Honey bees favor assorted plants, including lavenders, mints, salvias, asters, borage, wild roses, echiums, clover, fireweed, goldenrod and phacelia, but have you ever seen them on a Japanese maple?
Our Japanese maple is flowering in our backyard, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the honey bees. The colorful tree, (Acer palmatum), coveted for its colorful red leaves, stretches over our fish pond, providing a little shade for the goldfish.
I took this photo in the late afternoon with a Nikon D800 camera and a 200mm macro lens. The 36-megapixel camera swallows up a lot of real estate, and the 200mm lens is perfect for skittish insects.
The honey bees weren't skittish but the long lens did prove handy. It enabled me to photograph the bees without falling into the pond.
It's apple blossom time.
Whether you wait for it, or the bees wait for it, it's here.
Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson wrote the popular song, "(I'll Be With You) in Apple Blossom Time" back in 1920 and then everyone from Artie Shaw to Harry James to the Andrews Sisters to Nat King Cole owned it.
But if you take a look at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, you know who owns the blossoms--the bees.
Along the haven's Orchard Alley, the almonds and plums have finished blooming and now it's the apple blossom time.
Ever watched an in-flight honey bee packing her load of pollen?
A foraging bee carries her ball-like load of pollen on her hind legs and continually moistens it with a little nectar. The size and shape changes as she works. Sometimes you'll see BB-sized loads and at other times the pellets seem as large as beach balls. The color varies, depending on the color of the pollen she collects.
In the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR) publication, Beekeeping in California, (now out of print, but expected to be revised soon) the authors define pollen as "Male sex cells produced in anthers of flowers. Powderlike and composed of many grains, they are gathered and used by honey bees for food as a source of protein. A good mix of many different pollens is essential for adequate nutrition."
Humans use pollen as a supplement or as a way to desensitize the effects of hay fever. If you pick up a jar of pollen granules at your local health food store, the label is likely to read "All naturally occurring: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, phytosterols, fatty acids, and enzymes" and the like. Then there's the caution: "Bee pollen may cause allergic reactions in some sensitive people."
And the bees? The brood likes it just fine, except when it's toxic (California buckeye pollen is toxic to the larvae and can result in malformed, nonfunctional adults). Pollen contaminated with pesticides can also be life-threatening. Pesticides used on such crops as alfalfa, oranges, cotton, corn and beans can be hazardous to bees.
Meanwhile, a pollen-packing honey bee in flight is a sight to bee-hold.
That's the title of a newly published book written by Robert E. Page Jr., one of the world's foremost honey bee geneticists.
In his 224-page book, published by Harvard University Press, Page sheds light on how 40,000 bees, "working in the dark, seemingly by instinct alone, could organize themselves to contstruct something as perfect a a honey comb."
Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, marvels at how bees can accomplish these incredible tasks. In synthesizing the findings of decades of experiments, he presents "a comprehensive picture of the genetic and physiological mechanisms underlying the division of labor in honey bee colonies and explains how bees' complex social behavior has evolved over millions of years," according to the Harvard University flier.
Page, now vice provost and dean of the Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Foundation Professor of Life Sciences, still keeps his specialized stock of honey bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. Bee breeder-geneticist Michael “Kim” Fondrk, who worked with Page at Ohio State University, UC Davis and ASU, manages the stock.
In his book, Page talks about the coordinated activity of the bees and how worker bees respond to stimuli in their environment. The actions they take in turn alter the environment, Page says, and "so change the stimuli for their nestmates. For example, a bee detecting ample stores of pollen in the hive is inhibited from foraging for more, whereas detecting the presence of hungry young larvae will stimulate pollen gathering."
Division of labor, Page says, is an inevitable product of group living because "individual bees vary genetically and physiologically in their sensitivities to stimuli and have different probabilities of encountering and responding to them."
Page, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in 1980, served as an assistant professor at Ohio State University before joining the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1989. He chaired the department for five years, from 1999 to 2004.
In 2004--the year Page retired from UC Davis--ASU recruited him as the founding director and dean of the School of Life Sciences. At the time, his duties included organizing three departments—biology, microbiology and botany, totaling more than 600 faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff--into one unified school.
As its founding director, Page established the school as a platform for discovery in the biomedical, genomic and evolutionary and environmental sciences. He also established ASU’s Honey Bee Research Facility.
Page is a highly cited author on such topics as Africanized bees, genetics and evolution of social organization, sex determination, and division of labor in insect societies.
Add this one to the list: The Spirit of the Hive.
Symphony in the almond blossoms...
There's a wild almond tree planted in a field off Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, that's incredibly beautiful.
Honey bees from the nearby apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility reunite on the blossoms, each bee seemingly vying for the best pollen to take back to her hive.
The tree is not quite in full bloom, but don't tell that to the bees. We captured a few images of them in flight, a moving symphony performance in the almonds.