If your hummingbird feeders are filled with that oh-so-tantalizing sweet sugary syrup, you may be attracting not only hummers, but honey bees, too. In fact, the bees may be crowding out the hummers.
Just how do you keep your hummers happy and the bees away from the bird feeders?
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is asked that often.
The trick, he says, is to make sure the hummers CAN reach the syrup, but the bees CANNOT.
"The hummers’ tongues are much longer than bee tongues," he says. "So find or make a feeder that has a little wire screen “hood” over and around the hole where the syrup is available. Eight-mesh is good. If the hummers can’t feed through it, try six-mesh; anything larger than that and the bees can crawl through. Feeders that have the hole pointing upward probably are best. Make sure that the bees cannot reach the syrup anywhere on the feeders--leaks--and your problems are solved."
Mussen adds: "If you are not an engineer and don’t wish to build your own, bee-proof hummingbird feeders can be found on the web. Some just use a tube that is too long for the bees to reach the syrup. That is great, unless the device leaks to the sides. Bees are happy to lick up spills. They do not need to reach the main source."
Their golden heads turned toward the sun, their fringed petals aglow, sunflowers set an amicable scene in a world sometimes darkened by strife and sorrow.
Take, for example, the sunflower fields along Pedrick Road in Dixon, Calif. They are spectacular. A Vincent Van Gogh painting come to life.
And, the bees make it happen.
The non-native honey bees (Apis mellifera), brought to America in 1622 by the European colonists, and the native sunflower bees (Svastra spp.) are everywhere.
It was not always like that. The sunflower bees were here first.
In fact, Native Americans began cultivating the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a native American plant, 3,000 years ago. When the honey bee arrived, they called it "The White Man's Fly."
The Native Americans made "yellow dye from the petals and purple dye from the immature seeds" of sunflowers, according to What's That Crop? authors Janet Byron, managing editor of California Agriculture, and science and environmental writer Robin Meadows.
They place the value of California's 42,000 acres of sunflowers in the Central Valley at $9.5 million a year.
"Most of California’s sunflower crop is grown for oil, and it takes about 100 pounds of seed to make 40 pounds of oil," they wrote. "The remaining protein-rich meal is used in livestock feed. Besides producing sunflower seeds for snacking and cooking oil, the state also supplies most of the planting seeds sown by sunflower farmers nationwide."
You can follow them on their Facebook page, "What's that Crop?"
Latest statistics released in March of 2012 by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, indicated that "California farmers were expecting to plant 39,000 acres of sunflowers for oil, down 2 percent from last year, and 7,000 acres of non-oil sunflowers, up 75 percent from 2011."
The annual NASS forecasts are based on a survey of more than 2500 California farmers during the first two weeks of March.
Pity the poor worker bee.
In the spring/summer months, she lives only four to six weeks and then she dies. Bee scientists say she basically works herself to death.
For the first half of her short life, she works inside the hive, tending to the brood, feeding the queen and drones, processing the food, building and repairing the nest, and completing other responsibilities, all in total darkness. In the second half of her life, she leaves the hive, emerging from the total darkness to the bright light. Weather permitting, she'll forage every day for food, propolis or water for the colony.
You've probably noticed these older foragers, with tattered wings, scarred bodies and hairless thoraxes, foraging among the flowers. Those tattered wings could be the result of predators that missed: spiders, dragonflies, grasshoppers, dogs, birds and the like.
Worker bees do not fly well with flawed wings and they're even more susceptible to those crafty jumping spiders lurking in the flowers.
So it's interesting to read the recently published research by scientists at the Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, research that shows that older honey bees experience reverse brain aging when they return to working inside the hive.
Writing in the journal, Experimental Gerontology, the researchers related that they tricked the older, foraging bees into returning to the hive to perform the social tasks of the younger bees.
In an ASU news release: Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, said: “We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae--the bee babies--they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function--basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?"
Well, they found that the older bees that returned to the hive seemed to recover their ability to learn, and that the protein in the bee brains changed for the better.
"When comparing the brains of the bees that improved relative to those that did not, two proteins noticeably changed," the news release said. "They found Prx6, a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia--including diseases such as Alzheimer’s--and they discovered a second and documented 'chaperone' protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when brain or other tissues are exposed to cell-level stress."
In some respects, you could almost say that stay-at-home moms are better off than the work-outside-the-home moms, but (1) worker bees are not moms, and (2) both are working. The queen lays the eggs, as many as 2000 eggs a day during peak season. The worker bees are females, but their ovaries are tiny and normally non-functional, says Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
Still, we can imagine that this fascinating bee science research could lead to another tool to investigate dementia in elderly humans.
Sometimes you see honey bees "making a beeline."
Such was the case when this honey bee (below) encountered a native wildflower, blue lupine (Lupinus).
Lupines are known more as pollen plants than nectar plants, according to Frank Pellett's book, American Honey Plants, a Dadant publication. Lupines, native to North America, belong to the legume family (Fabaceae).
"There are many species of lupines which are common, especially in the plains region and west to the Pacific coast," Pellett wrote. "Some are of no value to the bees, or yield pollen only." However, beekeepers in Colorado and Texas, he acknowledged, tout it for the nectar, too.
Authors C. E. Sanborn and E. E. Scholl, in their book, Texas Honey Plants, published in 1908, considered the blue lupine or bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus, the state flower of Texas), as a good source of honey and of pollen. They described the pollen as "very bright" and "orange."
No matter what it's considered--a good pollen plant or a good nectar plant, depending on the locale, species and point of view--it's very attractive to honey bees.
They'll make a beeline for it.
A team of scientists from UC Davis and Washington State University will be heading for Italy tomorrow (June 19) to gather germplasm (sperm) of Old World/Italian honey bee stock. They'll bring it back to the United States to inseminate bee queens.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a joint appointment at UC Davis and WSU, will be in Italy with colleagues Walter "Steve" Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology, and Ph.D. student Brandon Hopkins of WSU. They're scheduled to return June 27.
Increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests, says Cobey, director of the Honey Bee Stock Improvement Program. 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.”
So, which honey bee did the European colonists introduce to America in 1622? It wasn't the Italian (blond) subspecies, now the most prevalent here. It was the dark subspecies (Apis mellifera mellifera), that made its way to the Jamestown colony (present-day Virginia) from England.
The Italian bees were not introduced into our country until 1859, records show.
"The American beekeeping pubic was enamored with the newly available yellow and relatively gentle bees," authors Cobey, Sheppard and David Tarpy wrote in a chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. "As a result, Italian-type honey bees form the basis for most present-day commercial beekeeping stocks in the U.S."
However, a genetic bottleneck resulted from the U.S. Honey Bee Act of 1922, which restricted further importation of Old World honey bees to prevent the introduction of the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi.
The importation of germplasm from the Old World stock of the Italian subspecies could very well result in a better bee.
That's the plan. That's the hope. The trio wants to make it happen.
The UC Davis/WSU team will fan out to bee labs and to commercial beekeepers' apiaries and then deliver the germplasm to the WSU lab in Pullman, Wash., where they'll inseminate queen bees.
Cobey talked about the Stock Improvement Program at her May 2nd seminar presented to the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Based at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility since 2007, she was trained by Laidlaw (1907-2003) himself. He's known as "the father of honey bee genetics."
If you access this web page, then click on the link at the top of the page below the headline, you can listen to Cobey's seminar.