Have you hugged your favorite pollinator today?
It's National Pollinator Week, and you're allowed to do that this week. Actually, any time you feel the inclination.
Honey bees, bumble bees, wool carder bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees--they're all out there, ready for a hug.
'Course, they may misinterpret your actions.
This is the fifth annual Pollinator Week, when we pay tribute to bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles--and flies, too. Don't forget the flies. And all the other pollinators out there.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging us to celebrate pollinators June 20-26. Perhaps what we should do, along with celebrating them, is vow to save them.
To attract honey bees to your garden, it's a good idea to let the artichokes flower.
Sure, you could pick them for your dinner, but you'd be depriving honey bees of theirs.
At the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, the artichokes are beginning to flower. The haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden, is a demonstration garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.
It's open from dawn to dusk (no admission fee). The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees, and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own. It also serves as a research garden.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is a treasure, and fulfilling the needs of bees adds to that treasure.
Honey bees in the pink?
If you plant rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), a perennial succulent, be prepared for a posse of honey bees.
Our rock purslane is drawing so many bees that you'd never know there's a declining bee population and that there's a new sheriff (colony collapse disorder) in town.
They buzz, two or three at a time, toward a single blossom, and lug huge red pollen loads back to their hives.
We're glad to see there's so much interest in bees. A documentary making the rounds now is Queen of the Sun, an advocacy film probably playing in a theater near you. It's playing in Davis June 17 through June 23 at the Varsity Theater, downtown Davis. We saw it at a personal showing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis a few weeks ago. The photography is stunning. Just as we prepared to watch it, one of the bee folks quipped: "This is a bee-rated movie."
For a good look at bee behavior, there's an online video titled "Bee Talker: The Secret World of Bees." Bee behaviorist Mark Winston, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C., guides us "beyond the biology of the creatures to show us that our honey-producing neighbors have broader implications for humans and the plant.”
For another good look at bee behavior, step out into your yard. (That is, if you have bee plants in your yard.) "Won't the bees sting you?" some folks ask. No worries. These bees are foraging. They're not defending their colony.
Understanding the honey bee’s immune system is crucial to battling the declining honey bee population, says University of California insect virus researcher Michelle Flenniken.
Speaking to 100 fellow researchers at the Honey Bee Genomics and Biology Conference, held recently in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, Flenniken said that if a bee can develop better antiviral immune responses, it’s better able to fight its foes.
"Our work is focused on understanding the natural mechanisms of antiviral immunity in honey bees--or how a honey bees fights off viral infections,” she told the researchers. “We are examining these pathways at the molecular level using gene expression microarrays.”
Flenniken, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis and a virologist in the Raul Andino lab, Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UC San Francisco, studies honey bee viruses and the role of RNA interference (RNAi) in the antiviral immune responses. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information of viruses. RNAi is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression.
RNAi can be used as an antiviral strategy in honey bees, Flenniken believes. Her research involves limiting virus production in the bees by priming their RNAi machinery with viral specific double-stranded RNA.
For the past several years, she has been analyzing viruses present in the hives of area beekeepers.
The findings she reported at the conference are mentioned in the May 10th edition of the international journal, Nature. Flenniken “presented evidence that in honey bees (double-stranded RNA) can trigger a general immune response that might ward off a variety of threats,” wrote Nature author Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib.
We look forward to seeing more of Flenniken's work.
"How are the bees doing?"
That's the question beekeepers are asked all year.
Well, today the annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) answered that question.
The response? Roughly the same.
Total losses from honey bee colonies nationwide amounted to 30 percent from all causes for the 2010/2011 winter.
That's about the same for the past four years:
2009/2010: 34 percent
2008/2009: 29 percent
2007/2008: 36 percent
2006/2007: 32 percent
"The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers," entomologist Jeff Pettis said in a news release issued today by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Pettis leads the Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., the chief scientific research agency of USDA.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), first reported in 2006 by Pennsylvania beekeeper (Dave Hackenberg) overwintering his bees in Florida, is still with us. CCD is a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, food stores and immature brood. The worker bees leave. Nobody knows where they go. There are no dead bees to examine.
According to the ARS news release, the beekeepers who reported colony losses with "no dead bodies present" also reported higher average colony losses (61 percent) "compared to beekeepers who lost colonies but did not report the absence of dead bees (34 percent in losses)."
Some 5,572 beekeepers responded to the survey, which covered autumn to spring--the period from October 2010 to April 2011. Together these 5,572 beekeepers manage more than 15 percent of the 2.68 million colonies in the U.S.
What's interesting is that the beekeepers said they felt losses of 13 percent would be "economically acceptable." However, "61 percent of responding beekeepers reported having losses greater than this," according to the ARS press release.
So, the losses are still not economically acceptable, but the lack of increase is "marginally encouraging."
Bottom line: roughly the same.