Varma's time-lapse video of 2500 images vividly shows the development of eggs to pupae to adults. He captured the video at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis. Varma's images of a bee in flight, and a close-up of an emerging worker bee are also from the Laidlaw apiary.
Those are our girls!
Indeed, our bees from the Laidlaw facility figured quite prominently in the piece, “Quest for a Superbee,” published in the May edition of National Geographic.
Staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk worked with and assisted photographer Varma for about a year. Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service, served as a research fact-checker. National Geographic contacted him for data confirmation.
The article, authored by Charles Mann, questions “Can the world's most important pollinators be saved?' and ponders “how scientists and breeders are trying to create a hardier honeybee.”
In his article, Mann explores what it would take to build a better bee. He touches on RNAi and quotes bee researcher Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” as saying “If you target one specific area, the organism will always make an end run around it.” She advocates a “healthier, stronger” bee, or what Mann writes as “one that can fight (varroa) mites and disease on its own, without human assistance.”
Spivak was the keynote speaker at the Bee Symposium, hosted May 9 by the Honey and Pollination Center in the UC Davis Conference Center. It drew a crowd of 360. (Soon we'll post video from the symposium.)
Spivak and John Harbo of the USDA's research center in Baton Rouge, La. “both succeeded in breeding versions of hygienic bees by the late 1990s,” Mann writes. “A few years after that, scientists realized that hygienic bees are less effective as the mites grow more numerous.”
Both Spivak and Varma have presented TED talks on honey bees.
Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing
Both of the TED talks should be required viewing for anyone who wants to know more about bees and their needs. Maybe these TED talks should be TEB talks--Take Every Bee Seriously.
The Department of Entomology and Nematology will offer honey tasting from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Briggs Hall courtyard. Last year's event drew some 3000 people. The process is easy: take a toothpick, dip it into the honey container (no double-dipping) and savor.
This year visitors can sample six different varietals of honey: coffee blossom, meadowfoam blossom, buckwheat, creamed clover, cotton and chestnut, according to Extension apiculturist Elina Niño. Across the hallway, in Room 122, folks can check out the bee observation hive from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Niño and staff research associate Billy Synk will answer questions about bees.
Several blocks away, the Honey and Pollination Center, located at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science (RMI), will offer honey tasting: avocado, orange blossom, sage, sweet pea, meadowfoam and UC Davis wildflower. Visitors can purchase the UC Davis wildflower honey, said Honey and Pollination Center executive director Amina Harris. And yes, there will be a bee observation hive at RMI, too. How fast can you find the queen bee?
Meanwhile, the "Wings of Life" will be playing continuously in the RMI's Sensory Theatre. It doesn't get any better than this!
Harris encourages visitors to "bee all you can bee" by wearing bee or honey costumes or "come dressed as your favorite pollinator." Arts and crafts activities for children are also planned. Think bees. Thank them, too. You'll see bees foraging in the Good Life Garden that fronts RMI. Vegetables, fruits, herbs...they're all there.
Saturday is a also a good time to visit the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Planted in 2009, the half-acre bee friendly garden is operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It is open from dawn to dusk every day for self-guided tours. There you'll see honey bees from the nearby Laidlaw facility doing what they do best--pollinating. Keep a watch out for other pollinators, too. They include sweat bees, digger bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and butterflies. Then mark your calendar for May 2 to return to the haven from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the fifth anniversary celebration, coordinated by manager Chris Casey.
Yes, Saturday April 18 promises to be a "honey of a day" and a "honey of a picnic."
Visitors at the annual California Agriculture Day, held Wednesday, March 18 on the west lawn of the State Capitol, made a beeline to the California State Beekeepers' Asssociation (CSBA) booth to see the bees, pocket some honey sticks and talk bees.
Staffing the booth were five beekeepers and Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired last June after 38 years of service, fielded lots of questions.
Bill Cervenka of Bill Cervenka Apariies, Half Moon Bay, provided a bee observation hive. Carlin Jupe of Sacramento, secretary-treasurer of the CSBA, brought along 2000 Honey Stix containing wildflower honey, ordered from Nature's Kick, Salem, Ore.
Each honey stick contained a CSBA message:
- Honey bees are the backbone of agriculture
- They pollinate 1/3 of the human diet
- They pollinate 50 varied U.S. crops worth more than $20 billion
- They pollinate California's $2.5 billion almond production
- They produce $150 million in U.S. honey and beeswax
"I spent quite a bit of time on 'How do I keep bees in a thirty-third floor apartment with no balcony?'" Mussen related. "I sent a number of people to the Sacramento Beekeeping Supply store to find an opening in beginning beekeeping courses. I spent time explaining the bee space and how to keep purchasing wooden ware from the same supplier, so the space would not be violated."
Folks also wanted to know how the drought is impacting the bees. State Senator Jim Nielsen "wanted to know that he kicked up enough of a fuss to get agriculture a place at the water conference table. Up until then, no ag reps were desired."
Eight-year-old Sam Blincoe of Sacramento took a special interest in the bee observation hive, as Mather explained what the bee colony is all about. "He's going to become a beekeeper," she predicted.
