It's Tough Being a Bee During the Spring-like Rains

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    March 14, 2018

It's tough being a bee--especially when you have work to do and the rain won't let you out of your hive.

But when there's a sun break, it's gangbusters.

To put it in alliteration, we spotted a bevy of boisterous bees networking in the nectarine blossoms in between the springlike rains this week. What a treat!

Nectarines are a favorite fruit of California and beyond.  In fact, according to the UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research and Information website, "California leads the nation in production of peach and nectarine (Prunus persica). In 2013, 24,000 acres of California clingstone peaches produced a crop of 368,000 tons of fruit valued at $133,865,000; 22,000 acres of California freestone peaches produced a crop of 280,000 tons valued at $144,418,000. This California crop of 648,000 tons represents 70% of the national peach production. Nectarines on 18,000 acres in the state produced a crop of 150,000 tons with a value of $117,000,000.(USDA 2014),"

Some folks prefer the necatarine over a peach.  A nectarine or "fuzzless" peach tends to have sweeter flesh than the more acidic peach, according to the Fruit and Nut Research and Information website. "The lack of pubescent skin is the result of a recessive gene. Nectarine gained popularity in the 1950's when breeding allowed for firmer flesh and better post-harvest handling and longevity."

The foraging bees don't care whether the blossoms are nectarine or peach.

It's food for the hive. 

A honey bee pollinating a nectarine blossom in Vacaville, CA. Photo: (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)A foraging honey bee takes a liking to a nectarine blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bees Use a Variety of Senses and Memory of Previous Experiences to Forage for Pollen, Research Suggests

CATCH THE BUZZ-Bee Culture    By Elizabeth Nicholls    November 28, 2016

A honey bee foraging for pollen. Credit: Dr. Elizabeth NichollsBees use a variety of senses and memory of previous experiences when deciding where to forage for pollen, research by the University of Exeter suggests.

The researchers believe pollen-collecting bees do not base their foraging decisions on taste alone, but instead make an “overall sensory assessment” of their experience at a particular flower.

Bees typically do not eat pollen when they collect it from flowers, but carry it back to the nest via special “sacs” on their legs or hairs on their body.

This makes it difficult to understand how bees judge whether the pollen a flower produces is nutritious enough for their young.

Indeed, researchers have been puzzled for a long time as to what exactly bees look for when they collect pollen from flowers.

Co-author Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, expert in insect neuroethology at Exeter’s Center for Research in Animal Behavior, said: “It seems that bees don’t just respond to a single nutritional compound in pollen, such as crude protein content, but to a range of sensory cues in pollen and flowers.

“They also form memories for locations and types of flowers that they have visited which affect their foraging decisions.

“We need more research that considers the behavior and neurobiology of bees to understand when and why they prefer some plants and some pollen over others.

“A breakthrough in this area could advance our efforts in both biodiversity conservation and crop production.”

The review, published in the journal Functional Ecology, examines existing evidence on how bees use their senses, previous experience and — in the case of social bees — feedback from the nest to decide where to gather pollen.

First author Dr Elizabeth Nicholls, a former PhD student at the University of Exeter and now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, said: “Our review is unique in considering pollen foraging from an individual bee’s perspective, asking which senses bees use to decide which flowers are worth visiting.

“In our review we suggest that although bees may taste pollen during collection and use this nutritional information to guide their choices, they are also likely to pay attention to the strong odor and visual appearance of both pollen and the flower itself.

“For bees that live together in colonies, information passed on from the other bees in the nest, either via chemical cues or even special ‘dances’, may also be important in influencing their pollen-collecting behavior.”

The University of Exeter is a major hub for bee and pollination research and currently advertising several postgraduate research projects.

U.N. Warns the Declining Bee Population Is Going to Devastate Our Food Supply

Huffington Post Blog - Huff Green  By Clint Rainey    March 1, 2016

(Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa/Corbis)It's no secret that the world's bees are dying off  in alarming numbers, but sometimes it's worth remembering what's at stake beyond just hot toddies and a topping for biscuits, and the U.N. Friday has just the thing: A new report by the organization warns that if the disturbing trend continues, there will be awful consequences for the world's food supply.

