It's no secret that honey bees like the sugar/water mixture in hummingbird feeders. If there's no bee guard on the feeder or if the feeder isn't bee-proofed, bees will sip the mixture. They also will lick the spills. A sudden gust that sways or upends the feeder is "bee happy time."
However, should we be attracting honey bees to our hummingbird feeders and/or providing them with sugar/water syrup? Is the syrup mixture good for the bees?
Curious minds want to know.
One rural East Bay Area area resident who feeds the hummers and caters to honey bees in her garden asked that very question. Since bee guards prevent the short-tongued bees from reaching the food (hummers, as we all know, have long tongues), she hung "plant saucers from a tree with sponge in one and a terrycloth towel in the other so the liquid doesn't cause them to drown, and the bees swarm all over it to eat the sugar water. I can go through two gallons of sugar water a day. Who knew bees could eat so much."
"Bees are in trouble elsewhere but not here," she shared. "I didn't intend to be a bee feeder. I don't have hives for them or collect their honey."
The bees come to eat and she enjoys watching them eat. Her intention is to help the bees. "Walking into a swarm of bees to fill their feeders is thrilling. I don't hurt them and they don't hurt me. And having them here is a simple way for me to educate people about the importance of bees and contrary to the common belief that we need to be afraid of them. People leave here with a different view of their gentleness and importance."
She makes a 3-to-1 ratio (three parts water, one part sugar) for the hummers and bees. However, her neighbors wonder if she is harming them "because they need the protein from pollen" and the bees "might find the sugar water addictive."
Will it harm them?
Newly retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has answered a lot of humminbird feeder/bee questions during his 38-year career.
"Feeding honey bee colonies sugar syrup has been going on since man determined how to refine sugar from beets and canes," Mussen said. "However, in most cases, we feed these syrups to honey bee colonies only when they are short on nectar at times when nectar is critically important, especially for brood rearing in the spring and for making sure there is enough food in the hive to get the bees through winter."
"Nectars contain very small amounts of numerous plant-derived micronutrients that are essential to honey bees," he pointed out. "We have known that all along, but recently some research has documented that components of honey make the honey better for bees than sugar syrup. Honey-fed bees have more robust immune systems, they learn locations of food sources more rapidly, and they forage more quickly than sugar syrup-fed bees."
So, the question: Is she harming the honey bee colonies with the syrup feeders?
"I doubt it," Mussen said. "Some beekeepers feed hundreds of colonies from open buckets of sugar syrup in southern U.S. beekeeping operations, and their colonies do just fine. However, I counsel against such an approach, since the strongest and least needy colonies get most of the syrup, leaving little behind for the weaker, more needy colonies. Each should be fed individually with a hive feeder."
So bottom line, "If you wish to continue feeding the bees, they will keep taking the syrup. However, since it is not nectar, the bees will be 'robbing' the syrup from its source. The problem with that is that once robbing gets started, bees from one colony begin to try robbing from neighboring colonies. The bees fight at the entrances and many are killed. I am sure that we can say that many colonies are benefitting from your syrup in one respect--just like the hummers--but there are downsides to the practice."
In addition, beekeepers may find their honeycomb tinted red or polka-dotted. It's not honey; it's syrup.
It was a good day to be a praying mantis. It was not a good day to be a honey bee.
Just before noon today, we watched a green praying mantis lurking in the African blue basil, like a camouflaged soldier ready to ambush the enemy. His eyes remain focused on a single honey bee gathering nectar for her colony. She is moving slowly but methodically, buzzing from one blossom to another.
The predator and the prey. An epic battle. A battle that's been waging for millions of years.
The honey bee keeps nectaring. The praying mantis keeps watching. He is not admiring her nectaring skills. He is seeking a bee breakfast like the one he had yesterday.
Suddenly, with one swift leap, the praying mantis snares and traps the honey bee in his spiked forelegs. The bee struggles to escape but the mantis tightens his grip with his needlelike vise.
The bee will not be returning to her hive tonight.
Wait...what's this...a dive-bombing attack?
It is. A male leafcutter bee is dive-bombing the predator. Is he trying to protect his cousin, the honey bee, or just being territorial? At any rate, he is a double blur as he dive-bombs from above, targeting the predator and then pulling up to do it again. Five passes. Some near misses, some near body slams. Some passes are so close that their antennae touch.
The praying mantis glances at the leafcutter bee and continues eating, somewhat like the Carl Jr. commercial, "Don't bother me, I'm eating."
"I'm eating and you're next."
