Microbes on the Menu for Bee Larvae

PHYS.ORG (ARS News Service) By Jan Suszkiw (US Department of Agriculture) August 20, 2019

Newly hatched blue mason bee larvae feeding on pollen provisions within a hollow reed.  Photo Credit: Shawn Steffan

Newly hatched blue mason bee larvae feeding on pollen provisions within a hollow reed. Photo Credit: Shawn Steffan

MADISON, WISCONSIN, August 20, 2019—Bees only feast on nectar and pollen, right?

Wrong. Turns out, Nature's famously busy insect isn't strictly vegan, after all.

Reporting online in this month's American Naturalist, a team of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and university scientists has shown that bee larvae (brood) have a taste for "microbial meat."

ARS entomologist Shawn Steffan and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, and Hokkaido University in Japan coined the term to describe an important ingredient in the brood's pollen provisions—namely, the protein of beneficial bacteria and fungi.

The microbes are naturally occurring in the pollen and feed and multiply within it. In the process, they increase the pollen's nutritional value to brood by enrichening it with amino acids—the building blocks of protein—that flowering plants alone may not always provide.

"Bees actually require the non-plant proteins of these pollen-borne symbionts to complete their growth and development—which makes them omnivores," explained Steffan, with the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wisconsin.

In fact, the team observed an appetite for microbial meat among brood that spanned 14 species distributed across all major families of social and solitary bees—Melittidae, Apidae and Megachilidae among them.

The microbes don't just serve themselves up as critical sources of amino acids, though. They also secrete enzymes that help break down and age raw pollen into a more nutritious and digestible form known as "beebread." Nurse bees may recognize this benefit and encourage the microbes' growth in pollen fed to brood, note the researchers in their paper. This microbial mix-mash may also check the growth of harmful bacteria or fungi that can ruin beebread or sicken the hive.

For their study, the researchers used isotope- and gas chromatography-based methods to calculate the ratio of nitrogen in two types of amino acids (glutamic acid and phenylalanine) in the tissues of adult bees and in beebread. The team chose the method because of its accuracy in determining an organism's trophic position—where it stands on the proverbial food web of life based on the flow of nutrients and energy from producers to consumers of these resources.

In this case, the team's isotope analysis showed that bee brood's consumption of both plant and microbial proteins warranted raising the insect's trophic status from that of a strict herbivore to an omnivore.

More broadly, Steffan said, the findings underscore the need to examine what effects fungicide use on flowering crops can have on the microbial make up of pollen fed to brood and, in turn, their development.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.


Rearing Honey Bees Responsively Requires Education and Careful Management to Help Stop the Spread of Disease

Bee Culture - Catch the Buzz By Matt Robinson March 20, 2019


Small-scale beekeeping has bloomed in recent years as amateur apiarists have taken to cultivating honey bee colonies of their own to help boost the ranks of pollinators under pressure around the globe.

But more is sometimes not better, and experts like Paul van Westendorp, a provincial apiculturist with B.C.’s Animal Health Centre, are warning that backyard honey bees that aren’t carefully managed can contribute to the spread of disease, undermining the well-intentioned efforts of those who keep them.

“Ironically, while beekeepers can be a highly independent lot and very individualistic … honey bees are completely communal in everything they do. So the misery that is experienced by one colony is often shared with other colonies, and the misery is often in the form of disease,” van Westendorp said.

B.C.’s honey bee colony count, at roughly 52,000 in 2018, is the highest its been since at least 2010, according to the results of the province’s annual beekeeping survey, and there are more colonies across the country than ever before, said van Westendorp. Urban interest in beekeeping and corresponding local bylaw amendments have helped foster the spread of honey bee colonies into cities and towns.

But what some who keep bees may not be aware is that honey bees were introduced to this continent and are best thought of as a form of livestock, distinct from the hundreds of species of domestic pollinators in Canada, like bumblebees and orchard mason bees, van Westendorp said.

He warned people against keeping bees without first learning some basics on seasonal management, or what to do in spring, summer, fall and winter. Also key is recognizing bee behaviour and the health of the brood, and understanding how bees reproduce, he said.