The number of "pollinators" -- a group composed of roughly 20,000 flying creatures -- is shrinking rapidly worldwide, putting "hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of crops each year" at risk, according to the report, which took two years to compile and is the first of its kind. It says that two out of five species of invertebrate pollinators (primarily bees, but butterflies and other insects, too) now face extinction, and one in six of the vertebrate pollinators (birds) do as well.

The report amounts to a pretty serious downer because it reiterates how baffling these mass die-offs remain, then directly links their existence to food shortages down the road. No one's sure who or what to blame because there are too many options -- pesticides, global warming, disease, so-called "habitat loss" caused by deforestation and urban sprawl, even modern farming itself, which is reducing the biodiversity pollinators use for food. One of the authors lays it out: "Everything falls apart if you take pollinators out of the game. If we want to say we can feed the world in 2050, pollinators are going to be part of that."

U.N. researchers suggest making a handful of "relatively simple, relatively inexpensive" moves -- common-sense things like not devoting the majority of farmland to corn and soy, and using fewer toxic chemicals to grow crops, a move the FDA seems to be getting behind already.

When Varroa Mites Hitch a Ride

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   March 1, 2016

Varroa mite on a honey bee (drone) pupa. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Those blood-sucking varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers. In powerful numbers and weakened colonies, they can overwhelm and collapse a hive.

We remember seeing a varroa mite attached to a foraging honey bee one warm summer day in our pollinator garden. The mite was feeding off the bee and the bee was feeding on the nectar of a lavender blossom.

Didn't seem fair.

We've never seen a varroa mite on bumble bees or carpenter bees, but Davis photographer Allan Jones has--and he's photographed them. (See below)

When varroa mites tumble off a honey bee and into a blossom, they can hitch a ride on other insects, such as bumble bees and carpenter bees.

"Varroa have been recorded hitching rides on bumble bees and yellowjackets," observed native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. "Varroa have been reported as feeding on larvae of these and other critters--but not successfully reproducing on them.  Also bumble bees and yellowjackets typically overwinter as hibernating queens not as perennial colonies like honey bees.  Thus they are not suitable hosts for Varroa."

Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen says that bees other than honey bees aren't reproductive hosts for the varroa mite.

"As far as I know, Varroa destructor may be able to find soft areas of the exoskeleton of insects other than honey bees and feed on them," he says. "I have no idea whether or not the substitute hemolymph would sustain the mites for very long.  The mites have practically no digestive capabilities.  They simply utilize the previously-synthesized bee blood, to which they seem to be perfectly adapted."

 "Since the mites reproduce on honey bee pupae, there are a number of considerations about potential other reproductive hosts," Mussen said, citing:

  1.  Are the nutrients of the substitute host close enough to those of honey bees to support immature mite development? 
  2. Can immature mites that develop properly at honey bee cell environmental conditions (temperature and relative humidity) find a similar environment in the nests of other insects? 
  3. Do other insects tolerate the presence of mites on their bodies or in their brood nests?

Like honey bees, bumble bees do segregate their pupae in single cells, Mussen says, but he was unable to find any studies devoted to whether bumble bee pupal conditions support Varroa destructorreproduction.

Sounds like a good research project!

A varroa mite attached to a honey bee forager. It's the reddish brown spot near the wing. The bee is foraging on lavender. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Apprehenders of Bee Thief Rewarded!

CSBA Bee Times June 2015

Apprehenders of Bee Thief Rewarded! 

At the  5/15/15 CSBA board meeting, the Board of Directors presented $1,000 rewards to Dre Castano and Vincent Perez, employees of Rank Investigations - Protection, for their efforts which led to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of an attempted theft of Orin Johnson's bee colonies.  

Mr. Castano, who was off duty at the time, noted irregular activity on the road near the golf course protected by his company, investigated this activity and caught the thief red-handed. Having called for backup, Mr. Castano was joined by Mr. Perez. Together with Orin, they restored the colonies to their proper location and detained the thief until police arrived and arrested him. They went above and beyond the call of duty to their company, which had no obligation to protect Orin's property.  

