The honey bee guru continues to answer a range of questions. The latest concerns the effect of marijuana growing sites on honey bees.
We thought we'd share his answer, which deals with honey bees, pollinators, Cannabis, pesticides, and what could happen to beekeepers who stumble upon a pot farm.
The question: "What is the effect, good or bad, that marijuana plants and marijuana grow sites have on the honey bee? From what I understand, these grow sites are using chemicals to control pests year round. In some cases, I hear that marijuana growers are importing chemicals from Mexico that are stronger and work better to control pest."
Mussen answered the question succinctly and openly.
"As you might guess, since marijuana is still considered an illegal plant to grow by the federal government," he replied, "it is no surprise that there are no pesticides registered for use on the 'crop.' Some states are trying hard to build a list of acceptable products, but here is the problem. So far we have registered products based on contact and oral toxicities to mammals. We have only run inhalation toxicities on a few very potent and stinky products (fumigants). You can get up to 10X the dose of a chemical, from the same amount of plant mass, if you smoke it versus eating it.
"There are quite a number of websites dedicated to pot growing. When pest control becomes the topic, most sites suggest mechanical methods or use of products allowed in organic agriculture. However, those organic pesticides have not been checked for inhalation effects, either."
"Thus, practically any pesticide that is used will be illegal. Given that, growers are apt to determine which materials work best on the pest at hand on other crops, acquire those materials, and use them. The regulators know this, and in states where marijuana currently is legal, the states are testing some of the products on the shelves to see what pesticides are in them. The samples have been found to be pretty clean, for the most part."
Mussen acknowledged that blooming hemp plants are attractive to many pollinators. "I have no idea what the pollen and nectar might do to them when the bees consume it. We can provide a pretty good idea of what will happen when pesticide products used on other crops are applied to the bloom (at agricultural rates), but since nothing is registered, there is no way of guessing what might be used. For the standard fee of just under $400, we can send a sample of the bees or pollen to the USDA AMS pesticide residue detection lab in Gastonia, N.C., and they can tell us the residues. Butthat doesn't help us much in terms of regulatory assistance.
"Pot growers probably won't care if they repel or kill visiting bees," Mussen speculated. "Pollinated blossoms become senescent too quickly, and do not produce the maximum amount of important resins if they are pollinated early in their cycle."
"Up to this time, I have not heard of beekeepers reporting damage from pesticides applied to marijuana, but it is likely to happen before long. Beekeepers are more worried about being shot if they accidentally get too close to a pot farm."
Counting butterflies before they eclose from their chrysalids is sort of like counting chickens before they hatch.
We've done both: raised chickens and reared butterflies.
Fact is, you never know if a butterfly will eclose. The old adage of "Don't count your chickens before they hatch" rings true, as does "Don't count your butterflies before they eclose."
We've reared and released a total of 20 monarch butterflies this year in Vacaville, Calif. It's a small conservation effort, true, but what a difference it's made for those 20 monarchs! Now three chrysalids remain. Unlike the others, all three chrysalids are outdoor chrysalids. Two are hanging in an aquarium setting and look viable. One is tucked inside a zippered mesh laundry hamper and shows no sign of life or pending life.
The "no-sign-of-life" chrysalis turned from jade green to black on Nov. 15. Aha, we thought. We'll get a butterfly within 48 hours. That was the case with our indoor chrysalids once they darkened. (Note that a chrysalis looks like a gold-studded green jewel for about 10 days before it darkens. Then the monarch ecloses and hangs onto the transparent pupal case until it unfolds and dries its wings.)
This time nothing happened. We could clearly see the wing pigment. Hello, you in there! Time's up! Are you coming out or what?
Hmm, we thought. Maybe this is a "what." Cold weather delaying the eclosure? The "P" word--parasitized? The "D" word--diseased or dead?
So we contacted butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He's been monitoring butterfly populations in central California for more than 40 decades (see his website). He's the author of Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (California Natural History Guides), a book, by the way, that's available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology gift shop on campus as well online.
It's not parasitized, he said, or it would not have developed the wing pigment.
Then Shapiro's keen eyes detected this: "On the dorsal surface there is a kink in the integument and there is a lot of intersegmental membrane showing. I think your beast developed to the pharate adult and died uneclosed--three weeks ago."
He recommends we keep it hanging for a few more days to see what happens. "The integument should fall off and you can inspect the pharate cadaver!"
Well, let's see. One down and two to go and then it's all over until next year.
Oh, wait, don't count your monarchs before they eclose...
Bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, are offering a total of four short courses from Feb. 13 to March 20. All will be at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. They will be comprised of lectures in the conference room and hands-on exercises in the apiary.
