In Search of the World's Biggest Bee: How It Came to 'Bee'

BugSquad By Kathy Keatley Garvey February 26, 2019

Imagine you're in an Indonesian rainforest and a humongous bee, with a wingspan of two and a half inches, flies over your head.

The world's largest bee, known as Wallace's Giant Bee (Megachile pluto), considered extinct since 1981, lives.

It's not extinct, after all.

You probably read the news. An international team, accompanied by guides, rediscovered the black resin bee in January in the North Moluccas, an island group in Indonesia. The find, announced Feb. 21, continues to draw "oohs" "aahs" and accolades.

The four-member team, supported by Global Wildlife Conservation, an Austin, Texas-based organization that runs a Search for Lost Species program, included Honorary Professor Simon Robson of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney; Honorary Professor Glen Chilton, of Saint Mary's University, Canada; Clay Bolt, a natural history conservation photographer from Montana who specializes in North American native bees; and entomologist and bee expert Eli Wyman of Princeton University.

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this 'flying bulldog' of an insect that we weren't sure existed anymore,” said Bolt, who is known for his conservation efforts, including his work with the rusty-patched bumble bee. His work (see his website at has been featured in National GeographicScientific American and many others.

“To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible," Bolt said. "My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia."

It was the last day of their five-day trip when they found it: a single female Wallace's Giant Bee living in an active termite mound in a tree about 2.5 meters off the ground. The bee, which nests in active arboreal termite mounds, lines her nest with tree resin to protect it from termites.

Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, and a past president of the International Hymenopterists (she was not involved in the project) surmises that are more in the area. "Finding a female is a good thing," she told us.

"Yes, I've had a lot of folks email me and call me about the giant bee," said Kimsey, whose museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, but no Megachile pluto. "I've actually seen specimens of this beast either at some meetings or the American Museum of Natural History. No surprise that it hasn't been collected since the '80s. Its probably been that long since someone collected in the Moluccas."

In his blog, Bolt relates how it all came about. In 2015 he visited Wyman at the American Museum of Natural History  “as part of an ambitious project documenting North America's under-appreciated native bee species. Eli was kind enough to show me around. As we looked through drawers of pinned bee specimens from around the world, I drooled over the beautiful array of species. Just before I left, Eli said with a sly grin, ‘want to see a specimens of Megachile pluto?” I couldn't believe my ears and seconds later, I was literally inches away from one of the rarest and most-sought-after insects in the world."

“It was more magnificent than I could have imagined, even in death,” Bolt blogged. “Eli shared with me that it had been his dream to try to find the bee in the wild for years and before long the two of us began a lengthy dialogue discussing possibilities, following clues, nearly giving up; ultimately a path to follow in the footsteps of Wallace himself and search for the bee in the Indonesian islands known as the North Moluccas. When we heard that GWC was calling for nominations for their Search for Lost Species program, we convinced them to include Wallace's Giant Bee on their top 25 'most wanted list.' We were one step closer to fulfilling our dream."

Fast forward to January 2019. Bolt remembers staring at "termite mounds for 20 minutes at a time" then moving on to the next mound. "It was invigorating but tiring work...As each day went by, we were less and less sure it would happen."

"By the last day of searching, we were all dealing with various maladies, including Glen, who had made the difficult decision to return home to Australia after coming down with heat-induced illness," Bolt blogged. "That day we walked down an old orchard road flanked on both sides by mixed lowland forest and fruit trees. Iswan (a guide), ever the eagle eye, spotted a low termite mound, around eight feet from the ground. He later recounted that he almost didn't mention it to us because, like the rest of the team, he was feeling tired and hungry. However, I'll forever be grateful that he did because as we scampered up an embankment to the nest, we immediately noticed that it had a hole in it, like many other nests we'd seen, but this one was a little more perfect. It was very round, and just the size that a giant bee might use.

"Bracing the rotting tree, I asked Iswan if he would mind climbing up to take a look inside. As he peered inside the nest he exclaimed, 'I saw something move!' Jumping down, for fear that the creature was a snake—his worst fear—after catching his breath, he said that it looked wet and sticky inside. Eli and I looked at each other with reserved excitement. Eli climbed up and immediately felt for certain that it was a bee nest. The structure was just too perfect and similar to what we expected to find. I climbed up next and my headlamp glinted on the most remarkable thing I'd ever laid my eyes on. I simply couldn't believe it:

"We had rediscovered Wallace's Giant Bee."

They documented it, photographed it, and let it bee.

British entomologist Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the giant bee in 1858 when he was exploring the Indonesian island of Bacan. He described the female bee, about the length of a human thumb, as "a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle." Years went by. It was considered extinct until American entomologist Adam Messer rediscovered it in 1981. 

And now this international team has rediscovered 2019.

Sadly, this is a bee threatened by habitat loss.   Between 2001 and 2017, Indonesia lost 15 percent of its forestation, according to Global Forest Watch.  "The islands have become home to oil palm plantations that now occupy much of the former native habitat," says Wikipedia. "This has caused the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to label this species as Vulnerable."

And sadly, there are greedy entrepreneurs out there anxious to make a buck. Or a lot of bucks. Two specimens sold on eBay in 2018. One sold for $9,100 on March 25, 2018. It was advertised as "very rare--only one!"

We need strict conservation efforts--and bans on international trade--to save this iconic bee.

Natural history photographer Clay Bolt photographs Wallace’s Giant Bee in its. nest. The bee nests in active termite mounds in the North Moluccas, Indonesia. (Copyright Simon Robson)

Natural history photographer Clay Bolt photographs Wallace’s Giant Bee in its. nest. The bee nests in active termite mounds in the North Moluccas, Indonesia. (Copyright Simon Robson)

Wallace’s Giant Bee, Megachile pluto, the world’s largest bee, is approximately four times larger than a European honey bee. This is a composite. (Copyright: Clay Bolt,

Wallace’s Giant Bee, Megachile pluto, the world’s largest bee, is approximately four times larger than a European honey bee. This is a composite. (Copyright: Clay Bolt,

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)

And The (Bee) Beat Goes On…

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    August 22, 2018

It was bound to happen.