This is one of the very few instances in which a bee thief has been not only caught but convicted! We are all very thankful to Mr. Castano and Mr. Perez and hope that would-be bee colony thieves will take notice.

Inside the Wonderful World of Bee Cognition

American Scientific    By Felicity Muth  April 20, 2015

A bumblebee drinks sugar water from an artificial flower and learns to return to yellow flowers in the future. Credit: Caroline StrangAs I wrote about in my last post, bees are capable of learning which flowers offer good nectar rewards based on floral features such as colour, smell, shape, texture, pattern, temperature and electric charge. They do this through associative learning: learning that a ‘conditioned stimulus’ (for example, the colour yellow) is associated with an ‘unconditioned stimulus’ (nectar). Learning simple associations like these is the basis of all learning – pretty much all animals do it, from humans to the sea slug which doesn’t even have a brain.

However, the world is rarely as simple as this and so animals need to be flexible. For example, as humans we might learn that if we put our bank card in a machine and enter a pin number we can obtain money. However, we might also have to learn that we can only access the bank machine inside the bank during particular hours, or that if we travel to another country their bank machines might operate differently. Therefore we need some behavioural flexibility around what we’ve learned. The same is true for bees. In a bee’s world, much of what she learns relates to getting food from flowers. However, it won’t always be as simple as ‘blue flowers have better nectar than yellow rewards’. Instead a bee might have to learn ‘blue flowers have better nectar than yellow flowers, but only in the morning’ or ‘this particular species of blue flower which also has a specific smell has better nectar than yellow flowers, but another species of blue flower has worse nectar’.

Honeybees can learn that two separate stimuli (i.e. yellow checkers and blue checkers) are good but that the combination isn't good

Honeybees can indeed learn more complex relationships like this. This has been shown in many different experiments using different protocols and in different contexts. For example, bees can be trained that an artificial flower which has a blue checkered pattern has good nectar rewards, and one with a yellow checkered pattern has good nectar rewards but a combination of the two (blue and yellow checkered) is not good. They can also be trained to the reverse (that the combination of the two stimuli is good, but that either by themselves is not good). Similarly, honeybees can be trained that only very particular combinations of stimuli are good; i.e. A and B together are good, and C and D together are good, but any other combination (e.g. A and C or B and D) are not good. The list of other complex relationships bees can learn is seemingly endless, but other impressive feats include honeybees’ ability to learn that rewards can be found in a specific location only at one particular time of day and that bumblebees can learn that the location of nectar alternates between two available options and solve physical problems

However, honeybees’ and bumblebees’ cognitive abilities go beyond these examples of simply learning about their worlds, be it under a number of complex conditions. One excellent study showed that bees could actually form abstract concepts about their world. Having an abstract concept is the ability to understand a general fact about the way things are and to being able to generalise that fact to new situations you might encounter, as opposed to learning relationships that only hold in one particular situation. As humans, we form abstract concepts about the world all the time, generalising from one situation to another. For example, one concept we form about the world is the concept of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’. If we were having dinner together and I asked you if you’d like ‘more of the same’, you would understand that if we had just been eating pasta that I was offering you more pasta. In another, totally different situation, say we’re operating on someone together and I ask you to pass me ‘the same instrument for stitching people closed that you just gave me a minute ago’ (I’m not sure why any doctor would ever phrase it this way; but let’s just suppose that they don’t have a great memory for medical instrument names), you would understand that you needed to pass me another needle. Therefore, you have the ability to take the concept of ‘sameness’ and use it in two totally different situations. But how would you go about asking a bee if she can do the same thing?

How do you test for abstract concepts in bees?

