Talk about aggression. Talk about bullying. Talk about power maneuvers.
Ever seen male European wool carder bees (Anthidium manicutum) defend their territory? Ever seen them chase away other pollinators while they're hunting for prospective mates?
We've seen them target and bodyslam carpenter bees, alfalfa butterflies, leafcutter bees, sweat bees and honey bees while they're nectaring such blossoms as catmint, salvia and lamb's ear.
"Indeed, male wool carder bees are pretty aggressive in their hunt for females and in defense of their territories," commented native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Once the male carder bee spots a female of his own species, he quickly races up to mate with her. He is aggressive with her, too.
The wool carder bee, so named because the female "cards" or removes plant fuzz to line her nest, is a native of Europe. The species was introduced to the United States (New York) in 1963, and was first identified in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
So, it's a relatively newcomer engaging in old ways.
Fact is, the European wool carder bee and the honey bee grew up together in the Old World and now they're realigning in the New World. (European colonists brought the honey bee to America--Jamestown colony--in 1662.)
Last weekend we watched a particularly aggresive male European wool carder bee target a honey bee while she was nectaring catmint (Nepeta). He hovered in mid-air like a helicopter and then suddenly attacked. The force of the impact toppled him over. Then, she, too, collapsed from the blow.
She dropped through the catmint leaves and lingered there for a moment before cautiously emerging. Whoa! What was that? Then she quickly buzzed off.
Undaunted, the male circled where she'd been, looking for any sign of movement.
There will be another time.
Seattle will be the place to "bee" on Oct. 4-7.
That's where the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) will hold its annual meeting--and this year it's in conjunction with the Washington State Beekeepers' Association.
Bee scientists, beekeepers, and bee aficionados will gather in the Embassy Suites Hotels for the four-day conference to talk about what's troubling the bees, to learn about scientific advancements, and to discuss how to alleviate the declining bee population. Registration is under way; those who register by Aug. 31 will receive a discount.
"There will be more presentations devoted to commercial beekeeping topics, but we will honor our roots and have concurrent sessions for the small-scale interests," said WAS spokesperson Fran Bach.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, known for her queen bee-rearing and queen bee insemination classes at the University of California, Davis, and now affiliated with Washington State University, will speak on queen bee rearing in the Pacific Northwest.
As the project director of the Honey Bee Stock Improvement Program, Cobey continues to work closely with California beekeepers, queen bee producers and the Almond Board of California.
Cobey and her colleague Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University, are heavily involved in increasing genetic diversity in U.S. honey bees. They're gathering germplasm (drone sperm) in European countries and integrating it in the U.S. honey bee gene pool, aiming to build a stronger, more disease-resistant bee.
European colonists introduced the honey bee to America in 1622 but a genetic bottleneck occurred when the U. S. Honey Bee Act of 1922 restricted further importation.
"The selection, development, maintenance and adoption of highly productive European honey bee stocks that can tolerate Varroa (parasitic mites) and resist diseases offer a sustainable, long-term solution" to the ongoing declining bee population, they point out in their chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.
At the Seattle conference, Sheppard will speak on "Importation and Distribution of New Genetic Stocks of Honey Bees." WSU doctoral student Megan Taylor will discuss "New Developments in Honey Bee Germplasm Preservation at WSU." Another WSU doctoral student, Brandon Hopkins, will cover "New Developments in Honey Bee Germplasm Preservation at WSU."
Other speakers will discuss "The Value of Honey Bees in Almond Production," "Wings, Bikes and Trucks--Urban Beekeeping," "Indoor Wintering of Honey Bee Colonies," and "The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Cooperative." Still other talks range from how to prevent swarms to how to bring more bees to your garden.
WAS co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, describes the organization as "a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America."
To commemorate National Honey Bee Day, Jefferson Exchange host Geoffrey Riley of Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon University, recently booked a trio of experts to talk about honey bees.
The broadcast, aired Aug. 15, included an interview of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
If you want to gain an overall perspective of what's going on in the bee industry, then you need to listen to the broadcast.