A "real" honey bee flying alongside "fake" bees on a bee crossing sign.

We photographed this honey bee (below) at 1/1000 of second (with a Nikon D500 and a 105mm lens with  the f-stop set at 16 and ISO at 800), but honey bee flight is truly amazing.

Back in the 1934 French scientists August Magnan and André Sainte-Lague calculated that honey bees shouldn't be able to lift off, much less fly at all.  However, they presumed bee wings are stable, like airplane wings, when in fact, they're not. Honey bees flap and rotate their wings some 240 times per second, according to research, "Short-Amplitude High-Frequency Wing Strokes Determine the Aerodynamics of Honeybee Flight," published in December 2005 in the Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers, from the California Institute of Technology, pointed out that a fruit fly is 80 times smaller than a honey bee and flaps its wings 200 times each second, while the much larger honey bee flaps its wings 240 times every second. To stay aloft, a honey bee uses short wing strokes of less than 90 degrees and a high number of flaps.

"This flapping, along with the supple nature of the wings themselves, allows a bee--or any flying insect, for that matter--to create a vortex that lifts it into the air," explained David Biello in a Nov. 29, 2005 piece in Scientific American.

Or, technically, as the researchers wrote in their abstract: "Most insects are thought to fly by creating a leading-edge vortex that remains attached to the wing as it translates through a stroke. In the species examined so far, stroke amplitude is large, and most of the aerodynamic force is produced halfway through a stroke when translation velocities are highest. Here we demonstrate that honeybees use an alternative strategy, hovering with relatively low stroke amplitude (≈90°) and high wingbeat frequency (≈230 Hz). When measured on a dynamically scaled robot, the kinematics of honeybee wings generate prominent force peaks during the beginning, middle, and end of each stroke, indicating the importance of additional unsteady mechanisms at stroke reversal.

"When challenged to fly in low-density heliox, bees responded by maintaining nearly constant wingbeat frequency while increasing stroke amplitude by nearly 50%. We examined the aerodynamic consequences of this change in wing motion by using artificial kinematic patterns in which amplitude was systematically increased in 5° increments. To separate the aerodynamic effects of stroke velocity from those due to amplitude, we performed this analysis under both constant frequency and constant velocity conditions. The results indicate that unsteady forces during stroke reversal make a large contribution to net upward force during hovering but play a diminished role as the animal increases stroke amplitude and flight power. We suggest that the peculiar kinematics of bees may reflect either a specialization for increasing load capacity or a physiological limitation of their flight muscles."

And the (bee) beat goes on...even with that heavy load of nectar or pollen...

A honey bee flies in formation with “fake” bees on a bee crossing sign. Bees can flap their wings around 240 times per second. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)It’s almost flyover time again. Blue spike sage (Salvia uliginosa) is in the foreground. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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)

For The Love Of Bees

Bug Squad    BY Kathy Keatley Garvey     September 5, 2017

Sarah the Bee Girl stands in front of a cluster of first graders sitting by a six-foot worker bee sculpture in the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.

Her name is Sarah Red-Laird, and she is here to present an interactive educational program involving bees and beekeeping, honey, beeswax and bee habitat to students from Peregrine School, Davis. It's part of her "Bees and Kids" program, funded by the American Beekeeping Federation's Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees.

She's speaking to them as part of the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, Sept. 5-8.

The students are super excited.

Holding up fruit after fruit, she asks if they like strawberries, apples, oranges and lemons, all bee-pollinated. They eagerly raise their hands. She tells them that bees are responsible for providing one-third of the food we eat, including fruits, vegetables and nuts (almonds). Our shopping carts would be sparse if there were no bees, she says. She quizzes them about grapes, rice and oats, which are not bee-pollinated.

Then she turns to honey.

"How much honey does a bee make in her lifetime?" she asks. "Is it 1 cup, 1 teaspoon or 1/12th of a teaspoon?  if you think it's one cup, raise your hand." Half a dozen hands shoot up.

"If you think it's one teaspoon, raise your hand." A few more raise their hands.

"If you think it's 1/12th of a teaspoon, raise your hand." One person responds.

"The correct answer," says Sarah the Bee Girl, "is 1/12th of a teaspoon. That's how much a honey bee makes in her lifetime."

"I guessed that!" yells a little girl.

"Did you?" Sarah asks, approvingly. "You're a smartie," she praises.

"We didn't," a boy laments.

A honey bee seeking drips from the bottled honey at the "Kids and Bees" honey-tasting event. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Sarah drives home the point with: "That means that honey bees work really, really hard for the honey we eat. For me, I eat it every day."

Sarah continues. "How many flowers does it take the bees to make one pound of honey?" she asks, holding up a jar of honey.

The students respond with answers that range from 99 to 100 to 200 to 1000 to 2000 to 8000 to 1 billion.

"The correct answer is 2 million," she tells them. "it takes 2 million flowers to fill this one jar of honey."

Sarah drives home the point with: "The best thing to do to help bees is to plant flowers. Let's say it all together. what can you do to help bees?

"Plant flowers!" they chorus.

Later she reads a book and then asks them to answer questions about nurse bees, house bees, scout bees, guard bees, queen bees, foragers and drones. Each person who answers the question correctly is adorned with props depicting that bee.

The first graders love it! They gigle, laugh and cheer.

Next they move in small groups to the educational stations where they taste honey, learn about bee habitat and bees wax, and see honey bees and other bees up close.

It's obvious that Sarah loves bees and wants others to love them, too.

Sarah says her love of bees began in Southern Oregon, on the deck of her aunt's cabin, at the end of a country road. She received her degree, with honors, in resource conservation from the University of Montana and did research in Jerry Bromenshenk Honey Bee Lab. She presented her beekeeping findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research on "How to Keep 100,000 Girlfriends, the Careful Relationship of a Beekeeper and Her Honey Bees."

This first-grader got a good luck at a Valley carpenter bee, caught by Robbin Thorp in a special device and then released. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Today she's the program director of the American Beekeeping Federation's "Kids and Bees" Program and executive director of Bee Girl, a nonprofit organization: its mission is to inspire and empower communities to conserve bees, their flower and our food system.  She serves as the Oregon director of the Western Apicultural Society, a member of the New York Bee Sanctuary Advisory Board, and the regional representative to the Southern Oregon Beekeepers' Association. She is also a "Mountainsmith Brand Ambeesador."  See her work on FacebookInstagram and Twitter (@sarahBeeGirl). Her hashtag is #loveyourbees.