Researchers did this through a cleverly thought-out experiment. First they trained a bee that if she saw a particular colour (say, blue) then when she was later given a choice between blue and yellow, blue always had nectar whereas yellow did not (stages 1 and 2 on the diagram). Similarly, she was trained that if she saw yellow then when she was later given a choice, she had to choose yellow to get the reward (steps 3 and 4 on the diagram). Therefore, she always had to go to the same colour as the one she had previously seen to get the reward. The bees learned this without much difficulty. However, at this point it’s not clear whether the bee had actually learned the concept of ‘sameness’ or instead had just learned a rule for this one situation (e.g. ‘I go to yellow to get a reward when I see yellow and I go to blue to get a reward when I see blue’). To test whether the bees had actually learned the concept of ‘same’, the researchers then presented the bee with a new stimulus, one she had never seen before. This time it was a pattern: black and white horizontal stripes. The bee was then given a ‘transfer test’; a choice between a black and white striped horizontal pattern or a vertical pattern. If the bee had learned the rule ‘when I see a stimulus I then need to choose the same stimulus to get a reward’ (i.e. the concept of ‘same’) then she should fly to the horizontal stripes pattern (steps 5 and 6 on the diagram). This is indeed what the majority of bees did. Another group of bees were trained only to black and white horizontal patterns and then given transfer tests using blue and yellow colours; these bees also showed that they had learned the concept of ‘same’ by going to the correct colour. Now, the really cool part of this experiment was that the researchers then gave a new set of bees stimuli in a totally different modality: scent. Bees were trained that when they smelled a particular odour, they had to go to the same odour to get a reward. They were then given a transfer test in colour, and the bees transferred their knowledge to this new context, going to the ‘correct’ colour even though they had never been trained with colour before. In another set of bees, individuals were trained to go to the different stimulus to the one they had just seen before being given a transfer test, and their choices showed that they were also able to learn the concept of ‘difference’.

Bumblebee on flower. Credit: jinterwasAfter I tell people about some of these impressive cognitive abilities that bees have, another question that I often get asked is, ‘OK, so if bees are so smart, then why do they always fly into windows?’. I hope from what you’ve read in these two posts you can appreciate that when you want to ask a question of a bee you have to frame it in a way that the bee ‘understands’. If we were to ask a human a question, we could use language, to ask a bee a question, you generally use stimuli that represent flowers and nectar. Like all animals, the cognitive abilities of bees have been selected by natural selection to make the bee as good as possible at learning about things that it needs to know about its environment. This includes many complex relationships about how to get the best food from flowers, but sadly, doesn’t include the ability of how to best navigate windows.

Read at:


Clarke, Dominic, Heather Whitney, Gregory Sutton, and Daniel Robert. 2013. “Detection and Learning of Floral Electric Fields by Bumblebees.” Science (New York, N.Y.) 340(6128): 66–69.
Dyer, Adrian G et al. 2006. “Behavioural Ecology: Bees Associate Warmth with Floral Colour.” Nature 442(7102): 525.
Von Frisch, K. 1956. Bees; their vision, chemical senses, and language. Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press.
Von Frisch, K. 1967. The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Giurfa, M., Zhang, S., Jenett, A., Menzel, R., & Srinivasan, M. V. (2001). The concepts of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ in an insect. Nature410(6831), 930-933.
Pahl, M., Zhu, H., Pix, W., Tautz, J., & Zhang, S. (2007). Circadian timed episodic-like memory–a bee knows what to do when, and also where. The Journal of experimental biology210(20), 3559-3567.
Schubert, Marco, Harald Lachnit, Silvia Francucci, and Martin Giurfa. 2002. “Nonelemental Visual Learning in Honeybees.” Animal Behaviour 64(2): 175–84.
Strang, C. G., & Sherry, D. F. (2014). Serial reversal learning in bumblebees (Bombus impatiens). Animal cognition, 17(3), 723-734.

Cutting the Mustard

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   February 16, 2015

"Spring is the busiest time of year for honey bees,  and their keepers, whether the operation is in the desert uplands of southern Arizona, the citrus groves of Florida, or the apple orchards of Washington state," writes entomologist/bee expert Stephen "Steve" Buchmann in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive.

So true.

Lately we've been watching honey bees collecting pollen from mustard, Brassica. The amount of pollen they collect is truly amazing. Each honey bee colony collects an average of 20 to 40 pounds a year, Buchmann writes. 

Buchmann, the author of The Forgotten Pollinators, The Bee Tree, and other books, will soon release his next book, The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, in July.  Buchmann, an adjunct professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Entomology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson,  and scientist-at-large for the Pollinator Partnership, San Francisco, received his doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis. He studied with major professor/native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, now a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Buchmann's dissertation was on buzz pollination.

