The Laborious Honey Bee

BugSquad By Kathy Keatley Garvey September 9, 2019

Today is Labor Day 2019, a federal holiday celebrated the first Monday of September.

However, "the girls" are working, as they do every day of the year, weather permitting.

"The girls" are the worker honey bees.

Unless you keep bees or have access to a hive, you mostly see them foraging. But inside the hive, they are also nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.

They ensure the survival of the hive, but their life span is short.

"Worker bees live for approximately five to six weeks in the spring and summer," writes author and retired bee scientist and bee wrangler Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees."Those reared in the fall live for several months--long enough for the colony to survive the winter--and are replaced by young bees in late winter or early spring."

In peak season, a honey bee queen can lay 1500 to 2000 eggs a day, and most of them will be worker bees, the most needed of the three castes (queen, drone and worker) in the hive.  Although the smallest, but they do most of the work.  The queen is the egg layer. The drone's role is strictly reproduction.

Worker bees forage within four to five miles of their hive. If you provide no nectar or pollen sources in your yard, they'll go elsewhere.

Theirs is a dangerous occupation. No thanks to predators (such as birds, praying mantids and spiders) and pesticides, many do not return home at night.

Like to photograph them? Try the "magic hour," which occurs about an hour before the sun sets. We love photographing them on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The light is soft, warm and welcoming.

(Editor's Note: Interested in becoming a beekeeper or learning more about beekeeping? Be sure to check out the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The next course is on managing varroa mites, a major pest.)

Worker honey bee forages on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in the magic hour, the hour before sunset. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Worker honey bee forages on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in the magic hour, the hour before sunset. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the worker bee prepares to fly to another Tithonia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the worker bee prepares to fly to another Tithonia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A worker bee takes flight, lifting over a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A worker bee takes flight, lifting over a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

August Apiary Inspector Notes

August 13, 2019

Jaime Garza, County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector

Dear Beekeeper, 

I hope your bee colonies were able to produce some surplus honey this year. I spoke to many beekeepers whose colonies produced a good amount of honey this year. 

As the season progresses into late summer/early fall you should consider the following for maintaining healthy bee colonies: 

  • Monitoring/managing Varroa mites: many beekeepers are beginning to monitor for Varroa mites at this time of year. Two sampling methods are the sugar shake or alcohol wash method. You do not want to have more than 3 mites per 100 bees sampled. You can see the Honey Bee Health videos on Varroa sampling methods - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgPfT9FQxLc. There is also a helpful Tool Guide on Varroa Management that you can reference for Varroa mite management techniques - https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HBHC-Guide_Varroa_Interactive_7thEdition_June2018.pdf.

  • Monitoring for American foulbrood – if a colony appears weak or has died you will want to check for the highly contagious bacterial disease called American foulbrood – see link for more information https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/HBHC__AFB-EFB-Final-061119.pdf.

  • Provide water with landing sites for your bees – a bee colony is like other livestock or pet and needs water to drink and to cool off the hive. On very hot days one established bee colony can go through 1 gallon of water per day.

  • Provide adequate ventilation during hot days so bees can cool off.

  • Ant control – weed control, ant bait stations and moats surrounding hive stand legs are some ways beekeepers keep ants from invading their bee colonies.

  • Over-defensive honey bee colonies – honey bees displaying over-defensive characteristics should be requeened or euthanized. The longer an over-defensive colony remains in the environment allows the queen to spread their unwanted “mean” genetics through the drones that are produced in the colony which will go on to mate with other honey bee virgin queens in the environment which dilutes the gentle tempered honey bees. 

As always, feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns or if you would like to request a Hive health and Beekeeping Best Management Practices review at your apiary. 

Thank you,
Jaime Garza | County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures | Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector | Phone: 858-614-7738 | Email: jaime.garza@sdcounty.ca.gov | Website: www.sdcountybees.org

Shedding New Light on Honey Bee Chromosomes

Bug Squad Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey Published on: December 3, 2018

Honey bee, Apis mellifera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, Apis mellifera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee geneticists with long ties to UC Davis are putting together those missing pieces of the puzzle involving bee chromosomes.

Newly published research by a team of Germany-based honey bee geneticists, collaborating with Robert Eugene (“Rob”) Page Jr., of Arizona State University/University of California, Davis, offers new insights in the ability to modify and study the chromosomes of honey bees.

Martin Beye, a professor at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany and a former postdoctoral fellow in Page's lab at UC Davis, served as the lead author of the research, “Improving Genetic Transformation Rates in Honeybees,” published in Scientific Reports in the journal Nature.

The researchers accomplished the work in Beye's lab in Germany and the Page labs.

“The significance of this paper lies in the ability to modify the chromosomes of honey bees and study the effects of individual genes,” said Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University provost.

“The honey bee genome,” Page explained, “is composed of about 15,000 genes, each of which operates within a complex network of genes, doing its small, or large, share of work in building the bee, keeping its internal functions operating, or helping it function and behave in its environment. The ability to transform, change, genes, or add or delete genes from chromosomes of bees, has been exceptionally challenging and the effort spans decades. Martin tackles problems such as this. He takes on the most challenging genetic problems and solves them.”

Beye was the first to map the major sex-determining gene for honey bees, considered one of the most important papers ever published on honey bee genetics. He “then moved on and developed a way to implement gene editing, being able to alter single genes within the genome,” Page related. “Now he has developed a method to introduce new genetic material into the honey bee.”

In their abstract, the six-member team wrote that “Functional genetic studies in honeybees have been limited by transformation tools that lead to a high rate of transposon integration into the germline of the queens. A high transformation rate is required to reduce screening efforts because each treated queen needs to be maintained in a separate honeybee colony. Here, we report on further improvement of the transformation rate in honeybees by using a combination of different procedures.”

Specifically, the geneticists employed a hyperactive transposase protein (hyPBaseapis), tripling the amount of injected transposase mRNAs. They injected embryos into the first third (anterior part) of the embryo. These three improvements together doubled the transformation rate from 19 percent to 44 percent.

“We propose that the hyperactive transposase (hyPBaseapis) and the other steps used may also help to improve the transformation rates in other species in which screening and crossing procedures are laborious,” they wrote in their abstract.

For their research, the scientists chose feral Carniolan or carnica colonies. Carniolans, a darker bee, are a subspecies of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera.

Beye joined the Page lab in 1999 as the recipient of a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship, an award given to the brightest young German Ph.Ds to provide an opportunity for them to work in the laboratories of U.S. recipients of the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize. Page, who won the Humboldt Prize in 1995, continues to focus his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior.

Following his postdoctoral fellowship, Beye returned to the Page labs at UC Davis and ASU as a visiting scientist. (link to https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/honeybee-gene-find-ends-150-year-search ) Beye spoke at UC Davis this spring as part of his Humboldt-funded mini sabbatical, the guest of Page and hosted by the Department of Entomology and Nematology. During his visit, he and UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson developed collaborative projects that they will begin in the spring of 2019. “This is exactly what the Alexander von Humboldt foundation wants – to build and extend interactive networks of researchers,” Page commented.

About Robert Page Jr.
Noted honey bee geneticist Robert Page Jr., author of The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013, recently received the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Page received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and served as a professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University (ASU) provost. He maintained a honey bee breeding program managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015.

Now provost emeritus of ASU and Regents Professor since 2015, he continues his research, teaching and public service in both Arizona and California and has residences in both states. He plans to move to California in December.

Page focuses his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.

Resources:

UC Davis Behind the Groundbreaking Discovery of Honey Bee Sex Determination

About Robert E. Page Jr., Recipient of UC Davis Alumni Award