Instructors are Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño; staff research associate Bernardo Niño; facility manager/staff research associate Charley Nye; and graduate student Tricia Bohls.
The first short course, "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives," is set Saturday, Feb. 13. "This is perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills to move on to the next step of owning and caring for bees," says Elina Niño. You'll learn about honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive. You'll be shown how to install a package, how to inspect your hive and how to monitor for those dreaded varroa mites. The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch, and refreshments
Next will be the "Queen Rearing Techniques" short course. Due to popular demand, there will be two sessions and you can select the one on Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13 or the one the following weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, March 19-20. You'll learn about honey bee queen biology, basics of selective honey bee breeding programs, various queen-rearing techniques, testing hygienic behavior, and assessing varroa mite levels. You'll have the opportunity to learn about and practice multiple methods for queen rearing.
“We will go through a step-by-step process for queen rearing via grafting, including setting up cell builders and mating nucs,” Elina Niño said. At the end of the course, you'll be able to check your grafting success. If you live in the area, you can take home queen cells from the workshop. You'll also learn techniques to assess varroa mite loads and to evaluate hygienic behavior. Each session also will include a guided tour of the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that attracts many pollinators and is filled with art from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program and entomology/art classes taught by Diane Ullman and Donna Billick.
The $350 registration fee for each queen-rearing session covers the cost of course materials (including a set of grafting equipment: grafting frame with bars, plastic queen cups and a grafting tool), breakfast, lunch and refreshments on the days of the short course.
Interested? For more information, contact Bernardo Niño at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 380-BUZZ (2899). The Niño lab website is at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/, and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/. The bi-monthly apiculture newsletter, written by Elina Niño, is online.
Their colleague Anna Davidson, who recently received her doctorate at UC Davis in the Department of Plant Sciences and is now studying for her master of fine arts degree, organizes the UC Davis LASER events.
She's the person behind the scenes--and in front of the podium--who provides the speakers.
Her next event is from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1 in Room 3001 of the Plant and Environmental Sciences Building. What a program she's lined up! Four speakers who fuse art with science will present 20-minute talks on several disciplines, including medicine, visual art and astrophysics.
The event is free and open to the public.
7 to 7:25 p.m.: Robert Lang, a scientist and artist known as one of the world's foremost origami artists, will speak on “From Flapping Birds to Space Telescopes: The Art and Science of Origami”
7:25 to 7:50 p.m.: Charlotte Jacobs, emeritus professor/physician at Stanford University who currently cares for cancer patients at the Palo Alto Veterans' Medical Center, will speak on "Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio.” She wrote a newly published biography on Jonas Salk (Jonas Salk: A Life), which, she says eradicated the crippling disease, but the scientific community never forgave him.
8:10-8:35 p.m.: Rachel Clarke, artist and educator teaching new media art at California State University, Sacramento, will cover “Merging Spaces,” about her latest art work, which combines physical and virtual modes of making
8:35-9 p.m.: Andreas Albrecht, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Physics, will discuss “What Is Time?” He is a leading theoretical physicist who specializes in understanding the origins of the universe will be talking about “time.”
More about Jacobs: She is the Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine (emeritus) at Stanford University. A native of Kingsport, Tenn., she studied medicine at Washington University, St. Louis. As a professor at Stanford University, she engaged in teaching, cancer research, and patient care. She received numerous awards for excellence in patient care and teaching, as well as the Distinguished Alumni Award from Washington University.
In his origami talk, Lang says he will discuss the techniques used in mathematical origami design, which range from the abstruse to the highly approachable. “I will describe the geometric concepts led to the solution of a broad class of origami folding problems – specifically, the problem of efficiently folding a shape with an arbitrary number and arrangement of flaps.” Lang holds a doctorate in applied physics from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and during his work at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Spectra Diode Laboratories, and JDS Uniphase, authored or co-authored more than 100 papers and 50 patents in lasers and optoelectronics as well as authoring, co-authoring, or editing 14 books and a CD-ROM on origami.
Clarke, whose topic is new media art, says her work combines physical and virtual modes of making. “As a comment on extreme consumerism in our contemporary lifestyle, the ephemeral works I create are often comprised of the waste products of that lifestyle – banal junk such as food packaging, advertising mailers, plastic bags – as well as discarded digital information. Through physical and digital processes, the discarded materials become contemplative artworks, in the form of experimental animations, augmented reality sculptures, and installations. While I'm using the technologies developed for 21st century capitalism, the way I'm using them becomes a critique of the corporate model of technology – a model designed for consumption of media, not creativity.”