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, sharing stories with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars?
Well, not likely.
The lady beetle (family Coccinellidae) preys mainly on aphids--it can eat about 50 aphids a day or some 5000 aphids in its lifetime. But it will devour other soft-bodied insects, including mites, scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and butterfly eggs and larvae (caterpillars). Butterfly caterpillars move quite slowly; they are not Indy 500 speedsters.
We spotted a lady beetle early this morning on one of our passionflower (Passiflora) seed pods, surrounded by hungry Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillars. It was somewhat like a two-peas-in-a-pod scene, but without the peas. Here were two insect species ON a pod, and both sharing the same warning color: red.
The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are hungry. Very hungry. They've stripped the passionflower vine of all its leaves and are now eating the stems and seed pods. Actually, we planted the passionflower vine for them. But are they THAT hungry? They are. They're famished. And there are literally hundreds of them.
Sometimes we think that all of the Gulf Frit butterflies west of Mississippi are gravitating toward the plant to lay their eggs. The vine cannot support that many hungry caterpillars, despite predation by scrub jays and European paper wasps.
The lady beetle, we assume is not only eating the tiny yellow eggs of the Gulf Frit, but the tiniest of the tiny larvae. It's an exquisite buffet of tasty treats with high nutritional value.
And easy pickings.
He's a survivor.
His sisters and brothers didn't eat him when he emerged from the egg case. In fact, he probably ate some of his brothers and sisters.
He has managed to elude his predators: bats, birds and spiders.
Yes, our praying mantis is very much alive and quite well, thank you.
It's early morning and the praying mantis is a lean green machine as he climbs a green cactus from his base camp, a flower bed of pink lantana. He's not engaging in mountaineering for the sport of it or for the summit view. He's climbing the cactus to better position himself to find prey: to ambush an unsuspecting butterfly or bee.
He's not concealed but he's perfectly camouflaged. And he's cunning.
He stops, swivels his head 180 degrees--praying mantids can do that, you know--and proceeds to climb to the top of his Mount Everest.
It's a sight you don't see very often. First, because praying mantids usually blend into their environment. Second, how many times have you seen a green praying mantis climb a green cactus? And third, this cactus climber has something in common with the plant: the needlelike "ouch" factor. The cactus is spiny. The praying mantis has spiked forelegs to grasp its prey.
The mantis reaches the summit. He folds his forelegs as if in "prayer." Well, not quite. He looks as if he's begging for his breakfast.
It promises to be a good day, a top-of-the-morning day.
Mussen, who served 38 years as California's Extension apiculturist, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has changed the "R" word into a "K" word.
"K" for keynote speaker.
Mussen will deliver the opening keynote address at the 37th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, scheduled Sept. 17-20 at the University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.
Mussen, a five-time president and co-founder of WAS, will discuss "Changes in Beekeeping Over Three Decades" from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 in the University Center.
The conference will take place in conjunction with the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Management, Sept. 17-21 and the Missoula Honey Harvest Festival, Sept. 20.
The WAS conference, themed "The Path of Discovery to the Future," will be conducted by president Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor at the University of Montana and the state director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR).
Sept. 17 is the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring, sponsored by WAS and the Bee Culture magazine. Jerry Hayes will discuss Monsanto research and scale hives, and Dick Rogers, Bayer CropScience research and scale hives. Other topics include wide-scale scientific experiments that can be conducted by beekeepers; interpreting hive weight and temperature; and acoustic scanning of bee pests, diseases, pesticides, molecular genetics for queen production.
The Sept. 18 WAS agenda, with the keynote address by Mussen, includes talks on honey bee health in Canada; bees in Northern Ireland; bee health and treatments; critical issues for bees and beekeeping; and bees and bee breeding in New Zealand. One of the speakers is virologist Michelle Flenniken of Montana State University and the former Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis. She will speak on "Honey Bee Virology and Diseases" from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m.
The Sept. 19 WAS agenda will include a keynote address, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Neonic Pesticides and the Prospects for Future Life on Planet Earth” by G. Philip Hughes, of the White House Writers' Group. (Already that has people singing "Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees"--Jewel Aken's 1964 hit.) Among the other presentations will be “Working Bees” by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping; critical issues for bees and beekeepers; adapting bee management to climate change; and honey producers.
The Western Apicultural Society, founded in 1978, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization for beekeepers throughout western North America. Membership is open worldwide. However, the organization was designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.
There's still time to register for the conference, according to Fran Bach, WAS newsletter editor.