The theme, she added, "also reflects the United Nations' declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions."
Meanwhile, California Farm Bureau Foundation president Paul Wenger issued this statement today, the first day of spring: "On this first day of spring, we celebrate the agricultural bounty of our nation and especially of California, where a unique combination of climate, soils, water and know-how allows farmers and ranchers to harvest food and farm products every day of the year. While parts of our nation continue to shiver in cold and snow, California provides, thanks to one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world. As we celebrate this bounty, we must also resolve to assure we can sustain it. As California suffers through another year of drought, we must pay particular attention to our state's ability to manage the rain and snow that does fall each winter, to sustain us through dry times. Farm Bureau will continue to press our leaders, at the local, state and national levels, to assure sustainable food production by building new water storage and better managing the entire water system, to ensure California remains the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation."
You can tell it's almost spring when you hear bees buzzing on the flowering crab apples.
Spring officially starts Friday, March 20, but don't tell that to the bees.
They're in the midst of their spring build-up.
Meanwhile, California Agriculture Day beckons.
The California State Beekeepers' Association and other ag-affiiiated organzations are gearing up for the annual California Ag Day, part of National Agriculture Week.
California Ag Day, free and open to the public, takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 18 on the west steps of the state capitol.
There you'll see a John Deere tractor parked on the steps, 4-H'ers and FFA'ers showing their animals, and ag industries displaying educational material and offering samples. Generally, it's a day to celebrate agriculture and thank the farmers and growers for the bounty that we tend to take for granted. This year's theme is “California Agriculture: Breaking new Ground." The focus: the importance of soil health to our food supply and all of agriculture.
Said Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross: "National Agriculture Week gives us the opportunity to celebrate agriculture, an industry that provides a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply, a strong economy, and a world of job opportunities.”
If you stop by the California State Beekeepers' Association booth on California Ag Day, you can learn first-hand about bees from the beekeepers and "honey bee guru" Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired last June after 38 years of service.
Generally, they're asked:
- How are the bees doing?"
- "What can we do to help?"
- "How difficult is it to keep bees?"
- "How can I learn beekeeping?"
- "What's wrong with my bees?"
There's a reward, too, for visiting the booth. You'll receive a sweet treat: a honey stick.
Did you know that it takes honey bees 10 million floral visits to make a pound of honey? (Source: Bees of the World by Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw). "The members of a single hive may make four and a half million visits to flowers in the course of one day's work and more than one thousand workers will die every day in the summer," they write. "Cause of death? Sheer exhaustion. Life expectancy? Af the height of the nectar-gathering season, a mere six weeks."
That's something to think about the next time you see the foragers going about their bees-ness.
The theme? "Keeping Bees Healthy." An excellent topic.
The symposum is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees, said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, housed in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. (See news article. To register, access this page.)
Keynote speaker is Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor, University of Minnesota and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow. Spivak will speak on "Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet."
Another speaker is Amy Roth, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Ames. She will be doing double-speaking duty when she makes the 1761-mile trip to UC Davis. Roth will deliver separate talks on honey bees and social wasps. At the May 9th symposium, she'll speak at 11 a.m. on "Combined Effects of Viruses and Nutritional Stress on Honey Bee Health."
A few days later, on Wednesday, May 13, her topic will turn to social paper wasps. She'll present a seminar, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on "Molecular Evolution in Insect Societies: Insights from Genomics of Primitively Social Paper Wasps" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive.
A little more about social wasps...
"The evolution of highly cooperative, eusocial behavior from solitary ancestry represents one of the major transitions in the evolution of life," she says. "Thus, understanding the evolution of insect eusociality can provide important insights into the evolution of complexity. Recently, with the advent of the genomic era, there has been great interest in understanding the molecular underpinnings of social behavior and its evolution. Several hypotheses about how eusociality have been proposed; these ideas can be roughly divided into two camps—one proposes that eusociality involved new (novel, or rapidly evolving) genes, and the other, that old (deeply conserved) genes took on new functions via shifts in gene regulation."
Toth will provide an overview of recent research in her laboratory "aiming to address the genomic basis of social evolution in insects, with a focus on gene expression. Utilizing a comparative approach involving multiple species and lineages of bees and wasps, as well as denovo sequencing of genomes,transcriptomes, andepigenomes, our work aims to trace the types of genomic changes related to the evolutionary transition from solitary toeusocial behavior."
Toth will present results from several lines of research mainly focused on primitively social Polistes paper wasps, that have led to the following insights:
- Relatively minor shifts in gene expression patterns may accompany earlier stages of social evolution
- Convergent evolution of social behavior in different lineages involves similar gene expression patterns in a small set of key pathways,
- Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation are variable across species and evolutionarily labile.
"Although more data on additional solitary and social species, and on novel genes, are needed, the emerging picture is that earlier transitions from solitary to simple eusociality involved relatively small changes in gene expression and regulation," Toth points out.
All in all, it's going to be a busy week for Amy Toth. Honey bees first, on Saturday, May 9. The vegetarians. Then their cranky cousins, the social wasps, on Wednesday, May 13. The carnivores.