volunteers will open the hive in the haven "so visitors may see the girls in action." The haven, installed in the fall of 2009,  is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It is open from dawn to dark, free admission.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is planning a free webinar Insect Apocalypse? What Is Really Happening, Why It Matters and How Natural Area Managers Can Help on Tuesday, June 18. The webinar, by Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society begins at noon, Eastern Time, which is 9 a.m., Pacific Time. 

Black says he will "explain the latest science on insect declines and highlight important ways natural areas managers can incorporate invertebrate conservation into their land management portfolio. Though they are indisputably the most important creatures on earth, invertebrates are in trouble. Recent regional reports and trends in biomonitoring suggest that insects are experiencing a multi continental crisis evident as reductions in abundance, diversity and biomass. Given the centrality of insects to terrestrial and freshwater aquatic ecosystems and the food chain that supports humans, the potential importance of this crisis cannot be overstated. If we hope to stem the losses of insect diversity and the services they provide, society must take steps at all levels to protect, restore and enhance habitat for insects across landscapes, from wildlands to farmlands to urban cores. Protecting and managing existing habitat is an essential step as natural areas can act as reservoirs for invertebrate diversity." Click here for more information and to register.

Happy Pollinator Week! Think the "b" alliteration: bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. But don't forget the flies, ants, mosquitoes and moths!

Visitors to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven can learn what to plant to attract pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Visitors to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven can learn what to plant to attract pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

"Honey Bees Are Superb Beekeepers; They Know What They're Doing."

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley     March 5, 2018

The Honey Bee Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing."

So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."

"And I mean everything."

 Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.

Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters.  They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.

It's survival by natural selection.

"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."

Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?

Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.

Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.

Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."

Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.

"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."

However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."

With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."

How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?

"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."

"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."

The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."

Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."

In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:

1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location 
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm 
3. Space colonies as widely as possible 
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"  
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb 
6. Keep the nest structure intact 
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter 
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa

He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)

Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250.  Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.

In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."

"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing," keynote speaker Tom Seeley tells the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey“EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies,” Cornell bee scientist Tom Seeley pointed out. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)“Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully,” keynote speaker Tom Seeley says. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Professor Neal Williams (left) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shares a laugh with keynote speaker Tom Seeley of Cornell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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