A partial solar eclipse is about to happen in Vacaville, Calif.
I am watching the insects: the honey bees nectaring on the African blue basil, an orbweaver spider munching on its prey, an assassin bug poised on a tropical milkweed, and a praying mantis lurking beneath a showy milkweed leaf.
Today (Aug. 21) is the long-awaited Great American Eclipse. The totality path will begin at 9 a.m. in Oregon, and stretch across the country to South Carolina.
Hmm, I wonder, how will the bugs in our pollinator garden react to a partial eclipse?
It won't be drastic, I predict. And it wasn't.
The partial eclipse in Vacaville began at 9:02 a.m. and reached its maximum (70 percent coverage of the sun) at 10:16. It ended at 11:38 am., a duration of two hours and 36 minutes.
The bees foraged before, during and after the eclipse, primarily on the African blue basil, which is usually covered with bees. During the height of the eclipse, however, as the skies darkened, a little more than half remained. After the eclipse, when the temperature increased and the wind ceased, the number of bees returned to normal.
"Honey bees tend to act like night is falling if the eclipse takes out quite a bit of the sunlight," says honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus and president of the Western Apicultural Society. "Then they 'wake back up' afterwards."
Despite the eclipse, the spider kept eating its prey. (Sure hope it wasn't that blue dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa, "the widow skimmer" I saw yesterday.) The praying mantis kept lurking. The assassin bug raised its antennae. And the bees--although fewer of them--just kept foraging.
Two stink bugs opted to procreate on the bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis. A Gulf Fritillary fluttered by and stopped to sip nectar from the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). The assassin bug crawled higher on the milkweed, poised for an ambush.
The spider tugged its prey beneath a leaf, abandoning its web. Well, that's that, I thought.
Not so. The sticky web snagged a honey bee while the spider was polishing off its first prey. Okay, spider, you've already had your breakfast. You don't need a second helping. Not today."
I freed the struggling bee and off it buzzed to forage another day.
A partial eclipse, but a full escape...
It's National Honey Bee Day or National Honey Bee Awareness Day, launched in 2009 by newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsak during his first year of office with the Obama Administration.
The goals are the same as those in 2009:
- Promote and advance beekeeping
- Educate the public about honey bees and beekeeping
- Ensure that the public is aware of environmental concerns affecting honey bees
It's a day when we applaud our bees, and the bee scientists, beekeepers, commercial breeders, and all the educational, scientific and research organizations that friend them, fund them, or fuel them.
Indeed, one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. What many folks don't realize is that honey bees are not native to the United States. European colonists brought them here in 1622, and it wasn't until 1853 when a beekeeper in the San Jose area introduced them to California.
Statistics provided by the National Honey Bee Day officials, help tell the story of the industry:
- For every 100 beekeepers, 95 percent are hobbyists, 4 percent are sideliners, and 1 percent are commercial beekeepers.
- Beekeeping dates back at least 4500 years.
- Beekeeping can be a sustainable endeavor.
- Renting bees to farmers in need of pollination generates a source of income.
- Beehives are kept on farms, in backyards, on balconies, and high-rise rooftops, all across the country.
Bees will also take center stage at the 40th annual conference of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) at the University of California, Davis. The conference, to take place Sept. 5-8 in the Activities and Recreation Center, is quite special because the organization was founded at UC Davis. WAS president is Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology promises an educational program, complete with speakers, networking, tours and a silent auction.
Among those speaking will be Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, who will address the crowd on "The Impact of Varroa on Honey Bee Reproductive Castes (Queen Bee, Worker Bee and Drone): Where Will the Research Lead Us?” Her talk is at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Her research interests encompass basic and applied approaches to understanding and improving honey bee health and particularly honey bee queen health. Ongoing research projects include understanding the synergistic effects of pesticides on queen health and adult workers in order to improve beekeeping management practice, testing novel biopesticides for efficacy against varroa mites, a major pest of bees, and understanding the benefits of supplemental forage in almond orchards on honey bee health. (Read her apiary newsletters, access her lab website at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/ or her lab Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/)
Writer Stephanie Parreira of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) recently interviewed Niño for a podcast on bee pests and how to manage them, using IPM methods. The podcast appears on the UC ANR Green Blog. You can read the transcript here.