In the interview, Mussen relates:
- The United States presently has some 2.5 million colonies of honey bees, kept mostly by commercial beekeepers
- One third of our daily diet is pollinated by honey bees
- California has one-fifth of the nation's bees, "but most of the apiculturists who do bee studies--they're east of the Rockies"
- The difference between the term "hive" and "colony" is this: A hive is the container where bees live--it could be a hollow tree, a barbecue grill, or in an apiary. A "colony" is comprised of live bees and the brood, including the eggs, larva and pupa.
- Right after World War II, the number of bee colonies in the United States totaled about 5 million. Today, the number of colonies "is half that." One of the reasons is the decreasing number of small farms, traditionally known to keep hives. Another reason: the introduction of the tracheal mite and the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) into the United States in the 1980s.
Between parasites, diseases, malnutrition, stress and pesticides, "The bees are just having a horrible time getting their act together and surviving through all that," Mussen told Riley.
The mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD), characterized by adult bees abandoning their hive, leaving behind the queen, the brood and the food stores, is also puzzling, Mussen said. He attributed CCD to multiple factors, but one thing is for sure: "Something is hurting the immune system."
As for pesticides, "the bees are swimming in a sea of chemicals," Mussen declared.
Following the interview, a listener emailed Mussen: "I heard you on the Jefferson Exchange the other day. I have studied honey bees for a long time, and you have the most comprehensive grasp of their biology, behavior, health--and their economic and historical relationship to people--that I have seen."
That is the ultimate compliment.
Mussen, a noted authority on honey bees, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1976. He plans to retire in 2014, and already the bee industry is moaning the loss of his expertise.
That's what scientists at the University of California, Davis; area artists; and the general public will "bee" during the Davis Art Center's public exhibit, "Discovery Art: Cross Pollination, Sharing Art, Sharing Ideas," on Friday night, Aug. 10.
Billed as two hours of fun and education about pollinators, the event is set from 5 to 7 p.m. at 1919 F St., It will include talks and demonstrations about honey bees and native bees, interactive art projects, and scores of other activities.
For starters, Friday's event will include a honey bee pheromone exhibit by Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Yes, the pheromone emitted by a stinging honey bee does smell like bananas!
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will discuss native bees, including bumble bees, carpenter bees and leafcutting bees. He's one of the country's top experts on native bees.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, will showcase bee specimens--from the world's biggest to the smallest, with lots of colorful bees in between.
Edward Thomas of the Explorit Science Center will encourage the crowd to engage in a "bee dance" on a floor mat.
Others participating will be beekeeper Derek Downey of the Davis Bee Charmers; the Bullfrog Bee Farm, which will provide "a taste of honey" and bee displays; and Julia Lau, Cristina Urrutia and Tiva Lassiter of the Davis Art Center, whose activities range from candle making to bee bundling to beeswax modeling. The Pollinator Partnership also will participate by donating bee bundle materials.
Honey recipes? The National Honey Boardwill provide recipe booklets and children's booklets to take home.
Those are just some of the activities at this cross-pollinator event.
Bees never looked so good!
The thing about predators and prey is that it's the nature of things.
Take spiders. The many different species have different methods of catching, killing, confining and eating their prey.
Have you ever seen an orbweaver snare a honey bee in its web and then wrap it in silk blankets? The spider injects the bee with poison, feasts on it and/or pulls the carcass out of sight for later consumption.
‘Most spiders have toothed chelicerae, which they use in combination with their movable fangs to mash their prey into a small unrecognizable mass,” write authors Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney in their book, Tracks and Signs of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species (Stackpole Books).
"Prey killed by hunting spiders such as tarantulas and wolf spiders have no silk on them, whereas orbweavers swaddle their prey with a thick white layer of white silk," they point out. "Jumping spiders and others eating soft-bodied flies may leave only the wings behind."
Those orbweavers work fast. They indeed "swaddle their prey with a very thick layer of white silk," so thick, so strong and so sticky that there's no escape.
That's the nature of things.