Among the UC Davis personnel assisting her at the haven were:

Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology,  UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who caught and released bees with a device that included a magnifying glass

Staff research associates Bernardo Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the beeswax table, where children drew pictures with crayons

Staff research associate and Charley Nye of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the  habitat table, where the children learned about where the bees live.

Zoe Anderson, a UC Davis undergraduate student majoring in animal biology, assisted with the honey tasting. The youths all agreed they liked Sarah's vetch honey the best.

First graders, school officials and parents from Peregrine School cluser around a bee sculpture at UC Davis Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee for a “Kids and Bees” program. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Sarah the Bee Girl reads a book about bees. In back are WAS members Cyndi and Jim Smith of Donney Lake, Wash. Cyndi serves as the secretary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Sarah the Bee Girl outfits a first grader with a forager costume for correctly answering a question about foragers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey) View more images:

Tower of Beauty; Tower of Bees

Bug Squad: Happenings in the Insect World    By Kathy Keatley Garvey     June 21, 2017

The Echium wildpretii is commonly known as "The Tower of Jewels" but it ought to be known as "The Tower of Beauty."

That's especially when honey bees gather to collect the blue pollen and sip the sweet nectar.

Or when their wings glisten in the early morning sun.

Or when it's National Pollinator Week.

In our family, we call it "The Christmas Tree" due to two reasons: its height (it's as tall as a Christmas tree) and due to its spiked red blossoms, the color of Christmas.

The plant, in the family Boraginaceae, is biennial and it can reach 10 feet in height. You often see its purple-spiked cousin, the Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) growing wild in Sonoma, along the roads to Bodega Bay. 

The species is endemic to the island of Tenerife. There they call it "Tenerife bugloss."

Whatever you call the plant, it's good to see it racing up the popularity scale as gardeners seek it for their pollinator gardens. There's even a Facebook page, "We got an Echium through the winter."

Common question: "Anyone got seeds for sale?'

Echium wildpretii is that pretty.

A honey bee packing blue pollen as it forages on the tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)This foraging honey bee can't get enought of the tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bears Raiding Bee Colonies: They're Seeking the Brood

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey     May 18, 2017

A huge financial loss: this is an example of the damage a bear can do in the bee yard.(Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro)Yes, bears raid honey bee colonies.

But it's primarily for the bee brood, not the honey.

The brood provides the protein, and the honey, the  carbohydrates. For beekeepers and commercial queen bee breeders, this can wreak havoc. Financial havoc.

The American Beekeeping Federation, headed by Gene Brandi of Los Gatos, recently asked Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology to respond to a question about bees and bears.

Mussen, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service (but he still remains active from his office in Briggs Hall), is from Minnesota, where the bears are and he isn't. He's managed to photograph a few bears, though, on family outings to Lake Tahoe.

We thought we'd share his response about bees and bears. Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who owns Jackie Park-Burris Queens, kindly let us post some of her photos so our readers can see what bear damage looks like.  A past president of the California State Apiary Board and the California State Beekeepers' Association, she's a member of the noted Homer Park beekeeping family and has been involved with bees all of her life. She's been breeding Park Italian queens since 1994.

But back to Eric Mussen, the bee guru who has answered tons of questions during his 38-year academic career and who's now serving his sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society. (The society, founded in Davis, will gather \Sept. 5-8 in Davis for its 40th annual meeting, returning to its roots.)

"Bears eat both meat and plants (berries) etc. whenever they can find them," Mussen says. "Most people think that a bear has a sweet tooth, since it is attracted to beehives. While it is true that bears will eat some honey if it gains access to a hive, a closer look shows that it will eat all of what we call 'brood' first, and then eats a little honey."

Eric MussenMussen describes bee brood "as made up of bee eggs, larvae, and pupae."  Since the queen may be laying between 1000 and 2000 eggs a day, "quite a bit of brood can accumulate before the end of the 21-day period that it takes to complete development from egg to adult female worker bee (24 days for the drones)."

"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell, so they can smell a beehive if they get downwind of a nearby colony," Mussen points out. "If the colony is living in a tree, often the bear literally tears the tree apart to get to the bees.  Unfortunately, they will claw and dig into a man-made beehive, as well.  They leave the covers scattered all over; the hive boxes scattered and often broken; the combs pulled out, broken, and strewn about in the apiary; and the combs that had brood in them will have the comb eaten out.  The colony will not survive and there may be very little undamaged equipment to salvage."

"To a small-scale beekeeper," Mussen says, "the financial loss is not too severe.  However, losing the colony, that requires so much effort to keep healthy these days, is quite a blow.  For commercial operators, who may not revisit the apiary for a couple weeks, it can mean a very substantial economic loss."

"The correct type of well-maintained bear fence usually is very effective at keeping bears away from the hives.  However, that holds true only for situations in which the bear has not had previous positive experiences ripping apart man-made beehives.  In that case, the bear expects a substantial reward for barging through the stinging fence and getting into the hives."

What to do? "Most beekeepers have no desire to kill bears, but they do desire to keep their colonies alive," Mussen says. "Often, attempts are made to capture the offending bear, tag it, and move it away far enough that it should not return.  Some of the wildlife specialists marvel in how far away a bear can be taken away and still return. Bears that cannot stay away from apiaries, or away from people's houses, or away from trash containers, etc., sometimes have to be eliminated.  It is best to have this done by agency personnel, but sometimes in remote areas the beekeepers get deprivation permits and kill the bear themselves.  In Northern California, the beekeeper has to notify the wildlife people of the kill, and the carcass has to be inspected to be certain that specific, black market body parts have not been removed from the bear.  The carcass then is buried in a landfill, or once in a while used in institutional food."

Occasionally Bug Squad hears of bears raiding honey bee hives in rural Solano County. We remember a story about a beekeeper/queen breeder in Mix Canyon, Vacaville, who was losing his hives to a "wild animal." The loss? Reportedly about $30,000. He set up a stealth camera and....photographed a 300-pound black bear. 

