The story was not about a red light district or "Ladies of the Night" or even linked to humans.
It was about honey bee queens. "Ladies of the Day," if you will.
The story that raised a few eyebrows involved research titled "Characterization of the Active Microbiotas Associated with Honey Bees Reveals Healthier and Broader Communities when Colonies are Genetically Diverse," published March 12 in the PLOs One Journal.
A team headed by researchers at Wellesley (Mass.) College found that "Colonies with genetically diverse populations of workers, a result of the highly promiscuous mating behavior of queens, benefited from greater microbial diversity, reduced pathogen loads, and increased abundance of putatively helpful bacteria, particularly species from the potentially probiotic genus Bifidobacterium."
Scientists and beekeepers know that a virgin queen, on her maiden flight, will mate with 12 to 25 or more drones gathered in the drone congregration area. It's not immoral; it's just what happens.
The drones mate and then they die. All of them. Or as Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology tells bee associations: "They die happy, with a smile on their face."
The queen returns to her hive and begins laying eggs, up to 2000 a day in peak season. She'll have enough sperm for the rest of her life, which is usually around two to three years.
This scientific research in the PLoS One Journal is important in that it has led to increased interest in microbial communities and hope for the declining bee population.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University has advocated genetic bee diversity for years.
"The primary perceived problem for beekeepers is a diminished quality of queens, and recent survey results from beekeeping operations in the U.S confirm this view," she and her colleagues write in a chapter of the newly published Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.
Beekeepers have long complained of "poor queens."
Cobey and co-chapter authors Walter "Steve" Sheppard of WSU and Dave Tarpy of North Carolina State University write: "The poor queens category encompasses many different problems but most of these reports document premature supersedure (queen replacement), inconsistent brood patterns, early drone laying (indicative of sperm depletion), and failed requeening as indicative of low queen quality."
So the next time you see a headline screaming "immoral" honey bee queens, it was probably written by someone who has no clue about honey bee reproduction.
Or someone trying to be funny...
Cobey is the lead author of a chapter in the newly published Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions, a 21-chapter book edited by research entomologist Diana Sammataro of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz., and professor Jay Yoder of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio.
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,” said Cobey, who has a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University (WSU).
“The many problems that currently face the U.S. honey bee population have underscored the need for sufficient genetic diversity at the colony, breeding, and population levels,” wrote Cobey and colleagues Walter “Steve” Sheppard, professor and chair, WSU Department of Entomology, and David Tarpy, associate professor and Extension apiculturist North Carolina State University.
“Genetic diversity has been reduced by three distinct bottleneck events, namely the limited historical importation of a small subset sampling of a few honey bee subspecies, the selection pressure of parasites and pathogens (particularly parasitic mites) and the consolidated commercial queen-production practices that use a small number of queen mothers in the breeding population,” Cobey pointed out.
The honey bee, Apis mellifera, originated in the Old World where it diverged into more than two dozen recognized subspecies, they related. However, only nine of the more than two dozen Old World subspecies ever made it to the United States and only two of these are recognizable today.
What with colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the declining bee population, there's definitely a crying need for genetic diversity in honey bees. Read more about what Susan Cobey has to say, and what this important book is all about, on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
There's a waiting list for Susan Cobey's specialized bee classes at the University of California,Davis.
That says a lot about the demand for bee stock improvement and for Cobey's teachings.
Cobey, bee breeder-geneticist at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis and at Washington State University, draws researchers and beekeepers from all over the world to her workshops.
Her March and April classes on queen bee rearing and instrument insemination--advanced classes that promote stock improvement--are all filled, but the good news is that she's offering more classes in Washington state in June.
So, folks can get on the waiting list for the UC Davis spring classes and/or register for the Washington state summer classes.
Cobey is highly sought as a speaker. Her latest presentation--Jan. 7--was at the 43rd annual American Honey Producers’ Association Convention in Phoenix where she discussed “The Introduction of Honey Bee Germplasm and Re-Establishment of Apis Mellifera Caucasica.”
Last November, Cobey addressed the California State Beekeeping Association at its conference in Rohnert Park. Her topic, "How to Raise Queens." Last September she delivered the keynote address at the beekeeping symposium on Production of Live Material at the 42nd annual Apimondia International Beeekeeping Congress in Buenos Aires. Her topic: “Changes and Developments in the Queen and Package Bee Industry.”
Cobey, who has taught the specialized classes since the early 1980s, draws researchers and beekeepers from throughout the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rico, England, Egypt, France, Spain India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Venezuela, Columbia.
By invitation, she’s also taught several classes in the host countries of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa.
For more information on her classes, check the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
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.
Let it bee.
But the California State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA) certainly won't.
Today they're enjoying tours and a president's reception. Then Tuesday through Thursday, it's all business. Or bees-ness.
Johnson who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology last summer, will be introduced at the 9 a.m. session on Tuesday. He will speak at 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday: His topic “Plans for UC Davis Bee Research Program.” Johnson specializes in behavior, evolution, and genetics of honey bees, and apiculture. (See lab research)
A former UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) at UC Berkeley, Johnson earlier served as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at UC San Diego and the University of Bristol, UK.
He holds a doctorate (2004) from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. in behavioral biology (thesis: “Organization of Work in the Honey Bee”).
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, will speak on “The State of California Beekeeping” at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. He also will discuss on “Swarm Prevention” at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday.The veteran bee guy serves as a liaison between the academic world of apiculture and the real world of beekeeping and crop pollination.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who shares a dual appointment with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis and Washington State University (WSU), will discuss “How to Raise Queens” at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
Cobey’s research focuses on identifying, selecting and enhancing honey bee stocks that show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases. Cobey developed the New World Carniolan stock, a dark, winter hardy race of honey bees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States and Canada to create a more pure strain. Stock imported from the German Carnica Association has recently been added to enhance this breeding program.
Cobey and entomology professor Steve Sheppard of WSU are importing honey bee germplasm to increase genetic diversity in the U.S. honey bee gene pool. In addition, with stock imported from the Republic of Georgia, they hope to re-establish the subspecies Apis mellifera caucasica, another dark race of bee that is not currently recognizable in the U.S.
The CSBA is headed by president Frank Pendell, Stonyford; vice president Bryan Ashurst, Westmorland; secretary-treasurer Carlen Jupe, Salida; and past president Roger Everett of Porterville.
The CSBA purpose is to "educate the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees, advance research beneficial to beekeeping practices, provide a forum for cooperation among beekeepers, and to support the economic and political viability of the beekeeping industry.”
And that it does. It will be a busy week.