Genetic Sex-Determination In Honeybees - A 200-year old Molecular Evolution Study

Science 2.0  By News Staff  12/31/13

Scientists may have figured out how the molecular switch for sex gradually and adaptively evolved in the honeybee. It's been a long journey

The first genetic mechanism for sex determination was proposed in the mid-1800s by the Silesian monk Johann Dzierson, who was trying to understand how males and females were produced in honey bee colonies. He knew that the difference between queen and worker bees – both females – emerged from the different quality and quantity of food. But, what about the males? Dzierson posited that males were haploid – possessing one set of chromosomes, which was confirmed a century later with the advent of high quality microscopes. Under the magnifying lens, researchers could see that eggs that gave rise to drones were not penetrated by sperm. However, how this system of haplodiploid sex determination ultimately evolved at a molecular level has remained one of the most important questions in developmental genetics.

To lay out the final pieces of how these systems evolved, the authors studied 14 natural sequence variants of the complementary sex determining switch (csd gene), for 76 genotypes of honey bees. 

The researchers had a big advantage over a monk 200 years ago. Modern biologists know honeybees have one gene locus responsible for sex determination and they also have genetic markers—well-characterized regions of DNA — close to the complementary sex determining locus to allow gene mapping. In addition, the honey bees' high recombination rate — the process by which genetic material is physically mixed during sexual reproduction — is the highest of any known animal studied, which helped them isolate, sequence and characterize the complementary sex determining locus. A decade ago, they were also able to knock out an allele and show how one could get a male from a diploid genotype. 

However, the questions of which alleles were key, how they worked together and in what combinations and why this system evolved were left unanswered, though tantalizing close. This compelled the current team of collaborators to step back to review what actually constitutes an allele.

"There has to be some segment of that gene that is responsible in this allelic series, where if you have two different coding sequences in that part of the gene you end up producing a female," said co-author and Arizona State University Provost Robert E. Page Jr. "So we asked how different do two alleles have to be? Can you be off one or two base pairs or does it always have to be the same set of sequences? We came up with a strategy to go in and look at these 18-20 alleles and find out what regions of these genes are responsible among these variants.

"In this process, we also had to determine if there are intermediate kinds of alleles and discover how they might have evolved."

What the authors found was that at least five amino acid differences can control allelic differences to create femaleness through the complementary sex determiner (csd) gene—the control switch.

"We discovered that different amounts of arginine, serine and proline affect protein binding sites on the csd gene, which in turn lead to different conformational states, which then lead to functional changes in the bees—the switch that determines the shift from female to not female," said Page.

The authors also discovered a natural evolutionary intermediate that showed only three amino acid differences spanned the balance between lethality and induced femaleness. These findings—which have taken nearly 200 years of study to pin down—suggested that incomplete penetrance may be the mechanism by which new molecular switches can gradually and adaptively evolve. 

"Gradual molecular evolution of a sex determination switch in honeybees through incomplete penetrance of femaleness" is published in Current Biology

Legalize Beekeeping, L.A.

The Los Angeles Times    By The Times editorial board   12/27/13 

Los Angeles should follow the lead of other major cities and draft rules that allow residents to keep bees, while providing some common-sense protections for neighbors. There's already an established backyard beekeeping community in Los Angeles despite the fact that it is not legal. The growing urban agriculture movement has spurred more interest in homegrown hives (in part because the bees are needed to pollinate the new urban crops) and more confusion over what is and isn't allowed.

New York City allowed illicit apiarists to come out of the shadows in 2010, and since then hobbyists have established hives on building roofs and in backyards. The city set basic rules: Colonies must be in well-maintained, movable frame hives with a constant water source, in a location that doesn't pose a nuisance. Beekeepers file a one-page hive registration form with the city health department each year.

Santa Monica permitted beekeeping in 2011 with similar requirements. Residents are allowed two hives per backyard, and the hives must be at least five feet from the property lines. Apiarists who don't follow the rules or who let their hives become a nuisance to neighbors face fines or misdemeanor charges.

Both cities said they've had no major problems; beekeepers have largely followed the rules or moved their hives in response to complaints. And city officials said there's been a benefit: a larger network of amateur beekeepers to call upon to remove swarms rather than exterminate them.

There will understandably be some concern and fear from neighbors — a swarm of feral honeybees can look like something out of a horror movie. Beekeeping experts say there are already lots of naturally occurring, unmanaged hives in the region. A managed hive in which bees have adequate food and space is less likely to produce a swarm.