“By having an insight in that, that will enable the beekeeper to also detect possible diseases that may be present and … when you do find a disease, what kind of practices or techniques can you use to control these diseases.”

Stan Reist, the Canadian Honey Council rep for the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association, said he believed some people may be avoiding crucial procedures that can help colonies around the province stay healthy.

We’ve got people out there who do not believe in treatments. Well, they’re not doing themselves any favour and they’re not doing us any favour,” he said. “If you had a dog and it had mange, would you treat it? Sure you would. If your kid came home from school and had head lice, would you treat it? Yeah, sure you would. So if your bees have got mites, why wouldn’t you treat them?”

Reist said he believed those who neglect treatment are typically beekeepers with a few hives who “haven’t been in it for long enough to understand the dynamics. … They had the attitude that they want to save the bees, and they’re actually doing more harm than they are good.”

The provincial government offers introductory beekeeping classes that regularly enroll to capacity. It also offers a free webinar version open to anyone, and a master course for beekeeping veterans.

There are other beekeeping courses offered around the Lower Mainland as well, including those at the Honeybee Centre, which are geared toward hobbyists, and a program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, aimed at commercial keepers. Carolyn Essaunce teaches at both.

Essaunce said sometimes there is “contention between commercial beekeepers and hobby beekeepers” and if a hobby beekeeper’s hives get sick they blame the commercial beekeepers, and vice versa. She thought it was important to bridge the two industries because all of them have the same goals and raise bees that fly around.

“I think there’s a bit of misconception about what commercial beekeeping is. I think there’s an idea out there, not that everybody has it, in the hobby beekeeping industry that it’s sort of this mass production industrial farming. But I teach basic beekeeping for hobbyists and I also teach commercial. And we actually teach the exact same management methods,” she said.

In the broader picture, the societal pressure that humans place on the environment has been problematic for bees, van Westendorp said. Industrial monoculture agriculture, the widespread use of farm chemicals and the loss of agricultural land to development are just a few examples of a large societal footprint that has contributed to a widespread “depressing effect” on the natural world, he said. Honey bees — even though colonies now appear in Canada in greater number than before — have suffered from that and native pollinators are suffering even more, he said.

“We may have managed to maintain a quantitative presence or a relative abundance of pollinators. … Where the biggest fear is, is that we have a qualitative decline. And that is a decline in species diversity.”

Anyone looking for a low maintenance way to help pollinators could consider setting out mason bee condos or planting “bee forage plants,” van Westendorp said. That includes flowers like lupines, lavender, bigroot geraniums, hyssops and a host of other plants that bees like to visit.

Rearing Honey Bees Responsibly

You may also want to check this out: Keeping Backyard Bees - Home Sweet Home for Mason Bees

In Celebration of Bees

ecology.com   By Mary Zakrasek      April 23, 2014

It’s spring and with flowers blooming and birds singing, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the little insects that makes the biggest impact on our world…Bees!

Honeybees are often the first bees we think about but have you ever noticed how different flowering plants attract different bees?

I first became much more aware of this when a wisteria vine in our yard bloomed and suddenly, we had bumblebees. They found a plum tree to hang out in and when they got hungry, they’d make a “beeline” down the path to the hanging blossoms.

But it was a documentary hosted by Peter Fonda called “Pollinators in Peril” where I first learned that there are over 20,000 species of bees and found out just how much we rely on bees. The film also introduced a gentle bee, the Blue Orchard Mason Bee which is indigenous to North America that pollinates, but doesn’t produce honey, and can easily be introduced into home gardens.

What Bees do for Us

Simply and amazingly, the world’s food supply depends on them. Bees not only help produce one-third of the all fruits and vegetables but many of those plants are then used to feed animals. Without their pollination, many plants would not bear any fruit. For example, almond trees, blueberries and avocados rely exclusively on bees.

Because tomato plants have tight flowers, they depend on bumble bees to know just how to shake, or buzz pollinate them to release the pollen. Honey bees don’t have the ability to vibrate like bumble bees. The flight muscles of bumble bees doing this have been found to match the musical note, middle-C, which may open a new area of pollination research called sonication!

