You won't find anyone more passionate about building a better bee than bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who holds dual appointments at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University.
For one thing, her spring workshops on queen bee rearing and instrumental insemination at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis are already filled and there's a waiting list. Those on the waiting list--or at least some of them--are expected to register for her Washington state summer classes.
Those should fill up fast, too.
Cobey and her work are mentioned today in a Washington Post article, "In search of a better bee."
A key enemy of honey bees is the varroa mite, a parasitic critter that feeds on bee brood. Sometimes you'll even see it clinging to a foraging adult.
Cobey seeks to improve her stock. This includes building a better hygienic bee that can remove the varroa mites from the cells and the brood.
It's not an easy task.
"As vital as the hygienic bee is, the breeder must preserve desirable traits--a reluctance to sting or swarm, for example, as well as genetic diversity in a hedge against future diseases or pests," wrote Washington Post reporter Adrian Higgins.
"That's why gains are so slow," Cobey told her in the news story. "I would say we are just in the infancy of bee breeding."
Higgins wrote that Cobey is one of only a handful in the country skilled at artificially inseminating "virgin queens from known drone stock."
Why artificial insemination? When a virgin queen bee mates with drones in the drone congregation area (she mates in flight with a 12 to 20 drones or more), the breeding stock can't be controlled.
With queen bee insemination, it can be.
That's one of the reasons why Cobey's workshops draw students from throughout the world, and why they fill up fast.
The temperature on the UC Davis campus stood solidly at 56 degrees this afternoon.
The less-than-ideal weather didn't seem to deter several Italian honey bees from foraging in a flower bed behind the Laboratory Sciences Building on the central campus.
They took a liking to a yellow Senecio, from the Asteraceae (daisy family), and went right to work, despite it being the dead of winter.
In somewhat slow motion (it was cold!) they foraged among the long-legged flowers, adding a burst of sunshine and a muted buzz to the winter scene.
It was 56 degrees and they were flying. Foragers usually begin flying around 50 to 55 degrees.
It won't be long until the almonds bloom. Well, mid-February is not that long!
What a remarkable project a biologist launched in Kenya involving honey bees.
It all began with farmers complaining that migratory elephants were raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood. What to do? How do you conserve the elephants and protect the crops at the same time?
Knowing that elephants dislike being around honey bees, biologist Lucy King came up with a clever idea: she installed bee hive fences around 17 farms in a two-year pilot project aimed at preventing the elephants' entry, according to an article in Discovery magazine. She placed the hives 10 meters apart and then connected them with wire.
When the elephants tried to push their way through the fence, the jostled bees, defending their hives, pushed back by stinging them. The elephant scattered and most--93 percent--never returned.
Can you say "Memory like an elephant?"
Now the farmers in Kenya cannot only protect their crops from the pachyderms but there's the added bonus of a second income: honey!
We wouldn't be surprised if this little experiment is tried elsewhere.
During Prohibition, bootleggers reportedly placed bee hives inside their liquor trucks to disguise their cargo and ward off inspection.
The bee fence could be the new "no trespassing" sign, the new "caution" tape, the new security guards.
Pomegranate growers could string a beehive fence around their fields to deter thieves. They could replace their signs, "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Prosecuted" with "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Stung." Banks owning foreclosed homes could fence off their yards with bee hives. Prisons could increase their security with a line of bee fences.
Problem is, though, one percent of the population is allergic to bees and if stung, they could go into anaphylactic shock.
And folks would perceive bees the wrong way--they'd forget about their pollination services and think only of insects that sting.
Then, too, some unethical folks would steal the hives, as they do during almond season.
But hey, it worked for the elephants!
Did you know that honey bees visit more than two million flowers just to make a pound of honey?
Two million visits for one pound?
That's just one of the tidbits about honey that will be mentioned Friday, Oct. 21 at the all-day “Honey!” event at the UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Center.
"How can the 60,000-some bees in a hive live in such a chaotic environment, divide up the jobs, do them well, and get everything done?" asks Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
He'll tell you at the "Honey!" event.
This one-of-a-kind event, sponsored by the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis, will take place from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Co-sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Entomology, the event will include six experts discussing honey-related topics, a honey-themed lunch, and honey and mead tasting. In addition, displays will feature a bee observation hive by Brian Fishback of Wilton and beekeeping equipment from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Among the speakers will be three bee scientists from the UC Davis Department of Entomology: Extension apiculturst Eric Mussen speaking on “The Wonder of Honey Bees”; assistant professor Brian Johnson, “How Bees Cooperate to Make Honey and What They Do With It”; and emeritus professor Norm Gary, discussing “Hobby Beekeeping in Urban Environments.”
Other UC Davis speakers: Louis Grivetti, professor emeritus, Department of Nutrition, discussing “Historical Uses of Honey as Food” and Liz Applegate, professor, Department of Nutrition and director of Sports Nutrition Program, “Sweet Success—Honey for Better Health and Performance.”
The program will begin at 9 a.m. light refreshments, served until 10 a.m. Speakers, lunch, more speakers, honey tasting, and mead tasting will follow. The event ends with a refreshment reception at which Norm Gary will sign and sell his recently published book on backyard beekeeping.
Coordinating it all is Clare Hasler-Lewis, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
If you're like to attend, you'll want to make reservations now. The deadline to make reservations is Friday, Oct. 14. Recently reduced costs are $50 for the general public and for folks with connections to the beekeeping industry; $35 for UC faculty members, staff and Friends of the RMI; and $25 for students.
To reserve your space, you can contact Kim Bannister at email@example.com or (530) 752-5171. Payments may be made online at http://robertmondaviinstitute.ucdavis.edu/honey.
And while we're at it, let's thank the bees!
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, is awash with autumn colors, despite the persistent rains.
The half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden, like the insects that feed there, beckons and withdraws, and attracts and detracts, as plants, prey and predators come and go.
Honey bees dislike rain, but in between showers--sun breaks!--you'll see them gathering pollen and nectar to take back to their hives.
A sun break means no work break for these industrious bees.