We need bees. We want more bees. It's time to legalize beekeeping.,0,360002.story#ixzz2ohhxSJDr

2014 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow

The 2014 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow, January 7-11, at the River Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is just around the corner. Currently, registration is just over 550 attendees and we anticipate another 100 to 200 people to register onsite. This is shaping up to be an outstanding conference and we are looking forward to seeing you in Baton Rouge. 

It’s not too late to register for the conference if you haven’t done so already! Regular registration has officially closed, but onsite registration is still available. Information regarding registration rates and other conference-related details can be found on the conference website. Please be sure to take a look at the various conference agendas, as this conference offers something for everyone. 

The Secret Life of Native Bees

Ensia   By Enrique Gili   12/19/13

The Secret Life of Native Bees

As colony collapse disorder takes its toll on honeybees, native bees draw attention as an insurance policy for future food security.

Over the last decade biologists, citizen scientists and others have fanned out across the United States and parts of Latin America to detect the presence of native bees in the landscape. It’s an effort by the U.S. Geological Survey to get a sense of the overall health and status of native bees, some 4,000 species of which are known to...


The Wild Ones   By  Enrique Gili   12/19/13

                   Photography by the USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Program

Established in 2004 by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab and its director, Sam Droege, were tasked with creating long-range surveys of bee populations to determine whether native bees are in decline. “We’re lacking a lot of data,” Droege says. Determining the health and status of native bee populations, though, depends on the ability to identify them in the first place.

So Droege created a database that currently contains approximately 1,400 high-resolution images (though more are continually being added) of bees and other species they mix with in the wild that biologists, citizen scientists and others have sent the USGS. The images were made using a macro lens at the bee lab in Maryland, creating images remarkable in detail that are used in guides and for identification purposes.

To read more about the work of the Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab and others, read “The Secret Life of Native Bees” at Ensia, and to see more images from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab database, go to Sam Droege’s Flickr page.

Related article and amazing pictures of bees at Artcentron.


The 13 Bugs of Christmas

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey

It's time to revisit "The 13 Bugs of Christmas."

You've heard "The 12 Days of Christmas," beginning with a single "partridge in a pear tree" and ending with "12 drummers drumming." In between: two turtle doves, three french hens, four calling birds, five gold rings, six geese-a-laying, seven swans-a-swimming, eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping.

But have you heard "The 13 Bugs of Christmas?"

Back in 2010,...


Visit the Kathy Keatley Garvey Bug Squad blog at:

Holiday Gifts of Sweetness and Light

This holiday season give a gift of sweetness and light. Visit our local Farmers Markets where you can find 100% pure local honey, beeswax candles, and handmade soaps lotions and lip balms from LACBA beekeepers. 

Check out our Honey & Bee Products page for your nearest Farmers Markets. You can also purchase online from: 
Bills Bees and Klausebees.   


"And the bee said:

"We have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.'"     The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift



Bee Researchers Make Friends with a Killer

Scientific American     By Erik Vance  12/12/13

Latin America finds Africanized killer bees are better honey producers than expected

In the Mexican highlands, nestled between towering cliffs blanketed with verdant temperate jungle, is the tiny mountain town of Tepotzlan. Home to an ancient Aztec outpost high in the mountains and inhabited with monkeylike creatures called coatis, it is the definition of quaint, picturesque Mexico.

It’s also a great place to buy honey. Most honey you buy on Mexican streets isn’t the genuine article—it is honey-flavored syrup. For the real stuff, you have to go down a small side street in Tepotzlan and wander around asking for the “mujer de miel”—the honey lady. Eventually you find her house, a bland wall facing the street, guarded by a massive angry dog. But inside, her courtyard is friendly, lined with bushy plants and flowers of every type. The honey lady is thin and elderly but sharp as a tack. Ten dollars buys you the best honey in town and a few minutes to talk beekeeping.

Bees in Mexico, she says, aren’t what they used to be. Her hives don’t produce like they once did and entire colonies often fly away before she can even harvest their honey. “The problem,” she says, “is the Africanized bees.”

It’s been almost 30 years since Africanized (often called “killer”) bees first landed in Mexico. It took them just seven years to take over the country and cause an extended media panic in the U.S. In the end, they invaded southern states such as Texas and Arizona but were halted by colder winters north of there.