Niño mentioned that varroa mites remain the key concern of beekeepers. "In fact, when I first started my position here as an extension specialist at UC Davis, I asked beekeepers what is one of the things that they would like me to focus on, and about ninety-nine percent of them said varroa mites," she said in the podcast. "Varroa mites are a problem because they basically suck honey bee blood, or honey bee hemolymph, they transmit viruses, [and] they can suppress immune genes in developing and adult bees. So they can kill the colony, basically, if they're not managed properly. We have seen in our own colonies that if we do not treat or manage varroa mites, we know that we will lose that colony over winter."
If you're interested in attending the WAS conference and learning more about bees, you can register here. The speakers represent a wide spectrum of expertise and topics, from top-bar beekeeping to pesticides to how to keep your colonies healthy. Or, you can contact President Mussen at email@example.com for more information.
You'll learn all about top-bar hives when Les Crowder of Austin, Texas, discusses "Major Considerations in Top Bar Hive Management" at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, set Sept. 5-8 at the University of California, Davis.
Crowder will speak at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 7 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). Registration is still open to attend the conference. See registration.
A top-bar hive is described as a single-story frameless bee hive with the comb hanging from removable bars.
Crowder and Heather Harrell co-authored the book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co. in 2012 and soon to be published in Spanish. He continues to teach and advocate nontoxic management of beehives.
Crowder says he began keeping bees--or the bees began keeping him--in Bernalillo, N.M., more than 40 years ago. "I began began looking for ways to raise bees without antibiotics in my teenage years and have been breeding honey bees for disease and parasite resistance since then. I also began early on to search for ways to regularly renew the combs in beehives because research indicated that old cocoon laden combs become havens for pathogenic fungi and bacteria that stress the bees' resistance to disease."
He built his first top-bar hive in 1979 and eventually begin using them exclusively for his 100-200 hive honey and beeswax business.
In his talk, Crowder will cover spring buildup, swarm prevention and making divides as a topbar beekeeper. In addition, he will compare and contrast top-bar hives with Langstroth hives.
Crowder served as president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association for many years. His credentials also include honey bee inspector for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and beekeeping instructor "in many parts of the world for more than 30 years."
"There's a lot of interest in top-bar hives," said Western Apicultural Society president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus based at UC Davis. He expects an enthusiastic crowd at the four-day conference, which will include a variety of speakers, tours, networking, and a silent auction. See schedule.
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization geared toward the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America, Mussen said. The group encourages membership from all over the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. Contact Mussen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- YouTube videos on Top-Bar Hives:
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Hearther Harrell (Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)
- Bee Culture journal article on top-bar beekeeping
A fly, oh, my!
On the approval scale, they don't rank nearly as high as honey bees, but some are often mistaken for them.
Take the Eristalis stipator, which belongs to the family Syrphidae, the hover flies.
It's about the same size as a honey bee and it's a pollinator.
We recently spotted this one--a female Eristalis stipator, as identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture--nectaring on tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The colors are striking--both the colors of the fly and the flowers. It's a striped fly, with black and white bands, one superimposed gold band, and buff-colored hairs piled on the thorax. And the showy flower, aka "blood flower," is red-orange with a yellow hood.
Eristalis is a large genus of approximately 99 species. The Eristalis stipator has no common name, so we just call it Eristalis stipator.
Or a fly.
Brandi will deliver his presentation on "Beekeeping in California: An Overview of Colony Management," covering the seasonal management of bees and their population cycle, at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). He will discuss both managed and non-managed colonies.
Brandi, involved in bee industry activities over the past 40 years, chaired the National Honey Board for three years, and served 37 years on the California State Beekeepers' Association Board of Directors, including a year as president in 2016-17. He and his son currently manage about 2000 colonies in Central California.
Brandi, who holds a bachelor of science degree in ag business from California Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo, in 1974, is heavily involved with bees. Among his many activities, he chaired the California Apiary Board from 1992 to 1995; served on the Project Apis m board from 2006 to 2016, and has been a member of the California Almond Board Bee Task Force since 2004 and a member of Carl Hayden Bee Research Center's Industry Liaison Committee since 2002. The USDA research center is located in Tucson.
The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference will filled with educational topics, networking, field trips, a silent auction, door prizes and just plain "bee" fun, says honey bee guru and WAS co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who is serving his sixth term as president.
The conference is open to all interested persons and registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit organization that represents mainly small-scale beekeepers in the western portion of North America, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and Arizona. Beekeepers across North America will gather to hear the latest in science and technology pertaining to their industry and how to keep their bees healthy.