"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell," as Mussen says, and the result can be "a very substantial economic loss."

This is what bear damage to a hive looks like. This photo was provided by Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who owns Jackie Park-Burris Queens. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris.)

A bear scattered frames all over this bee yard, as it went for the brood and then the honey. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro.)

A bear wreaked havoc in this bee yard. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro.)

 This image of a bear snagging fish was taken at Lake Tahoe by Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's been answering questions about bears and bees for more than three decades.

What a Stretch to Get the Nectar!

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    April 11, 2017

A honey bee "stands upright" to reach the nectar on a Photinia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)How often do you see a honey bee "standing upright" to reach nectar?

"Well, I guess I could just buzz up there and grab some nectar! But why not stay right here where I am and just s-t-r-e-t-c-h  like a giraffe to get it?"

This bee, foraging on a Photinia blossom, almost looked like an athlete in training.  Was she stretching to "warm up?"  Was she stretching to improve performance? Flexibility?  Mobility?

Me thinks she was just taking a short cut to the sweet stuff and being a little territorial as other bees buzzed around her.



Okay, I'll buzz over to it! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Our honey bee will return to the hive where workers will process the nectar into honey. Humans will get some of it, too.

If you'd like to sample honey--and mix with entomologists--mark your calendar for Saturday, April 22 and "bee" at Briggs Hall for the annual honey tasting, just one part of the 200 some events at the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day. It's an all-day campuswide open house aimed to educate, inform and entertain.


Bees Are Back Pollinating The Almonds

BugSquad By Kathy Keatley Garvey     February 10, 2017

It's almond pollination season in California but the weather refuses to cooperate.

Heavy rains, high winds, intense flooding. What are the bees to do?

They're holed up in their hives, waiting for the sun breaks. When the rain stops pelting their hives and the temperature climbs to 50 or 55 degrees, they poke their heads out. Let's go, girls!

Such was the scenario today when we went for a drive along Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville, Solano County. Feral almond trees, storm-battered but stubbornly bracing for more, are blooming, and those bees--those glorious bees--are back.

The statistics are a bit overwhelming. California now has one million commercial acres of almonds. It takes two colonies per acre to pollinate them. Without bees, no almonds. With beekeepers reporting winter losses of 40 to 60 percent, what's the situation?

"What does that mean for the bee supply for almond pollination?" asks pollination guru Gordon Wardell in the current edition of Project Apis m (PAm). The organization's name comes from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee. "At present, while individual beekeepers' numbers appear to be down, there doesn't appear to be a shortage of colonies for almond pollination this year.  While the supply might be tight, I don't foresee major shortages.  Rental prices are up this year, averaging $170 to $185 per colony.  This is $10 to $15 over rental prices last year.  These prices are fair increases considering the amount of feeding needed to ready the colonies for February pollination and the increases in transportation costs."

Wardell, chair of PAm's board of directors and the 2016 recipient of the California State Beekeepers' Association's Distinguished Service Award, knows bees, knows almonds, and knows pollination.  A professional apiculturist for more than three decades and now director of pollination operations for Wonderful Orchards, he's a former Extension apiculturist for the state of Maryland. His research includes developing Mega-Bee, the honey bee nutritional supplement. He's authored numerous publications on honey bees. His expertise covers Varroa mite control, honey bee nutrition, fire ant monitoring, small hive beetle, Africanized honey bees, and many other topics.

Wardell describes what's happening in California now as "the greatest commercial pollination event in the world."

Because it is. Billions of bees pollinating a million acres of almonds.

On a minuscule scale, it's still marvelous to see a dozen bees foraging on a single feral almond tree...doing what bees do.

Bee Friendly, Bee Happy and Bee Healthy!

Bug Squad     By Kathy Keatley Garvey    June 9, 2016

Sometimes when you walk through a bee garden, you feel Mother Nature tugging at your arm, pulling you from one breathtaking area to another. You resist the tug and want to linger, to admire the diversity of bees, to marvel at the colors and patterns of the flowers.

That's how we felt when we recently visited the one-acre pollinator bee garden of Kate Frey and her artist husband, Ben, in Hopland, Mendocino County. It's magical.

Kate, a world-class garden designer, and bee expert Gretchen LeBuhn, professor in the San Francisco State University, have just co-authored The Bee-Friendly Garden, an educational, enthusiastic and inspiring book that will help you turn your own garden--large or small, rural or urban--into something magical.

Read more:

Why Honey Is Neither Bee Vomit Nor Bee Barf!

Bug Squad   By Kathy Keatley Garvey    June 2, 2016

  • "Honey is bee vomit!"
  • "Honey is bee barf!"

How many times have you heard that?

Strong-willed arguments flash rapidly, pointedly and furiously, much like guard bees defending their colony in the fall from would-be robbers.  Just when you think the issue is settled once and for all, the arguments circle again. Non-beekeepers, in particular, gleefully maintain that the sweet mixture you spread on your toast in the morning is "bee vomit." Or they may label that spoonful of honey in your tea as "bee barf."   (It's usually accompanied by "How can you eat THAT?")

So, what's the answer?

We consulted  "honey bee guru" Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who completed 38 years of service in 2014 to the apiculture industry and the general citizenry of California. (However, as an emeritus, he continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall and answer questions.)

The answer? "In one word--No!" he says.  "Honey is neither bee vomit nor bee barf."

Then, what is honey?

"To answer that question, we have to define a few important words," Mussen says. "We will use Wikipedia as our source.

  • Vomit – “Forceful expulsion of the contents of one's stomach through the mouth.”
  • Regurgitation – “Expulsion of material from the pharynx or esophagus.”
  • Crop – “A thin-walled expanded portion of the alimentary tract used for the storage of food prior to digestion.”