For most of us, the story ends here. European honeybees, favored by most beekeepers in Latin American and the U.S., however, have pretty much disappeared from Mexico and points south—leading to steep declines in the collection of honey. Except that’s not the end of the story...


UK's The National Honey Show Talks

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.)  

UK’s National Honey Show Results and Talks Available:

The 2013 National Honey Show is now over and you can find the Full Results and the Cup Awards list on the website together with the slide shows for each day. These are available to download from DropBox to use in newsletters, websites and publicity purposes.

The latest news is as follows:

As the planned building work has been postponed indefinitely, we’re back at St Georges College Weybridge for 2014. Half term is a little later next year so the dates are Thursday 30th October to Saturday 1st November 2014.

Judging takes place Thursday morning, the show officially opens at 2pm on Thursday, and the exhibition opens when judging finishes. We plan to continue the Thursday morning lectures, before the official opening and the trade hall will open at 12 noon on Thursday.

This year, partly funded by the National Honey Show, and partly with National Lottery Funding, we were able to produce top quality videos of some of the lectures. The first two of these, ‘The Sustainable Apiary’ by Mike Palmer, from Vermont, USA, and ‘Origins and Evolutionary History of the Honey Bee’ by Robert Paxton, UK are now available to view on

YouTube: and respectively. We would like to thank our lecture sponsors and all who took part in this project. We hope it will mitigate the disappointment of all who were not able to be in two places at once during the show, giving you a chance to catch up at leisure. Details of further lectures available to watch will be listed as they go live, on the National Honey Show Website the ‘Education’ tab. It would be brilliant to be able to continue offering videos of our lectures in the future, so do contact us with all ideas for future sponsorship.

We have a new Facebook page so do visit from time to time to see the latestnews:

Wishing all a well earned rest over the winter, and a good beekeeping season next year with prize winning results.

The National Honey Show mailing list


The STNC Supports Urban Beekeeping

On Wednesday, December 11, 2013 the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council voted to approve a motion to support beekeeping and to submit a Community Impact Statement to the LA City Council in accordance with the provisions of "Best Management Practices for Maintaining Local European Honey Bee Colonies."


Legalizing Beekeeping in Los Angeles: City Council Looks Into Urban Beekeeping Ordinance

Pacific Palisades Patch   By Alexander Nguyen   12/11/13

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to study the idea and report back in two months.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to report back in two months on the best ways to allow "beekeeping" activity in single-family residential areas.

Council members who last year proposed overturning the city's prohibition on beekeeping in those areas said promoting the practice will "foster a healthier bee population."

The bee population has been reported to be "in steep decline," prompting concerns that the local economy and the state's agricultural industry would be negatively affected, according to a related motion introduced Tuesday by Councilman Jose Huizar.

His motion calls for city staff to come up with "humane and non-lethal" ways to relocate or remove unwanted bee hives to serve as alternatives to existing methods used by government agencies, "given the usefulness of bees to California's agricultural industry and the growing popularity of urban beekeeping."

— City News Service


Accused of Harming Bees, Bayer Researches a Different Culprit

The New York Times   By Danny Hakim   12/11/13

MONHEIM, Germany - Bayer cares about bees. 

Or at least that’s what they tell you at the company’s Bee Care Center on its sprawling campus here between Düsseldorf and Cologne. Outside the cozy two-story building that houses the center is a whimsical yellow sculpture of a bee. Inside, the same image is fashioned into paper clips, or printed on napkins and mugs.

“Bayer is strictly committed to bee health,” said Gillian Mansfield, an official specializing in strategic messaging at the company’s Bayer CropScience division. She was sitting at the center’s semicircular coffee bar, which has a formidable espresso maker and, if you ask, homegrown Bayer honey. On the surrounding walls, bee fun facts are written in English, like “A bee can fly at roughly 16 miles an hour” or, it takes “nectar from some two million flowers in order to produce a pound of honey.” Next year, Bayer will open another Bee Care Center in Raleigh, N.C., and has not ruled out more in other parts of the world.

There is, of course, a slight caveat to all this buzzy good will.

Bayer is one of the major producers of a type of pesticide that the European Union has linked to the large-scale die-offs of honey bee populations in North America and Western Europe. They are known as neonicotinoids, a relatively new nicotine-derived class of pesticide. The pesticide was banned this year for use on many flowering crops in Europe that attract honey bees.

Bayer and two competitors, Syngenta and BASF, have disagreed vociferously with the ban, and are fighting in the European courts to overturn it...


