Our yard is filled with such bee friendly plants as salvia, lavender, catmint and rock purslane.
Lately, however, the honey bees have taken a liking to the sugar-water mixture from our hummingbird feeder. Manufacturers' bee guards are meant to deter them but frankly, we rather like attracting both the hummers and the buzzers.
"The bees are hungry," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis and Washington State University.
We like watching the honey bees gather at the "red fountain" as the sun sets. They buzz excitedly around the feeder, sip what they think is a nectar of the gods, and head back to their hive. Soon more of their sisters arrive to partake.
So, will the honey bees make red honey from the sugar-water mixture in the hummingbird feeder? No. The honeycomb will be tinted red, but it's not honey, said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. It's syrup. Sugar syrup.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who holds a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University (WSU), believes that "increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests." Just as stock improvement has served the poultry, dairy and swine industries well, the beekeeping industry needs access “to stocks of origin or standardized evaluation and stock improvement programs,” she says.
You can hear her discuss her research on “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 2 in 122 Briggs Hall.
A UC Davis researcher since May 2007, Cobey is a former student of "Father of Honey Bee Genetics" Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., (1907-2003), for whom the UC Davis bee lab is named. She provided practical application to the Robert Page-Harry Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program (CPRP) theory in the development of the New World Carniolan line, in its 31st generation and now an industry standard.
"The many problems that currently face the U.S. honey bee population have underscored the need for sufficient genetic diversity at the colony, breeding, and population levels,” wrote Cobey and colleagues Walter “Steve” Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology and David Tarpy of North Carolina State University (formerly a graduate student at UC Davis) in a chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions (Contemporary Topics in Entomology).
European colonists brought a small subset of European bees to America before the U.S. Honey Bee Act of 1922 restricted further importation of Old World honey bees to prevent the introduction of the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi. These early importations represented "a limited sampling of several subspecies," Cobey said.
“The limited foundation stock has been propagated and expanded to establish the existing U.S. beekeeping industry. In addition, the destruction of a once widespread feral population by parasitic mites and the genetic consequences of large scale queen production practices have contributed to reduce genetic diversity in U.S. honey bee populations. “
Cobey is involved in a number of scientific research projects. She and fellow scientists and beekeepers from UC Davis, WSU and the California Bee Breeders' Association are working together to develop and test protocols for the international exchange of honey bee germplasm and to incorporate imported stocks into established U.S. breeding stocks.
Cobey is also involved in a newly formed international group devoted to preserving the Carniolan honey bee. Research that she co-developed was presented in March at the first International Symposium About the Carniolan Honey Bee in Slovenia. The conference drew scientists, researchers and queen breeders interested in the conservation of Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) and collaboration.
Cobey is known globally for her expertise on the instrumental insemination of queen bees; her classes on queen rearing and instrumental insemination attract students from all over the world.
So it's not surprising that she's in high demand as a speaker. Cobey has lectured throughout the United States, Central and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and was recently invited to Cuba for the 3rd Latin-American Beekeepers' Meeting and the 4th Cuban Beekeeping Congress.
Come November, Cobey will be a keynote speaker for the Apimondia Symposium on Honey Bee Breeding in Quebec.
If you're unable to attend the Cobey seminar at UC Davis, not to worry. It's scheduled to be videotaped and posted at a later date on UCTV.
You've heard of "Got milk?"
With honey bees, it's "Got pollen?"
We spotted a lone honey bee on an African daisy last weekend. It was clear she'd been foraging for pollen. Pollen covered her legs and antennae and rimmed her head. And it was clear where it came from. The pollen on the daisy and the pollen on her matched perfectly.
"The importance of pollen for the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, in his newly published book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty acids--are derived from pollen."
"Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae," Gary writes. "During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers and consumes about 77 pounds of pollen."
Gary further points out: "When she contacts the flower, pollen grains are attracted to her body, similar to the attraction of iron fillings to a magnet."
So, when you see a honey bee covered with pollen grains and think--"What a load!"-- that's just part of the 77 pounds gathered and consumed in a colony per year.
Okay, I’ll admit it.
I have a soft spot for honey bees.
Today I fished out some thoroughly drenched honey bees from our swimming pool.
Indeed, the pool looked like an Olympic meet for Apis mellifera.
It appears that while the bees were foraging on the nearby cherry laurel blossoms, they tumbled into the pool. That's when I saw them--struggling--and netted them.
I could say “They looked like drowned rats,” but I’m not and they didn't. They looked like very much like drowned honey bees.
I took a plastic spoon, dipped it into a jar of starthistle honey and offered it to them. They sipped it, gathered a quick burst of energy, and off they buzzed.
I suspect they returned to their hives. Maybe tomorrow they'll be back foraging in the cherry laurels, but hopefully, they won't be back in the pool, and will warn their sisters of the danger through head butts.
Saving a few bees, one bee at a time, is a little like saving starfish on the beach. Author Loren Eiseley inspired others with this story:
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, 'It makes a difference for this one.' I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
― Loren Eiseley
Today the honey bees were starfish.
The neonicotinoid pesticides are creating quite a buzz in the bee world.
Research published this week in the Science journal zeroed in on the effects of the neonics on honey bees and bumble bees.
Science writer Eric Stokstad, in his news analysis headlined "The Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides," indicated that, bottom line, more research on pesticide testing and regulation is needed.
"Five years ago, bees made headlines when a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder decimated honey bee colonies in parts of the United States," Stokstad wrote. "Now bees are poised to be in the news again, this time because of evidence that systemic insecticides, a common way to protect crops, indirectly harm these important pollinators. Two field studies reported online this week in Science document problems. In bumble bees, exposure to one such chemical leads to a dramatic loss of queens and could help explain the insects' decline. In honey bees, another insecticide interferes with the foragers' ability to find their way back to the hive. Researchers say these findings are cause for concern and will increase pressure to improve pesticide testing and regulation."
Stokstad was referring to these two research articles published in Science:
1. Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production
2. A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees
Meanwhile, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is fielding calls about the research.
On Wednesday, Mussen talked to science writer Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times.
Here's her quote from her news story:
“There are a whole lot of things that stress the honeybees,” said Eric Mussen, a honeybee specialist at the University of California, Davis. “You can’t point your finger at one thing and say, ‘That is the problem.’ ”
Mussen cautioned against singling out neonicotinoids when other pesticides could have similar effects on bees. Besides, he said, many insects have built up immunity to neonicotinoids, so farmers are likely to switch to different pesticides anyway.
As Mussen has been saying all along, the declining bee population is due to a number of factors: pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
So, there's no silver bullet--no major culprit--that's causing the declining bee population. It's a multitude of factors. Scientists continue to investigate them all.