"Here is how these terms relate to honey," Mussen says. "Honey begins as a dilute (5-20 percent) sugar solution that is called nectar, which is sucked up by foraging honey bees as they visit the flowers or extra-floral nectaries of bee-attractive plants. The nectar is pumped through the 'tongue' of the bee into an expandable crop, which in honey bees is called the honey stomach. While in the crop, two salivary enzymes begin the honey-making process. Diastase catalyzes the conversion of starch into maltose. The equivalent enzyme in human saliva is alpha amylase that catalyzes the conversion of starch to maltose and dextrins. A second honey bee enzyme, glucose oxidase, catalyzes the conversion of glucose to hydrogen peroxide and gluconolactone. The hydrogen peroxide prevents microbial growth in the pre-honey solution." 

Wait, there's more, and yes,  it gets technical.

"While residing in the crop, a curious, pulsating valve, called the proventriculus in insects, extends curved, rake-like bristles into the crop that filter out particles from the nectar," Mussen points out. "The particles can be moderate in size to quite small, such as a pollen grains or infectious spores of the intestinal parasites Nosema apis and N. ceranae. The size is limited by the diameter of the tubular mouthparts through which all honey bee food must be consumed. Some squash pollens are too large to swallow. Once a number of particles have accumulated, they are passed back (swallowed) into the midgut as a bolus. As the bolus leaves the proventriculus, it is wrapped in a sausage skin-like wrapper called the peritrophic matrix (formerly the peritrophic membrane). Once passed into the midgut inside the peritrophic membrane, there is no way for it to return to the honey stomach."

No way. No way for it to return to the honey stomach.

Mussen says that "the most time-consuming step in converting nectar to honey is the dehydration process, during which the moisture content of the honey is reduced to a fermentation-inhibiting 20 percent or lower. To accomplish this, the nearly particle-free nectar is pumped (regurgitated) out of the crop and suspended as a thin film, hanging directly below the horizontally extended mouthparts. Bees fan the films with their wings to hasten evaporation of water. As the film thickens, it is pumped back into the crop, blended with the remaining nectar, and pumped back out to be dried some more."

So, what happens then?

"When it reaches the appropriate moisture content, the 'ripened' honey is pumped into a comb cell and capped with a beeswax cover. This is the honey that beekeepers provide for us to eat. The color and flavor of the honey depends upon the floral sources from which the nectars were collected. The moisture content of the honey is markedly influenced by the relative humidity of the ambient air surrounding the hive."

So, bottom line is this: Sorry, honey, honey is not bee vomit.

"It never reaches the true digestive tract of a honey bee," Mussen emphasizes.

The Saga of the Aggressive Honey Bees

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    May 17, 2016

The saga of the aggressive honey bees in Concord continues. 

Although Extension apicuturist emeritusEric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, retired in 2014 after 38 years of service, he continues his Extension work.

When a backyard beekeeper's hive in Concord turned aggressive (a swarm killed two dogs, attacked a mail carrier, and stung passsersby), journalists began singling out honey bee guru Eric Mussen and other UC Davis experts for interviews. Apparently, when a beekeeper moved his hive on Friday to make way for landscaping, the bees went on the attack Friday and Saturday. Most of the bees have since been destoryed.

Some headlines screamed "Killer bees colonizing the Bay Area."

First of all, are they Africanized bees? DNA testing awaits.

“Their BEHAVIOR is very SUGGESTIVEthat they could be Africanized,” Mussen told Bug Squad today.

“Until someone runs a definitive test on the on the bees actually involved in the Concord stinging incident, we may never know exactly what genotype the bees were,” Mussen points out, adding that "we have three ways to try to differentiate between Africanized honey bees (AHBs) and European honey bees (EHBs)."

1. Mitochondrial DNA – The California Department of Food and Agricuture (CDFA) still conducts this type of testing once a year to clear the California Bee Breeders for queen exports into Canada.  CDFA also uses this criterion as "the one" for declaring Africanization.  However, its value in predicting temperament of the colony population is not particularly reliable.

2. Isozymes - the amino acid composition of certain enzymes differs between the two races

3. Morphometrics - computer matching of current sample specimens to verified AHB and EHB samples using measurements of various anatomical features.  Hybrids are problematic.      

"That type of bee was found around southern California and as far north as not too far from Angles Camp (Calaveras County)," Mussen mentioned.  "Further north, they found only specimens with one or two traits, but not all three.  That even occurred just into southern Oregon."

“Yes, EHB colonies can behave in that nasty manner, but I think it is more likely that AHBs are involved,” Mussen says.  He recalled that twice in the 1980s, swarms of bees from South America accompanied shipments of raw sugar cane into the C&H sugar refinery in Crockett (Contra Costa County). 

“We know the first one got away.  They think they got the second one, but could not find the queen in either case.    Since that time, there have been increasing complaints of "hot" bees from that area, south to Castro Valley (Alameda County).”

Mussen related  that “you don't have to have bees that test positive for AHB mitochondria to get extremely defensive behavior.  Studies conducted by Dr. Robert Page's lab workers in Mexico (see photo of an Africanized bee below that Page collected) demonstrated the gradual changes in behavior that accompanied increased proportions of AHB semen in A.I. EHB queens":

  • 12.5 percent - increased runniness on combs
  • 25 percent - add flighty to the list
  • 37.5 percent - add significantly more stings to the list
  • 50 percent or more - results in full-blown AHB defensive behavior. 

“So, if feral AHB colonies exist in the environment, we can have various amounts of ‘mismating' going on and its consequences around the area," Mussen points out,

“Another consideration is that mini-swarms of AHBs sometimes will alight on the outside of an EHB hive and park there for days.  The AHB workers slowly integrate themselves into the colony population.  Then, when conditions are right, the AHBs kill the EHB queen, the AHB workers and queen march in and take over (usurp the colony).”

“A third possibility is that some novice beekeeper was swayed by advertising for packaged bees from Texas.  Advertised as the most gentle stocks, there is no place where mating can be isolated enough to avoid AHB drones.”

Africanized bees are hybrids of a subspecies of bee from southern Africa that was exported to Brazil to improve breeding stock and honey production. Scientists say it escaped and spread throughout South America and into Central America.  It expanded into Mexico in 1985, in Texas in 1990, in Arizona in 1993, and in southern California in 1994.

Africanized Bees: How Far North?

Bug Squad   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   May 16, 2016

Africanized honey bees arrived in southern California in 1994 and are expanding north. How far north are they now?