There's an old saying "to cut the mustard," meaning that someone is good enough or effective enough for a task.

The meaning probably originated from the military term "pass muster," but with honey bees, they're not only good at passing the muster and foraging in the mustard, they excel.

Read at...

Bee Mine

Bug Squad   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   February 14, 2015

How to celebrate Valentine's Day?

Well, without pollinators, we wouldn't be celebrating Valentine's Day as we know it.

That box of chocolates? Give thanks to the midges that pollinated the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. 

That bouquet of mixed flowers? Honey bees probably visited them before they were gifted to you. Among honey bee favorites are lavenders, mints, sunflowers, asters, basil, rosemary and the like.

That candle on your dining room table or fireplace? It may be made of beeswax, provided by the bees.

But to paraphase John F. Kennedy, it shouldn't be about what bees can do for us; it should be what we can do for the bees. Two of the nicest things we can do are to (1) plant a bee friendly garden, offering a diversity of their favorite seasonal plants,  (2) avoid pesticides and (3) learn about the bees around us and their needs.

You can learn how to attract pollinators at a workshop set March 28 on the UC Davis campus. That's when the California Center for Urban Horticulture is sponsoring "Your Sustainable Backyard: Creating a Living Landscape." Registration is underway.

Another perfect gift for Valentine's Day is the newly published  California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardener and Naturalists (Heyday), the work of Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Gretchen Ertier, all with UC Berkeley connections, and one with a UC Berkeley/UC Davis connection. That would be native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley.

As the authors point out, California is home to some 1600 species of bees. In their must-have book, they describe bee  behavior, social structure, flight season, preferred flowers, and natural enemies. They offer "recipes" for bee gardens and list how you can become involved with projects that protect bees and promote public awareness.

Can't you just hear the bees communicating "Bee Mine?"

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Give Her Some Space

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    February 12, 2015

If you see a news story about "honey bees" in a newspaper or magazine, odds are you'll see it spelled as one word,  "honeybees."   

That's because the Associated Press Stylebook, the journalists' "bible," spells it that way. So do dictionaries.

However, in the entomological world, that's incorrect. "Honey bee" is two words because it's a true bee, just like "bumble bee." Similarly, you wouldn't spell "dragonfly" as "dragon fly" because a dragonfly is not a fly.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) governs the worldwide references to insects in its Common Names of Insects. If you want to know the common name, scientific name, order, family, genus, species and author, the ESA database provides it. Type in a name and a drop-down menu appears. Find the honey bee!

Common name: Honey bee
Scientific name: Apis mellifera Linnaeus
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus: Apis
pecies: mellifera
Author: Linnaeus

Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology writes about the misspelling in the Kids' Corner of her recent newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. "Since starting my new job at UC Davis, I have been corrected a few times for spelling 'honey bee' as two words rather than 'honeybee,'  a single  word. What  do you think: which one is more appropriate?"

She goes on to explain why "honey bee" is accurate. "Honey bees belong to an order of insects (a group of insects that have several similar features) named Hymenoptera which contains bees, wasps, sawflies and ants. You might even say  they  are  'true'  bees  and  therefore, should be spelled as two words." 

In an article published in a 2004 edition of Entomology Today, the Entomological Society of America's communications program manager Richard Levine acknowledges that "Writing insect names using American English can be difficult. Some species have different names depending on where you are, or with whom you are speaking (think 'ladybug' or 'ladybird' or 'lady beetle'). More often than not, an insect may not even have an official common name because out of the million or so insects that have been discovered and described, only a couple of thousand have been designated with common names by the Entomological Society of America (ESA)."

"To make matters worse," Levine writes, "even the ones that DO have official common names — ones that we see nearly every day — may have different spellings depending on whether they appear in scientific publications or other print media, such as newspapers or magazines."

So the "bible" of journalists--or what the Associated Press sanctions and governs--does not always agree with the scientific "bible" of the entomological community--or what ESA sanctions and governs.

"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs," Levine points out. "For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word."

As an aside, we wonder if the controversy over the spelling of "honey bee" extends to spelling bees. Would judges eliminate someone for spelling "honey bee" with a space in between? "H-O-N-E-Y (space) B-E-E?"