Many plants also need multiple visits from bees. For example, it takes about 21 visits to strawberry plants or the fruit will end up being small and lopsided. (Hmmm…now I know what happened to the strawberries I was raising)!

Honeymoons and Healing

Ever wonder where the word “Honeymoon” originated?

There’s a little known piece of folklore about a honey wine called mead that has aphrodisiac properties. In cultures that base their calendar on the lunar cycle, newlyweds would drink mead during their first month of married life for good luck.

Besides being used in food products, personal care, beauty products, supplements and beverages, honey is used to cure some health problems. The ancient healing art called Apitherapy thrives in Bucharest where there is an Apitherapy Medical Center. Doctors there believe the hive is the oldest and healthiest natural pharmacy, and use bee venom to combat multiple sclerosis, pollen for indigestion and honey to heal wounds.

Beekeeping Traditions

Bee hives in honey making museum in Stripeikiai, Lithuania. Photo Wojsyl/Lithuania Wikipedia Commons

Beekeeping traditions are deep and rich around the world, as it has been an intrinsic part of life for thousands of years. Rock paintings with graphic depictions of beekeeping date from 15,000 years ago!

To harvest honey in the Himalayas, tribal leaders climb steep cliffs and jab at the hives to knock the honeycomb from Apis laboriosa, the largest bee in the world, into a basket, the method they have used since 11,000 B.C. Then it is lowered to the waiting tribe below. Risking their lives to gather the honey creates a deep appreciation for the tradition and the honey it provides.

Slovenia is renowned for its apiculture. Here, beekeeping is called the “Poetry of Agriculture”. You can even go on ApiRoute excursions where you may meet beekeepers as you explore the natural countryside or discover bee homes painted in the Slovenian tradition of painting their hives and some believe it even helps bees remember which hive to come back to.

In Lithuania, The Museum of Ancient Beekeeping not only has displays about the history of beekeeping but also unusual carved wooden sculptures that contain beehives. These pay homage to Egyptian, Native American and Lithuanian mythology and folklore.

Urban Beekeeping

Rooftop garden at the Intercontinental Hotel, Melbourne. Photo Doug Beckers/Flickr

There’s an exciting development in urban beekeeping as bee lovers lobby to legalize beekeeping in cities where it is banned. Now, beekeeping is flourishing in Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Melbourne, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. And the list of buzzing cities continues to grow.

In Paris, bee hives are everywhere…on the rooftops of the Paris Opera, the Grand Palais and in the Luxembourg Gardens which also has an apiary school.


In New York, the Waldorf Astoria’s rooftop is home to bees whose honey harvest of 300 pounds a year makes it into the hotel’s kitchen in delicious sounding sauces likeHabanero and Honey Scallop Sauce. Because bees raised in urban areas have access to such a wide variety of flowers, the honey has many flavors coming through, inspiring honey-tasting events and even contests between hotels.

Bring Bees into Your Life

Heart shaped mason bee house Photo Dennis Bratland/Flickr

What if you could easily keep bees and increase your own garden yield and flower power?

The sleek, black Blue Orchard Mason Bees, the bees introduced in “Pollinators in Peril” are super pollinators, but they don’t produce honey.

For instance, it takes only 250 orchard mason bees to pollinate one acre of commercial apple orchards, whereas it would take 25,000 honeybees to accomplish the same task. Orchard Mason bees are indigenous to North America and come by their name because they pack mud into their nests like brick masons.

To encourage these bees to settle in your garden, all you really need is a wooden box that has the perfect size holes and flowers or fruit trees for them to pollinate. You can make the box yourself, or order it online. And, what’s really fun is that you can order bees that will arrive in your mailbox!

Other ways to get involved are the Adopt a Beehive in the UK and the Open Source Beehive Project where you can make your own smart beehive that will track where your bees go and the health of your hive.

Everyone can celebrate and support bees by planting flowering plants in your yard and in your community. You’ll enjoy the beauty they bring and at the same time contribute to keeping bees healthy and prolific!

Read at... http://www.ecology.com/2014/04/23/in-celebration-of-bees/