That's the question being asked all over Central and Northern California, especially since "The Terrorizing Concord Incident" or what happened along Hitchcock Road, Concord last Friday and Saturday. Apparently a backyard beekeeper was trying to move two hives on Friday to allow his father to do some landscaping. The beekeeper reportedly moved the first hive successfully, but when he tried to move the second hive, the bees became highly aggressive and wreaked havoc. They killed two dogs, attacked a mail carrier, and stung a number of passersby. 

Were they Africanized bees? DNA tests will determine that.

Meanwhile, what is the northern boundary for Africanized bees?

Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, who retired in June 2014 after 38 years of service, explained it this way:

"The northern boundary of AHBs depends upon the criteria you use to analyze an individual:

1. Mitochondrial DNA: Used by California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to call them Africanized

2. Morphometrics: Measure quite a number of anatomical features and compare them to features of EHBs and AHBs.  Hybrids are hard to categorize, thus not used by CDFA, but the USDA likes it (they "invented" it)

3. Isozymes: Enzymes from AHBs and EHBs have different amino acid arrangements

There are "pockets of bees having one or two of the three criteria, but bees with all three criteria haven't been demonstrated more than about half way up the state from the southern end," Musssen said. Africanized honeybees or AHBs from San Diego, etc., have all three criteria."

And the farthest north they've been found? "If I remember correctly, Angels Camp (Calaveras County) vicinity was farthest north find of samples with all three criteria positive," Mussen related. "Samples around the Concord area had two criteria (up to now). Two samples from very southern Oregon had one criterion."

UC San Diego scientists reported in a press release issued Sept. 11, 2015 that "Africanized bees continue to spread in California."

The study, published that week in the journal PLOS One, "found that more than 60 percent of the foraging honey bees in San Diego County are Africanized and that Africanized bees can now be found as far north as California's delta region," wrote news communicator Kim McDonald.

Said biologist Joshua Kohn, a biology professor who headed the study: "“Our study shows that the large majority of bees one encounters in San Diego County are Africanized and that most of the bees you encounter are from feral colonies, not managed hives,” said Joshua Kohn, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the study."

McDonald explained that "Africanized bees are hybrids of a subspecies from southern Africa that were brought to Brazil to improve bee breeding stock and honey production, but escaped and spread throughout South America and Central America, arriving in Mexico in 1985 and Texas in 1990. Their aggressive behavior and tendency to swarm victims have led them to be dubbed 'killer bees.'"

Kohn and his graduate student Yoshiaki Kono "found Africanized genetic traits in honey bees as far north as 40 kilometers south of Sacramento in the state's central valley," McDonald wrote. "In the bees they collected in San Diego, they also discovered that more than 60 percent of foraging honey bee workers have Africanized genetic traits, but that African traits are found in only 13 percent of managed or commercial hives."

The scientists said the Africanized bees' northward expansion has slowed considerable, and that these bees have a limited ability to survive cold temperatures. In other words, they cannot survive cold winters. However, their presence may "improve the genetic stock of honey bees used in agriculture," according to Kohn.

At UC Davis, assistant professor Brian Johnson of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, is doing research on  genetic dispersion of AHBs around the state.  He has collected and frozen a large number of feral bee samples from around the south and central portions of the state.

After what happened last weekend, interest in AHB expansion has definitely accelerated. Stay tuned.

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

A Push to Protect Pollinators

Bug Squad   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   February 26, 2106 

A United Nations' organization today issued a global pollinator health report and the news was not good. 

The two-year global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) lamented the decline in pollinators due to such human-driven factors  as habitat loss, pesticides, and  malnutrition. These and other culprits, including pests, invasive species and climate change, can mean extinction of many species.

Major news organizations quickly sought input from experts, including...


Bee My Valentine

Bug Squad     By Kathy Keatley Garvey   February 8, 2016

Bee my valentine.

There's something about a honey bee foraging on a flowering quince that makes you long for Valentine's Day and the end of winter.

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp.) is one of the first flowers of the year to bloom. And bloom it does, in between the rain drops and rays of sunshine.

It's a delight to see the honey bees buzzing in and out of the delicate pink flowers as they tightly pack their yellow pollen for the trip back to their colony. Protein for the bees.

They're the real winged cupids of Valentine's Day, not the baby with the bow and arrow.

Wikipedia says of Valentine's Day: "The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as valentines). In Europe, Saint Valentine's Keys are given to lovers  'as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver's heart,' as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine's Malady).Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards."

Remember those traditional Valentine's Day cards?

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you.

Me thinks that "pink" and "flowering quince" and "yellow pollen" and "honey" should have been in there somewhere...

Read at and view more images:

The Buzz About Honey Bees and Marijuana

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   December 15, 2015

Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, “retired” in June of 2014 after 38 years of service but his phone and keyboard at Briggs Hall gather no dust.

The honey bee guru continues to answer a range of questions. The latest concerns the effect of marijuana growing sites on honey bees.

We thought we’d share his answer, which deals with honey bees, pollinators, Cannabis, pesticides, and what could happen to beekeepers who stumble upon a pot farm.

The question: “What is the effect, good or bad, that marijuana plants and marijuana grow sites have on the honey bee? From what I understand, these grow sites are using chemicals to control pests year round. In some cases, I hear that marijuana growers are importing chemicals from Mexico that are stronger and work better to control pest.”

Mussen answered the question succinctly and openly.

“As you might guess, since marijuana is still considered an illegal plant to grow by the federal government,” he replied, “it is no surprise that there are no pesticides registered for use on the ‘crop.’ Some states are trying hard to build a list of acceptable products, but here is the problem. So far we have registered products based on contact and oral toxicities to mammals. We have only run inhalation toxicities on a few very potent and stinky products (fumigants). You can get up to 10X the dose of a chemical, from the same amount of plant mass, if you smoke it versus eating it.

“There are quite a number of websites dedicated to pot growing. When pest control becomes the topic, most sites suggest mechanical methods or use of products allowed in organic agriculture. However, those organic pesticides have not been checked for inhalation effects, either.”