Still, things can and do change. For years, the AP Stylebook editors insisted that "under take" is two words, not one. They've relented now, and it's one word, "undertake." Glory bee!

Will the AP Stylebook follow the ESA's Common Names of Insects and decide it's "honey bee,"  not "honeybee?"  Will the AP Stylebook give the honey bee some space? Just a little space?

Stay tuned. Or stay buzzed.

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Matadors in the Champagne Bubbles

Bug Squad      By Kathy Keatley Garvey    November 11, 2014

A honey bee gathering pollen. In the foreground, a freeloader fly. (Photo Kathy Keatley Garvey)It's cool how honey bees and syrphid flies gravitate toward the Iceland Poppy.

It's a winter plant, and frankly, there isn't much to eat out there.

The Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule), a bowl-shaped, papery flower, fills the bill.

The name is a misnomer. It's not native to Iceland. It's from the cooler regions of Europe, Asia and North America, and the mountains of Central Asia. Botanists first described it in 1759.

Like all poppies, they're... 


Fines Totaling $16,000 Issued for Pesticide Applicator and Company Role in Bee Deaths

Beyond Pesticides           November 12, 2014

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has issued two civil penalties totaling $16,000 in connection with a pesticide application of imidacloprid, a chemical in the neonicotinoid class of insecticides connected to widespread bee decline, this summer that resulted in the death of nearly 1,000 bees at a Eugene apartment complex. Although ODA is taking actions to address pollinator protection, the frequent and continued occurrence of pesticide-related bee deaths indicates that current laws still fall woefully short of preventing these incidences.


Bees 'n Blooms

Bug Squad     By Kathy Keatley Garvey   October 21, 2014

Add "California" to it and you have California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.

It's a book that's well-planned, well-executed, well-written and well-photographed.

Bees are hungry. What plants will attract them? How can you entice them to your garden and encourage them not only to visit but to live there?

The book, the first of...



Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey  July 18, 2014

Just one word--stems.

Bees forage on the lavender in our bee yard, but sometimes you'll see them on the stems.

Male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis, sleep together on the stems and it's fascinating to watch them stir in the early morning, wiggle around, and then buzz off--usually to dive-bomb any critter that's foraging on "their" flowers that they're saving for the females of their species.

But every once in a while, an early riser, a honey bee, will...


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Bee Stings at Picnic Time

The Daily Mail    By Dick Johnson for Columbia-Green Media   June 24, 2014

Fourth of July is traditional picnic time. Among the uninvited picnic guests it’s likely to see some yellow jackets. Unlike gentle honeybees that are vegetarians, the aggressive yellow jackets are carnivores and feed on other insects. This is why they show up just at the time that the delicious aroma of hot dogs and hamburgers floats in the breeze from the grill. They also have a “sweet tooth” and go after the sugar in your ice tea or soda pop. Remind the kids to check for bees especially if the drink has been left on the table for a while. There are two types of yellow jackets that build their populations late summer and early fall. The native, most common type makes its nest in the ground and is actually small than a honeybee. The other type is one inch, double the size of the honeybee and is native to Europe. Both of these pests are shiny, bright yellow with black stripes - different from honeybees that are tan and black and “fuzzy.”

The other serious pest at the picnic may be the white-faced hornet. This is a large, shiny black bee with white markings on the head. These are the bees that build those big round gray nests hanging from a branch. Both of these bees are aggressive and can sting multiple times, unlike the honeybee.

It is unlikely that honeybees create a problem unless the picnic is in a beekeepers yard. Honeybees don’t want to sting as they lose their life, but they will use their stinger to protect their hive. Unless you threaten them, while honeybees are foraging in the flower garden, they usually are very gentle. Despite the hysteria associated with honeybee stings, they do not cause a medical crisis for 99 percent of our population.

The honeybee has a barbed stinger that continues to inject venom under your skin for a couple minutes. The best advice is to get the stinger out as fast as possible to prevent injection of the “full dose.” Fortunately, many persons develop a tolerance to stings, and their reaction is much reduced after frequent, repeated stings. Most persons do not experience any symptoms other than a burning sensation for two minuets, a red spot, and localized swelling. Occasionally, a mild allergic reaction may cause itching, a rash, or light-headed feeling and these symptoms usually respond to antihistamine pills.