Legalizing Beekeeping in Los Angeles & Sunland-Tujunga & Best Management Practices

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10 at 2:30PM - CITY OF LOS ANGELESThe Planning and Land Use Management Committee is discussing the issue of urban beekeeping in R1 zones should anyone wants to be there to observe/provide input.

ROOM 350 


Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council GENERAL BOARD SPECIAL MEETING AGENDA
North Valley Neighborhood City Hall
7747 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga, CA 91042
7:00PM: Meeting 6:30PM – Meet & Greet 

(The following is from Bill Lewis, President, California State Beekeepers Association and past President of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association.)

WHEREAS the public safety hazard from Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) is becoming widespread in California and

WHEREAS beekeepers can effectively make captured AHB colonies gentle by re-queening them with European honey bee queens, and

WHEREAS widespread use of this process would be beneficial to the public, beekeepers, and the image of beekeeping,

BE IT RESOLVED that the following “Best Management Practices” be implemented wherever honey bees are legal to be kept. 

“Best Management Practices for Maintaining European Honey Bee Colonies” 

1)      Abide by and remain in compliance with all state and local laws as they pertain to honey bees.

2)      Avoid keeping colonies of any race of bee other than European races (EHB).

3)      Report all colonies suspected of being non-EHB race to the County Agricultural Commissioner and submit samples of these to the County Ag Department if requested.

4)      Re-queen all colonies which are overly defensive with marked queens of known genetics from breeders located outside of Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) infested areas. See map:

5)      Re-queen and destroy all drones (male brood) in colonies found not to be EHB, so as not to propagate non EHB bees.

6)      Depopulate all colonies determined to be a pure or hybrid race other than EHB.

7)      Ensure that all queens are purchased from outside AHB suspected or detected areas.

8)      Ensure that all colonies are positioned in such a way as to ensure flyways are more than 6 feet above the ground when they cross property lines.

9)      Maintain all apiaries at least 10’ away from property lines and ensure all colonies within 40’ of property lines are placed behind a six foot barrier that would prevent direct access to the colonies from the property line.

10)  When maintaining colonies within 200 feet of property line, provide and maintain a water source within 50 feet or approximately the distance to the nearest unnatural water source not in control of the beekeeper (whichever is closest).

11)  Not maintain an apiary within 50 feet of any tethered or kenneled animal.

12)  Not manage or disturb colonies if neighbors or the general public are participating in outside activities or using machinery within 75 feet of the apiary.

13)  In the event that a county in which bees are kept is declared an AHB suspected or detected area:

a)      beekeeper will re-queen all colonies in my operation with marked queens of known genetics from breeders located outside of Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) infested areas.

b)      Provide the name and contact information of all suppliers from which beekeeper purchased queens.

c)      Kill all swarms caught or trapped in the county, or replace the queens of all swarms caught or trapped with marked queens of known genetics as described above.

14) Maintain at least one bait hive in each apiary.

Pollinator Efficiency Measured

CATCH THE BUZZ     12/10/13

Who’s Best At What, When and Where Finally Gets Measured

From tomatoes to pumpkins, most fruit and vegetable crops rely on pollination by bees and other insect species – and the future of many of those species is uncertain. Now researchers from North Carolina State University are proposing a set of guidelines for assessing the performance of pollinator species in order to determine which species are most important and should be prioritized for protection.

"Widespread concerns over the fate of honey bees and other pollinators have led to increased efforts to understand which species are the most effective pollinators, since this has huge ramifications for the agriculture industry," says Dr. Hannah Burrack, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the new guidelines and related research. "However, various research efforts have taken a wide variety of approaches, making it difficult to compare results in a meaningful way.

"We've developed a set of metrics that we think offers a comprehensive overview of pollination efficiency, which would allow researchers to compare data from different crops and regions."

The new comprehensive approach looks at four specific metrics. First is single-visit efficiency, which measures the number of seeds produced when one bee visits one flower. Second is abundance, which measures the number of each type of bee observed in a study area. Third is inclement weather behavior, which tracks how active a bee species is during cool, cloudy and/or windy weather. Fourth is visitation rate, or the number of flowers that a bee visits while foraging, and the amount of time it spends at each flower.

“The perfect bee would produce a lot of seeds and visit a lot of flowers, even in poor weather – and there would be a lot of them," Burrack says. "But as far as we know, the perfect bee doesn't exist."