“Thus, practically any pesticide that is used will be illegal. Given that, growers are apt to determine which materials work best on the pest at hand on other crops, acquire those materials, and use them. The regulators know this, and in states where marijuana currently is legal, the states are testing some of the products on the shelves to see what pesticides are in them. The samples have been found to be pretty clean, for the most part.”

Mussen acknowledged that blooming hemp plants are attractive to many pollinators. “I have no idea what the pollen and nectar might do to them when the bees consume it. We can provide a pretty good idea of what will happen when pesticide products used on other crops are applied to the bloom (at agricultural rates), but since nothing is registered, there is no way of guessing what might be used. For the standard fee of just under $400, we can send a sample of the bees or pollen to the USDA AMS pesticide residue detection lab in Gastonia, N.C., and they can tell us the residues. Butthat doesn’t help us much in terms of regulatory assistance.

“Pot growers probably won’t care if they repel or kill visiting bees,” Mussen speculated. “Pollinated blossoms become senescent too quickly, and do not produce the maximum amount of important resins if they are pollinated early in their cycle.”

“Up to this time, I have not heard of beekeepers reporting damage from pesticides applied to marijuana, but it is likely to happen before long. Beekeepers are more worried about being shot if they accidentally get too close to a pot farm.”

Stay tuned.

Forager Bees ‘Turn On’ Gene Expression to Protect Themselves from Microrganisms, Toxins

UC Davis Entomology & Nematology News   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   November 9, 2015

DAVIS--When honey bees shift from nurse bees to foragers, or from caring for the brood to foraging for nectar and pollen, the bees “turn on” gene expression with products that protect against  microorganisms and degrade toxins, three scientists at the University of California, Davis scientists have discovered.

The paper on bee immunity and toxin metabolism was published Nov. 9 in Scientific Reports, part of the Nature Publishing Group.

“First, the results suggest that forager bees may use antimicrobial peptides—short sequences of amino acids with general activity-- to reduce microbial growth in stored food resources,” said Rachel Vannette of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “This would be a largely unrecognized way that bees protect honey and potentially other stored resources from microbial spoilage. Second, this work shows that forager bees produce toxin-degrading enzymes in nectar-processing tissues.”

“This may allow forager bees to degrade many different kinds of compounds in nectar, before it is stored,” Vannette said. “Bees also vary in their ability to do this—foragers have a greater ability to degrade a variety of compounds than nurses. This may have implications for hive health and management.” 

The scientists found the change in nectar-processing tissues, but not in the gut.   The scientists surmised that the exposure to bacteria or yeasts in the environment may trigger this change, but they did not examine it in the study.

"Nice paper,” said Gene Robinson, director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and Swanlund Chair of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in the research. “It had been well known that the division of labor in a honey bee colony is supported by extensive differences in brain gene expression between bees that perform different jobs. This new research shows nicely that this genomic differentiation extends beyond the brain; different complements of active genes in a variety of tissues make each bee better suited for the job it needs to perform."

The journal article, titled “Forager Bees (Apis mellifera) Highly Express Immune and Detoxification Genes in Tissues Associated with Nectar Processing,” is the work of senior author/assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and co-authors Abbas Mohamed, graduate student researcher in the Johnson lab and a member of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Group, and assistant professor Vannette, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology this fall after serving a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. At Stanford, Vannette examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.

Johnson, whose research interests include animal behavior, evolution, theoretical biology and genomics, recently began long-term research on the honey bee immune system and the causes and consequences of economically important diseases /syndromes such as colony collapse disorder.

Mohamed, who has researched honey bees since 2011, is currently focusing on pesticide detoxification as a part of his master's degree research. "Honey bees have always fascinated me,” Mohamed said, “and there is nothing more exciting than to be at the edge of discovery, learning new things, and contributing to the field of our understanding of these amazing creatures.”

The team plans to follow up with functional assays to examine the potential of these gene products to (1) reduce microbial growth and (2) degrade a variety of natural and synthetic compounds.

The abstract:

“Pollinators, including honey bees, routinely encounter potentially harmful microorganisms and phytochemicals during foraging. However, the mechanisms by which honey bees manage these potential threats are poorly understood. In this study, we examine the expression of antimicrobial, immune and detoxification genes in Apis mellifera and compare between forager and nurse bees using tissue-specific RNA-seq and qPCR. Our analysis revealed extensive tissue-specific expression of antimicrobial, immune signaling, and detoxification genes. Variation in gene expression between worker stages was pronounced in the mandibular and hypopharyngeal gland (HPG), where foragers were enriched in transcripts that encode antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and immune response. Additionally, forager HPGs and mandibular glands were enriched in transcripts encoding detoxification enzymes, including some associated with xenobiotic metabolism. Using qPCR on an independent dataset, we verified differential expression of three AMP and three P450 genes between foragers and nurses. High expression of AMP genes in nectar-processing tissues suggests that these peptides may contribute to antimicrobial properties of honey or to honey bee defense against environmentally-acquired microorganisms. Together, these results suggest that worker role and tissue-specific expression of AMPs, and immune and detoxification enzymes may contribute to defense against microorganisms and xenobiotic compounds acquired while foraging.”

Read at:

All the Buzz: The Hive and the Honey Bee

Bug Squad   By Kathy Keatley Garvey  November 3, 2015

It's out.

The newly published edition of The Hive and the Honey Bee edited by American Bee Journal editor Joe Graham, is now a reality.

This is the bible of the beekeeping world, and rightfully so. It was first published in 1853--which, by the way, happens to be the same year that the European honey bee arrived in California.

Apiarist, minister, and teacher L. L. Langstroth (1810-1895), “The Father of American Beekeeping,” wrote the first edition, then called Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey Bee. 

The Hive and the Honey Bee, last updated in 1992, is a massive effort. Published by Dadant, the 1057-page book is the work of dozens of national and international icons in beekeeping science and the beekeeping industry. The book traces the global history of beekeeping to modern day apiculture and spotlights the progress, problems and achievements along the way. European colonists brought the honey bee to America (Jamestown colony) in 1622. 

Three bee specialists with ties to UC Davis each wrote a chapter: Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology; Eric Mussen, Extension apicuturist emeritus; and bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, now with Washington State University. (Yours truly provided several dozen bee photos.)