The dangerous type of reaction is a drop in blood pressure and any difficulty breathing. This mat be an anaphylactic reaction and requires immediate medical attention. Persons hypersensitive to bee venom should carry the pocket bee sting kit available by prescription. Treatments to desensitize highly sensitive persons are available from specialized allergists to greatly reduce bee stings.

When a person accidentally receives multiple stings there will be significant swelling but a healthy adult usually recovers fully after 300 to 500 stings. There has bee considerable concern about the spread of the “Africanized” honeybees now found in most of the deep southern states. These bees are very aggressive but beekeepers in those areas have adjusted their management to be able to maximize their pollination of crops and honey production. These aggressive bees will not breed locally as they originated in the tropics and cannot survive our cold temperatures.

Don’t expect any problems from gentle honeybees but be careful with the “picnic bees.”

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A World Without Honey Bees Would Not Be a World at All      3/27/14

AUSTRALIA: IT’S an initiative which has the support of Nicole Trunfio, Pete Evans, Jodi Gordon, Ruby Rose, Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges, and it’s something we should all be concerned about.

BEES. You may not realise it, but they’re crucial for our way of life. And they’re in serious danger of becoming extinct. 

 Our bees are dying at a rapid rate.

Charles Darwin once said that “The life of man would be made extremely difficult if the bee disappeared.”

So it’s safe to say that Darwin, if he was still alive, would be more than a little concerned to know that over fifty per cent of the world’s honey bee population have died.

Why should you care? Because bees are responsible for pollinating 70 per cent of the world’s horticulture and agricultural crops, so without them we simply would not have fresh fruit and vegetables — in fact, we would all starve within five years, because nothing could be pollinated.

“European honey bees are our main pollinator of our commercial crops,” explains bee pathologist Dr Denis Anderson. “If you took the bee out of our agricultural system, we just could not compensate for the pollination that bees do for our crops, particularly fruit and vegetable crops. Stone fruits, cherries, plums, peaches …. they just wouldn’t be pollinated. Watermelon, rockmelon, cucumbers — all those sorts of crops require pollination. We’d have to come up with other systems of pollinations, but we are so dependent on honey bees for this role, we wouldn’t be able to do it quickly enough.”

Dr Anderson found international acclaim in the year 2000, when he discovered the deadly Varroa destructor mite. The mite is single-handedly responsible for killing off over 50 per cent of the world’s bee population.

“The mite is an external parasite. It’s rather large and you can easily see it with your eye — it would be about 5mm in size. It lives on the outside of the bee, and it sucks its blood.,” says Dr Anderson.

“Being a mite it doesn’t have eyes, so it gets itself around by recognising chemicals which float in the air. It knows where it is just from the smell of things. At the moment, the mite gets a chemical signal from the bee that it responds to in some way — it will either ignore it, or it will know instinctively that it can start laying eggs. And so, the mite reproduces,” he explains.

The plight of the honey bees is something Dr Anderson has devoted his life to - and it’s also something more and more Australians are realising the importance of. For example, Western Australia shoe company honeybees are donating $2 for every pair of shoes sold to raise money for further research into the European honey bee and the Varroa mite - this is the initiative that has the support of model Nicole Trunfio, chef Pete Evans, actress Jodi Gordon, presenter Ruby Rose and health gurus Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges.

“Jump on board,” says Evans. “We’re trying to raise a million dollars to save the honey bees — and being a chef, where will the world be without the bees? They’re responsible for a third of the food we have on our plates.”

Makes you think differently about the little guys, right?

History of the honey bee

Australia’s honey bees are currently healthy, but according to Dr Anderson, this has more to do with luck than good management. Bees travel in swarms, and it only takes one bee carrying one Varroa mite to land on a boat that docks on Australian shores for a colony to be infected - and history is our deadliest example.

In America prior to 1988 there were five million hived colonies. The mite arrived in 1998, and by 1993 that number had diminished to 2.5 million — and it’s been falling ever since.