Professor Albrecht says that “Time is a central part of everyday life, yet it can still seem very mysterious.” He will discuss time from a physicist's point of view “in a way that takes us from every day experiences to deep questions about the cosmos.” He is a member of the new Center for Quantum Mathematics and Physics at UC Davis.
In some of the previous UC Davis LASER events, speakers zeroed in on insects. There's an insect connection with the Dec. 1 event, too. Salk is often quoted as saying "If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within fifty years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within fifty years all forms of life would flourish."
Did Salk say that? Probably not. No more than Albert Einstein said "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
For more information on the program, see
For directions to the Plant and Environmental Sciences Building, see
Anna Davidson, email@example.com
Fourteen is considered a day of love and romance, as in the 14th of February, Valentine's Day.
But at the Berkeley Aquatic Park, it's also love. Love at first sight. Or love at first site.
For the first year ever in modern history, monarch butterflies are roosting in Berkeley Aquatic Park. And they've been there since at least mid-November.
They're at the 14th hole on the disc golf course. Thousands roost there, and at any given time, dozens of butterfly aficionados and photographers gather there.
The crowd speaks in hushed tones, as if in a sanctuary.
- "There, there they are! See them? They look like dried leaves."
- "Are they all monarchs? Ooh, there goes one!"
- "Hey, everybody! It's important to plant milkweed. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and that's the only plant the caterpillar will eat. If we want to keep monarchs around, plant milkweed!"
The monarchs are roosting in a shaded ash tree, next to eucalyptus and pine trees. As the sun warms them, they flutter over to the low-hanging leaves of a eucalyptus for more warmth. Just off the paved path, Canadian geese, ducks, mudhens and seagulls provide meaning to "aquatic" park.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, told us this morning that he's had "oodles of communication about this. None of the Bay Area butterfly people seems aware of any previous roosting there. They are also roosting at Rob Hill in the San Francisco Presidio for the first time since, I am told, 1997. Roosts that far north are often abandoned if the weather turns foul; we'll see if they persist."
Shapiro has monitored the butterfly populations of central California for more than four decades and posts research information on his website.
Elaine Miller Bond quoted Shapiro in a Nov. 23rd piece she wrote and illustrated about the Berkeley monarchs in the Berkeleyside, "Berkeley's independent news site."
Shapiro told her: “2015 has been the biggest monarch year in northern and central California in at least a decade,” says Distinguished Professor Arthur M. Shapiro from the Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis. "And the pattern of breeding returned to the historic one seen in the 1970s-80s.”
On his website, Shapiro says this, in part, about monarchs:
"The Monarch overwinters on the central coast and moves inland, typically in early March. It moves around a great deal, so that it is unusual to see two successive generations in the same location. Females appear to avoid ovipositing on milkweeds already attacked by the oleander aphid (Aphis nerii) or the bright blue-green beetle Chrysochus cobaltinus. The Monarch acquires protective chemicals (cardenolides, "cardiac glycosides") from its host plants. Because different milkweeds differ greatly in their cardenolide content, Monarchs do also. Our commonest milkweeds (Asclepias fascicularis and A. speciosa) are low in cardenolides and produce innocuous butterflies; some relatively rare species, like the serpentine-endemic A. solanoana, are very nasty. The chemical defense is the basis for the famous mimicry by the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) and other insects, but the Monarch has no mimics here. Population numbers vary greatly, probably reflecting disease; the locations where summer breeding occurs also vary greatly, and some years are mostly east of the Sierran crest. The westward migration begins as early as late July or August, but some breeding occurs well into autumn and adults continue to emerge at Sierra Valley into October. They then have a very short time to get over the mountains before the weather turns hostile. Altogether, there are three to four generations in an average year, but the mobility of the butterflies makes it difficult to pin this down."
The monarch belongs to the family Nymphalidae, also known as the brushfoot family.
"With about 6000 species worldwide, the morphological diversity within the brushfoots is immense," Shapiro writes on his website. "There have been decades of debates about how to classify the group and what traits are important and useful. For our purposes, the uniting characteristic of the brushfoots is the reduction of the front pair of legs into small, brush-like appendages that serve no real function, rather like the human appendix or tailbone. As a result, while they still have 3 pairs of legs (an insect characteristic), only two of those leg pairs are actually functional. Brushfoots are some of our largest and recognizable butterflies, including the monarch (Danaus plexippus), painted lady (Vanessa cardui), California tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), and mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)."
Meanwhile, the monarchs, aka "brushfoots," are roosting at the 14th hole of the disc golf course in the Berkeley Aquatic Park.
How long they'll be there is anyone's guess. Did anyone say "El Nino"?