"Would the extinction of honey bees lead directly to the extinction of humans?"
That's a recent question posed on Quora, where folks can ask questions and receive answers.
The answer is "no."
"We are a resilient species that existed before beekeeping and will exist after it… but our cuisine will be very different," wrote Matan Shelomi, a Harvard alumnus and UC Davis graduate student seeking his doctorate at the University of California, Davis.
"Assuming native bees and other pollinators do not take over the job of the honey bee Apis mellifera, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables will cease to exist, or will require the very labor intensive manual pollination we see in parts of China," Shelomi noted. "Kiss almonds goodbye, for example. Staple crops like wheat, corn, and rice are not bee pollinated, however, so starvation won't be an issue."
Shelomi, who has received international recognition for his answers on Quora, is "right on," said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"We've not always had honey bees here," Mussen pointed out. Indeed, the European colonists brought the honey bee to what is now Virginia in 1622. The Native American Indians had no honey bees, but they did have lots of other pollinators, including native bees. (We Californians did not obtain the services of the honey bee in our state until 1853; that's when the first honey bees arrived.)
Unfortunately, people are falsey quoting Albert Einstein as saying "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Al Gore never invented the Internet, and Albert Einstein never said that about bees.
Without honey bees, our menu choices would be much different. But would the human race become extinct?
It's great to see the world's most renowned bee wrangler, Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, come out of retirement to help out with a specific "UC Promise for Education" project spearheaded by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz.
In her promise to help UC students in financial need, Allen-Diaz says that if she raises $2500 by Oct. 31 she'll wear bees. Maybe not on her head, but on a UC ANR T-shirt or a UC ANR banner she'll be holding. And if she raises $5000, she'll eat insect larvae.
Enter Norm Gary. He'll be 80 in November and he retired from beekeeping last month after 66 years (yes, 66 years) of beekeeping. He earlier retired from UC Davis (1994). During his 32-year academic career, he did scientific bee research, wrote peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, crafted inventions, and wrangled bees.
If Allen-Diaz raises $2500, the stunt will take place next spring at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. If she raises $5000, it will be time to devour some tasty insect larvae!
You can donate $10, $15, $20, $100 or more by accessing Allen-Diaz' promise page. Just access http://promises.promiseforeducation.org/fundraise?fcid=269819.
You can also add a few comments as to why you're donating to help UC students. It could be in memory of a loved one, because you support the good work that UC ANR and Barbara Allen-Diaz do, or because you want to honor the amazing career of Norm Gary.
Or, you just may want to help raise public awareness of our declining bee population.
As Allen-Diaz says: "I am a true believer in the importance of honey bees and the importance of bees as pollinators in our agricultural and wild ecosystems. The health of agriculture and the health of the planet depend on the health and survival of our honey bees."
Sue Cobey is world renowned for her work in trying "to build a better bee." With colleagues, she collects drone semen throughout Europe and deposits it in Washington State University's honey bee germplasm repository, aka "the world's first bee sperm bank." Cobey works closely with entomologist Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology.
Cobey is renowned, too, for teaching courses on queen bee insemination and queen bee-rearing courses. She draws students from all over the world, and there's always, always, a waiting list.
We first met Sue in May 2007 when she began managing the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis (she's now based at WSU).
You won't find anyone, anywhere, more passionate about honey bees or the need for diversity. Or the need to protect them. In October 2010, she told us that her overall goal "is to improve colony health to supply the critical and demanding need for pollination of the nation's agricultural crops."
Reporter Joel Millman of the Wall Street Journal successfully captures Cobey's passion.
Cobey talks about queen bee insemination, why bees are in trouble, and why the United States needs to unplug the genetic bottleneck. Honey bees, you see, are not natives. European colonists brought them to what is now the United States in 1622. Indeed, honey bees didn't arrive in California until 1853.
Cobey is especially fond of the subspecies, the Carniolans, originating from Slovenia. But she also works with Caucasians from the country of Georgia, and the Italians, the most common bee reared in the United States. To paraphrase Will Rogers, she's never found a bee she didn't like.
We are continually asked if Cobey still offers queen bee insemination classes. Yes, she does, but they're small, private classes. She will offer the classes in July and August. She also plans to teach a queen-rearing class at Mt. Vernon, Wash.. Dates not set. (She can be reached at email@example.com)
Meanwhile, Cobey is working her hives on Whidbey Island and doing research at WSU. And enjoying every minute of it.