Mites have been in Europe since the late 1970s, and the country’s feral bee population is now believed to be extinct. They have also lost about 40 per cent of their hived colonies.

Our neighbours in New Zealand became infected by the Varroa mite in 2000, and it is estimated that 30-35 per cent of hived colonies have been eradicated because of it.

“Most countries get that initial shock when the mite first arrives,” says Dr Anderson. “It has this ability to spread very quickly, and all of a sudden your feral bee population disappears, you notice your hives are not going as well as they should, and you realise it’s the mites.”

At the moment, the mite can be controlled by chemicals, but chemicals only work to a certain extent — and they’re no good if you’re trying to sell organic honey or organic fruit and vegetables.

“The mites gradually develop resistance against whatever chemical formula you come up with, and you get on this chemical treadmill,” says Dr Anderson. “So even though we’re using chemicals, the mites are still winning the race. In addition, there’s just no way we can get these chemicals to the feral bee colonies. So, we want to develop a bee that is totally resistant to the mite.”

Considering what we already know about the Varroa mite, developing a strain of bees that is resistant to it is not as impossible as it seems.

“The mite was originally a parasite of the Asian honey bee, which is closely related to the European honey bee,” explains Dr Anderson. “During the middle of last century humans introduced the European honey bee into Asia, because it is a much better honey hoarder and it’s a better pollinator.

“For some time European honey bees were invisible to the Varroa mite. But then, one female mite got lucky and registered some kind of chemical signal that she liked on a European honey bee.

“The mite then spread from this one bee onto the other bees, and when the colony was shipped, the mite travelled out of Asia with it. And so, we’re trying to figure out what that initial signal was that the mite recognised. Once we can figure that out, there’s a good chance we can adjust the signal to make the mite blind to it. We can then produce a bee which has a modified form of that signal.”

“The big thing that’s missing with bee research around the world is what we call strategic research,” Dr Anderson says. “We have lots of practical and applied research — using chemicals and finding other chemicals when resistance is developed — but what is fundamentally missing is the long-term research into the mite.

“We’re trying to overcome the problem that we’re stuck with. And if we want to eat, if we want to survive, we have to come up with a long-term solution.”


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A Day in the Life of a Single Worker Bee

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   5/7/13

A day in the life of a single worker bee...

A honey bee tumbles off the flowering catmint (Nepeta) and struggles to right herself. 

Her wings tattered, her body battered, she does not buzz away.

Perhaps she is approaching the end of her six-week lifespan--three weeks working inside the hive and three weeks working outside the hive. Bee scientists say that worker bees literally work themselves to death.

As a forager, she likely made about 40 trips a day gathering nectar and pollen.  Forty trips a day. It's like going to the grocery store 40 times a day. Oops, forgot something. Got to return to the store.

Bees can forage from a distance of up 5 miles away from their colony, according to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

She's just one bee of about 60,000 in the colony. And now, she will not return. She may have eaten something she shouldn't have or may have an intestinal infection, surmised  Mussen. 

Or maybe she was poisoned by a pesticide, snagged by a bird, bitten by a spider, or ravaged by Varroa mites.

Still, seeing a honey bee tumble off a blossom and die is something we humans rarely observe. 

Meanwhile, her sisters keep working the blossoms, tasks needed to keep the colony alive. Back at the hive, the queen bee is busily laying about 2000 eggs a day to replace all the adult bees who die every day.

A day in the life of a single worker bee...


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Honey Bees on Japanese Maple?

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey  3/28/13

Honey bees favor assorted plants, including lavenders, mints, salvias, asters, borage, wild roses, echiums, clover, fireweed, goldenrod and phacelia, but have you ever seen them on a Japanese maple?

Our Japanese maple is flowering in our backyard, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the honey bees. The colorful tree,  (Acer palmatum), coveted for its colorful red leaves, stretches over our fish pond, providing a little shade for the...



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Kissin' Cousins

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World  By Kathy Keatley Garvey 11/30/12 

What's that? A honey bee and a male yellowjacket on the same blossom?

That's exactly what we saw Nov. 14 at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.

Honey bees and yellowjackets belong to the same order, Hymenoptera, but different families. The...


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