The researchers conducted a pilot study using their comprehensive approach to assess the pollination performance of various bee species on economically important highbush blueberry crops in North Carolina. They found that small native bees had extremely high single-visit efficiency rates and were active during inclement weather. However, small native bees did not have high abundance nor appear to have high visitation rates.

"This highlights the importance of incorporating multiple metrics," says Dr. David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of the paper. "Because researchers looking only at visitation rates or abundance may think the small native species are unimportant, when they actually appear to be important pollinators for blueberry growers."


The paper, "Multiple Criteria for Evaluating Pollinator Performance in Highbush Blueberry (Ericales: Ericaceae) Agroecosystems," was published online Nov. 25 in the journal Environmental Entomology. Lead author of the paper is Shelley Rogers, a former graduate student at NC State. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the N.C. Blueberry Council and the NC State Beekeepers Association.

This ezine is also available online at

This message brought to us by Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Find Bee Culture at - TwitterFacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

Honeybees Can Recognize Individual Human Faces

Scientific American   By Elizabeth A. Tibbets and Adrian G. Dyer   12/4/13

Insects Recognize Faces Using Processing Mechanism Similar to That of Humans [Preview]

Conventional wisdom holds that the ability to recognize faces requires a complex mammalian brain. But some insects are surprisingly adept at this task

The wasps and bees buzzing around your garden might seem like simple-minded creatures. They build nests, forage for nectar, raise their young and then die, their lives typically playing out over the course of a single year or less. Some of these species rival humans and other primates in at least one intellectual skill, however: they recognize the individual faces of their peers.

More specifically, members of a species of paper wasp can perceive and memorize one another's unique facial markings and are able to use this information to distinguish individuals during subsequent interactions, much as humans navigate their social environment by learning and remembering the faces of family, friends and colleagues. Further, even certain insects that do not normally memorize faces in the wild can be trained to do so—and can at times even learn to tell human faces apart.

This article was originally published with the title Good with Faces.


Scientific America   By Kate Wong    12/4/13

Honeybees Can Recognize Individual Human Faces

The ability to tell individual faces apart was long thought to be exclusive to large-brained mammals. But in recent years a number of studies have shown that, in fact, some wasps can facially recognize one another. And honeybees can learn human faces, too. In their article in the December issue ofScientific American, biologists Elizabeth Tibbetts of the University of Michigan and Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Melbourne describe these findings and what they reveal about the neural requirements for seemingly complex cognitive tasks.

The image depicts how a honeybee sees the features of a human face. Researchers created the image with a mechano-optical array of 5,000 individual imaging tubes, each of which represents one of the facets of an insect’s compound eye.


Ah, Humbug!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey    12/6/13

It's no secret that bugs often get a bad rap.

Take the negative expression, "Bah, Humbug!" uttered by Ebenezer Scrooge, a Charles Dickens character.

Now it seems that everyone who dislikes Christmas says it, with an emphasis on "bug."

Why not turn things around and say "Ah, humbug!" Think of the hum of the buzzing honey bees on a warm summer day.

Or even a cold wintry day. 

Yesterday as the temperature hovered at 48 to 49 degrees on the University...


Visit the Kathy Keatley Garvey Bug Squad blog at:

(Note: You can purchase the Baja fairy duster (Calliandra caifornica), as well as many bee friendly native plants, at The Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, CA. Their winter sale is from December 7-31) 

Bill Lewis named President of the California State Beekeepers Association

We are proud to announce that Bill Lewis, our own local beekeeper, and longtime member and past President of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, has been named President of the California State Beekeepers Association. For the past year, Bill has been the Vice-President of the CSBA, and has now stepped up to the role of President.

He will be bringing the CSBA Annual Convention to Valencia, CA in November 2014.

Congratulations, Bill!  

When a Bee Sting Can Be Sweet!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   12/4/13

A bee sting can be sweet.

Especially when the result is an auction item.

Take the case of "The Sting," a memorable lunch-hour photo that went viral. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen and I were walking through the apiary of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, when he stopped abruptly.  "Kathy, get your camera ready,"...


Visit the Kathy Keatley Garvey Bug Squad blog at:

LACBA Buzzings!!! Newsletter from November 2013 Meeting

Buzzings!!! Newsletter from our November 2013 Meeting is now ready for your reading enjoyment. Thank you to LACBA Secretary, Stacy McKenna, on a wonderful job. Some of the topics include: Our Holiday Dinner, CSBA Annual Convention, What kind of first aid kit do you keep in your apiary, Q&A.