The Queen Bee of the Queen Bees--that she is.
It's a topic we've all been waiting for: "Honey Bee Health and Disease Resistance."
Jay Evans, a research entomologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Beltsville Bee Research Laboratory for the past 14 years, will discuss "Bee Disease Resistance and Colony Health" on Wednesday, Oct. 2 to open the fall seminar series hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
His lecture, open to all interested persons, is from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus.
"Honey bees are vulnerable to poor nutrition, parasites and pathogens, and exposure to chemicals," Evans said. "These threats can occur in batches and little is known about the impacts of multiple challenges to honey bee health, and about the abilities of bees to fend off these threats. I will present recent work aimed at determining the impacts of multiple parasites on bee health. I will also discuss the impacts Varroa mites, chemicals, and bacterial symbionts on bee health and colony losses."
As a research entomologist, Evans has focused his projects on a range of bee pests including bacteria, fungi, viruses and, mites, and beetles. He is especially interested in the immune defenses of bees toward these threats.
Evans was an early proponent of the Honey Bee Genome Project and helped recruit and organize scientists interested in applied genomics for bees. He has improved and applied genetic screens for possible causes of colony collapse disorder and is now heading a consortium to sequence the genome of the Varroa mite in order to develop novel control methods for this key pest.
Evans holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Princeton and a doctorate in biology from the University of Utah.
The fall seminars, coordinated by faculty members Joanna Chiu and Brian Johnson, will be held every Wednesday noon through Dec. 11 in 122 Briggs Hall, except for Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Week, when no seminar will be held.
Under the coordination of professor James R. Carey, all seminars are to be videotaped and posted at a later date on UCTV.
Anyone with a computer can view the seminars, and yes, they're free.
With all the talk about honey bee nutrition lately, just how much food does a honey bee colony need and how far can the workers fly to find find it?
"A healthy honey bee colony requires approximately 50 pounds of pollens and 100 pounds of honey to survive for 12 months," says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who will speak at both the Western Apicultural Society Conference and the California State Beekeepers' Conference this fall.
"Honey production exceeding 100 pounds may be harvested as a honey crop," he says. "From spring until late fall the adult honey bee population turns over at a rate varying from an initial high of around 2000 bees a day to 1000 in the summer, and to 0 in areas with real winter."
During the peak season, a queen bee can lay 2000 eggs a day. That's a lot of mouths for the nurse bees to feed. They need food, and lots of it.
"In order to meet the nectar and pollen demands to feed all that brood (immature bees) each colony has to have an acre-equivalent of honey bee-attractive bloom within foraging flight range," Mussen says. That's up to four miles from the hive and covers a 50-square mile area.
The foraging field force of a honey bee colony, he says, usually consists of one-third of the total population. Some 40,000 to 50,000 bees comprise a colony during the peak season. The foraging population is subdivided into groups of bees specializing in collecting water, nectar or honeydew, pollen, or propolis (plant resin).
That's a lot of work for the foragers.
Here's how the numbers roll.
Statistics show that California has a total land mass of 104,765,440 acres. Of that, fresh water covers 4,949,760 acres. "The remaining 99,815,680 acres are solid ground," Mussen says.
"Our best estimate is that California beekeepers maintain 500,000 colonies of resident honey bees, the number of colonies in California swells to around 1.6 million during almond pollination."
There's plenty of food for the bees during almond pollination season, as California almond acreage totals more than 800,000. Later, though, beekeepers are looking for temporary places to put their bees.
If bees were placed on prime locations, "they would require flight access to between 1 to 1.6 million acres, or approaching a maximum of 1.6 percent of California's landmass," Mussen points out.
"The demand for honey bee forage exceeds the floral quantities in areas readily available to beekeepers. To negate the need for having to feed the colonies supplemental, artificial feed, beekeepers hope to gain access to more areas that appear to contain adequate food. Besides being expensive, artificial feed does not contain all the required nutrient or the necessary microbial complex to meet the needs of honey bees."
That's why there's a concerted drive, Mussen says, for growers to provide "more bee forage along their field edges, interplanted as cover crops, or on fallow ground that they control."
Residents can do their part, too, by providing bee friendly plants.
And that's not just food for thought. It's food for the bees.