Ask the Naturalist: Why Do Bees Clean Themselves?

Bay Nature  By Eric Mussen and Elina Nino   July 30, 2015

Photo: Dann Thombs/Flickr
Bay Nature’s marketing director had a recent experience with a very tidy-looking honeybee:

“I was sitting in my car this afternoon when I noticed a cute little bee on my windshield appearing to desperately clean something off itself. At first I thought, oh no, it fell into something and now it’s going to die from whatever contaminated it. I took a cup and put the bee inside, but it rebelled and flew out. When I returned home I googled it and learned that bees do this — clean off pollen, etc. — and especially their eyes before flying home to their hives!”

We decided to get to the bottom of this extraordinary bee behavior and reached out to Eric Mussen, an entomologist at the Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. He and colleague Elina Nino, an Extension apiculturist, sent in this explanation:

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Answer: The inside of a bee hive is considered to be a pretty clean environment. The bees produce honey there and we eat it. But, why are honey bees and their hive so clean? It is in their genes.

Honey bees are akin to animated robots that move around in their environment responding to stimuli with behaviors that have served them well for millions of years. Building wax combs to use for food storage and baby bee production allows the bees to keep tens of thousands of bees huddled close together. However, if any type of microbial outbreak occurs, all this closeness could lead to an epidemic and colony death.

The bees exhibit a behavior that deals with that problem. They collect resins from various plant sources. They return to the hive with these sticky masses where their sisters help to unload them. Beekeepers call this substance bee glue (propolis) because it is used to fill small cracks in the hive and cements the boxes together. It also is mixed with beeswax and used as a thin varnish to line the walls of the hives and sometimes portion of combs. Those resins have surprising antimicrobial properties that are effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. So, the bees are encased in a shell of antibiotics. Some have suggested that the inside of a hive is as clean as a hospital room, but we are not quite sure about that.

As for the bees themselves, it is common to see them using their legs or mouthparts to clean off other parts of their bodies. For bees, we might think that they are simply moving around or brushing off pollen that they picked up when foraging. However, honey bees live in a suit of armor called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is waterproof and protects the insects from invasive microbes. But bees also have to sense what is going on around them, so they have sensory receptors on the surface of their exoskeleton. The most obvious sensory organs on bees are their compound eyes. Honey bees can see objects, detect polarized sunlight, and have good color discrimination, similar to that of humans, but shifted a bit in the color spectrum. Bees wipe their eyes every so often to keep them clean. We humans have eye lids that keep our eyes clean and moist.

The rest of the sensory organs on the exoskeleton are sensilla (stiff hairs and protuberances) or pits that serve as sensory receptors. The tips of honey bees’ antennae have many touch receptors, odor receptors, and a special sensory organ called Johnston’s organ that tells them how fast they are flying. Other sensilla bend when the bee changes positions, so it remains aligned with gravity when it is building comb cells. Sensilla on a queen bee’s antennae help her determine the size of a comb cell, which determines if she lays a worker- or drone-destined egg. So, all those sensilla must remain dust and pollen-free to function properly, allowing bees to remain as busy as, well, bees.

Read at: https://baynature.org/articles/ask-the-naturalist-why-do-honeybees-clean-themselves/

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Federal Government Announces Plans To

Fox2News   By Tom Vacar  May 19, 2015

RICHMOND, Calif. (KTVU) - The alarming plunge in bee populations, with 40 percent fewer colonies than a year ago, now has the full attention and resources of the White House.

Whether it's due to bacteria, environmental disruptions, parasites, pesticides or the simple lack of food due to less things to pollinate, bees are dying in enormous numbers.

The federal government announced efforts Tuesday to support the bees that contribute mightily to the U.S. economy.

As they feed themselves, bees are responsible for pollinating 90 commercial crops from almonds to zucchini. They are critical to California agribusiness and consumers.

The White House announced plans to dedicate 7 million acres of federal land, a total acreage larger than the state of Oregon, to plant bee, monarch butterfly and other pollinator friendly plants.

Federal buildings and facilities will also be landscaped with bee friendly food source plants. The Administration also plans to vastly increase research money to get to the bottom of what's causing the die off.

Researchers, such as Elina Nino of the UC Davis Bee Lab, say farmers should plant bee friendly plants before and after their main crops. "They should be providing forage for the honey bees or other pollinators before and after the crop that the honey bees are pollinating," says Professor Nino. "It's also very important for the general public to do what they can to contribute to this," she says.

At Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond, water tolerant but bee friendly plants are emphasized because backyards and gardens can provide many millions more acres of pollinator friendly habitat. "We have, you know, the ability to have the diversity in our urban planted spaces too.

“A lot of agricultural stuff, it's one enormous crop," says Pixie Brownell, a bee and plant expert. He adds we can save the bees and our crops. "I think it's pretty easy. I think if you focus on making your planted spaces pollinator friendly, it kind of takes over for itself," says Pixie.

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A Gathering of Beekeepers: Follow That Buzz!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   October 21, 2014

Follow that buzz! 

When the California State Beekeepers' Association, founded in 1889, meets Nov. 18-20 in Valencia for its 2014 convention, it will mark a milestone: 125 years of beekeeping. Not so coincidentally, the theme is "Celebrating 125 Years of California Beekeeping."

And to think that California's first honey bees are "fairly new" newcomers: they didn't arrive in the Golden State (San Jose area) until 1853.

The conference promises to be educational, informative, timely and fun. "We will hear about things going on in the world of beekeeping on the local, state, and national levels," said CSBA president Bill Lewis, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and maintains 650 colonies of bees (Bill's Bees) with his wife, Liane, and business partner, Clyde Steese.

Topics range from “Keeping Bees Safe in Almonds" and “Land Trusts Working with Beekeepers," to "Mead Making" and "Urban Beekeeping, Beginner to Advanced."

Among the hot topics: Entomologist Reed Johnson of The Ohio State University will speak on  “The Effects of Bee Safe Insecticide" on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Biologist Thomas Seeley of Cornell University will speak on "Survivor Population of European Honey Bees Living Wild in New York State” at the research luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 20. He is also scheduled for two other talks, "Honeybee Democracy" (the title of one of his books) and "The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory," both on Nov. 20. In addition, speakers will address such topics as forage, land management, queen health, genetic diversity, and pests and diseases.

One of the featured presentations will be the richly illustrated documentary, "Almond Odyssey," a look at California's almond pollination season, the world's largest managed pollination event. The state's 900,000 acres of almonds draw beekeepers and their bees from all over the country.

The gathering of beekeepers will include multiple generations of family-owned commercial beekeeping operations, bee hobbyists, and those hoping to start their very first bee hive, Lewis says. They're there to learn the latest about beekeeping from world-renowned researchers and industry authorities. 

The University of California, Davis, is expected to be well represented. Amina Harris, director of theHoney and Pollination Center, UC Davis, will speak Wednesday, Nov. 19 on  “Honey Wheel” and “California Master Beekeeper." Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology serves as the organization's current apiculturist and parliamentarian (as well as a frequent speaker). He will introduce the new Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Nino in a Nov. 20th presentation titled "California Extension Apiculturist--Passing the Torch." (For a complete list of sessions and speaker biographies and to register for the conferene,  access the CSBA website.) 
 
CSBA's mission is to support and promote commercial beekeepers and pollination services in California's agricultural farmlands. Each year funds raised at the CSBA convention go to research. Researchers attend the conference and provide updates. They are in "the front lines of the bee health battle," Lewis noted.  

The conference (as well as membership in CSBA) is open to all interested persons.

  

 

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