Gary wrote a chapter on “Activities and Behavior of Honey Bees"; Mussen, “Injury to Honey Bees by Poisoning"; and Cobey, “Instrumental Insemination of Honey Bee Queens.”

“It has taken us until the 21st Century to realize just how important these hardworking insects are and their significance in the integrity of the environment is, at least, beginning to be fully understood,” wrote Richard Jones, director emeritus of the International Bee Research Association, Cardiff, United Kingdom, in the first chapter. “There are many threats to honey bees and the possibility of their demise has sharpened interest in them and in turn led to further investigating, scientific research and the dissemination of more material on their management and well-being.”

Gary opened his chapter with “The activities and behaviors of honey bees haven't changed significantly in thousands of years! What has changed is our understanding of how and why bees behave as they do.”

Gary, who retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career, specialized in research in honey bee behavior, especially mating, foraging, stinging and communication. A noted bee wrangler., he trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. Among his credits: 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.

Mussen began his chapter with “Honey bees have been exposed to naturally occurring intoxicants and poisons for tens of millions of years. Their exposure was limited mostly to toxicants that were components of nectar and pollen or naturally occurring gases such as methane from anaerobic breakdown of organic wastes.”

“While flying as many as four miles from the hive in their quest for water, nectars, pollens and propolis, a fifty-square mile potential area of coverage, forages are likely to encounter many different chemicals and organisms,” Mussen wrote.

Mussen, who retired in 2014, served 38 years as the Extension apiculturist, headquartered in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.  During his academic career, he conducted a program focused primarily on his role as a liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real world beekeeping and crop pollination.  Known as a "honey bee guru," Mussen continues to share his bee expertise from his Briggs Hall office.

In her chapter on instrumental insemination, Cobey wrote: “The ability to control honey bee mating is essential for stock improvement and a valuable research tool.  Instrumental insemination provides complete control of the random honey be mating behavior.”

Cobey noted that queens “mate in flight with an average of 10 to 20 drones in congregating areas consisting of 10,000 to 30,000 drones from diverse genetic sources.”

Former manager of the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Cobey served UC Davis from 2007 to 2012 when she joined the WSU Department of Entomology. With a strong background in practical bee breeding for the commercial industry, she developed a collaborative honey bee stock improvement and maintenance program, partnering with the California queen producers. She coordinated a project to develop techniques for the international transport of honey beegermplasm. Under a permit from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS),  germplasm collected from Old World European honey bees was successfully imported and incorporated into domestic breeding stocks to enhance U.S. honey bees. Cobey developed information and outreach programs to assist beekeepers in honey bee breeding methods, providing instructional material and workshops in queen rearing and instrumental insemination,  presented locally  and internationally.

Norm Gary, Eric Mussen, Susan Cobey--three UC Davis scientists who made a difference in the beekeeping world and are sharing their expertise.

The "bee bible" belongs on the bookshelf of every bee scientist, beekeeper, and bee enthusiast. 

(Editor's Note: The price for the new edition is $54.50 plus shipping, and the books can be ordered now from the Dadant web site: or purchased at any of the Dadant branches. The toll-free order line for the Hamilton, Ill., home office is 1-888-922-1293.)

Neonics Severely Affecting Queen Bees

Bug Squad     By Kathy Keatley Garvey   October 15, 2015

Everyone from scientists to environmentalists to beekeepers are clamoring for more research on the effects of neonicotinoids on honey bees.

How do neonics affect queen bees?

Newly published research led by Geoffrey Williams of the Institute of Bee Health, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Switzerland, indicates that neonics severely affect queen bees.

They published the article, Neonicotinoid Pesticides Severely Affect Honey Bee Queens, on Oct. 13 in the "Scientific Reports" section of Nature. The abstract:

"Queen health is crucial to colony survival of social bees. Recently, queen failure has been proposed to be a major driver of managed honey bee colony losses, yet few data exist concerning effects of environmental stressors on queens. Here we demonstrate for the first time that exposure to field-realistic concentrations of neonicotinoid pesticides during development can severely affect queens of western honey bees (Apis mellifera). In pesticide-exposed queens, reproductive anatomy (ovaries) and physiology (spermathecal-stored sperm quality and quantity), rather than flight behaviour, were compromised and likely corresponded to reduced queen success (alive and producing worker offspring). This study highlights the detriments of neonicotinoids to queens of environmentally and economically important social bees, and further strengthens the need for stringent risk assessments to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services that are vulnerable to these substances."

Williams and his research team correctly noted that "a plethora of literature has demonstrated lethal and sub-lethal effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on social bees in the field and laboratory" but that much of that research was done on worker bees.

"In this study, we hypothesised that exposure to field-realistic concentrations of neonicotinoid pesticides would significantly reduce honey bee queen performance due to possible changes in behaviour, and reproductive anatomy and physiology," they wrote. "To test this, we exposed developing honey bee queens to environmentally-relevant concentrations of the common neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam and clothianidin. Both pesticides are widely applied in global agro-ecosystems and are accessible to pollinators such as social bees, but are currently subjected to two years of restricted use in the European Union because of concerns over their safety. Upon eclosion, queens were allowed to sexually mature. Flight behaviour was observed daily for 14 days, whereas production of worker offspring was observed weekly for 4 weeks. Surviving queens were sacrificed to examine their reproductive systems."

They called for more research on the effects of the pesticides on queen bee reproduction:

"Current regulatory requirements for evaluating safety of pesticides to bees fail to directly address effects on reproduction. This is troubling given the key importance of queens to colony survival and their frailty in adjusting to environmental conditions. Our findings highlight the apparent vulnerability of queen anatomy and physiology to common neonicotinoid pesticides, and demonstrate the need for future studies to identify appropriate measures of queen stress response, including vitellogenin expression. They additionally highlight the general lack of knowledge concerning both lethal and sub-lethal effects of these substances on queen bees, and the importance of proper evaluation of pesticide safety to insect reproduction, particularly for environmentally and economically important social bee species." Read the full report.

Meanwhile, the University of California, Davis, just held a sold-out conference on neonics. The speakers' presentations (slide shows) are posted on the California Center for Urban Horticulture's website.

Everyone agrees on this: more research is needed.

Read at: