Faster than a speeding bullet...
As soon as UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey opened a beehive and removed a chunk of honeycomb to show visitors, here came the speeding bullet. A fast camera shutter caught what the eye couldn't see.
It was a queen yellowjacket taking dead aim at the comb.
"The yellowjacket queen this time of year zeroes in on the honey as soon as you open a hive," said Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
"They build up their populations in the fall and eat the bees for protein to overwinter. They can actually kill bee colonies, especially weak ones. As meat-eating predators, these are common at picnic time, for which honey bees are often unfairly blamed."
Yes, honey bees are indeed unfairly blamed. Like human vegetarians, honey bees don't eat meat. They may land on your soda can for the sugar water, but meat doesn't interest them. They forage for nectar and pollen.
Now yellowjackets--they're predators. They love meats and sweets. You'll see these uninvited guests at your picnic or barbecue, boldly sampling your steak, hamburger or chicken; targeting your can of soda; or scavenging in and around your garbage can.
They also vigorously defend their nests, which look like paper combs. Do not go near their nests.
Their sting is painful. A yellowjacket recently nailed UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen beneath the collar as he was checking the honey bees at the Laidlaw facility.
Mussen noted that beekeepers inadvertently kill a few bees each time they open a hive and pry open the "stuck-together" frames with their hive tool. The dead bees fall to the ground--to the waiting yellowjackets. The yellowjackets then carry the bees off to their nest, chew them into pulp, and feed the "protein" to their brood.
More yellowjackets on the way.
And soon, more speeding bullets.
UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey loves flies.
So, every chance I get, I shoot an image for him.
Many of the images wind up in his classroom PowerPoint presentations.
"Keep 'em coming," he says.
So, I shoot flies. Yes, indeed. I shoot flies. No, I am not a candidate for a 12-step program. Well, not yet.
Truth is, we think of flies as noxious. We don't think of flies as having parts like a head, abdomen and thorax--or compound eyes, arista, antenna, prescutum, scutum, scutellum, balancer and mesothorax.
They do, though.
Alive or dead.
And some are even pretty--especially when they're touching down on delicate pink blossoms.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomonen characterized by honey bees abandoning their hives, is still with is, and the cause is still mysterious.
Over the past three years beekeepers throughout the United States have reported losing from one-third to 100 percent of their colonies to CCD, says UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology Faculty since 1976 and a noted authority on honey bees.
The bees just vanish, leaving behind the queen, the immature brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) and stored food.
The calamity of CCD.
The queen, in peak season, lays about 2000 eggs a day. The worker bees serve as the nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, heating and air conditioning specialists, foragers, guards and undertakers. They feed their mother (the queen) and their brothers, the drones. The sisters are their brothers' keepers. The drones' only function is to mate with the queen.
The worker bees pollinate about 100 crops in California, including nuts, fruits and vegetables. They just finished pollinating California's 700,000 acres of almonds. Now they're pollinating pomegranates, tangerines, lemons, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables in orchards and gardens near you.
Bring on National Pollinator Week, June 22-28.
Meanwhile, it's good to see that Häagen-Dazs Häagen-Dazs is continuing to support honey bee research at UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University. Back in February 2008, the premier ice cream brand launched an educational campaign to save the bees and just unveiled a newly updated site. One of the next projects: the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. Designed by a Sausalito team, the haven will be implemented this summer and publicly dedicated in October.
The haven will be a year-around food source for bees and other insects, such as butterflies, bumble bees and syrphids. Other goals: to create a public awareness of the plight of the honey bee, and to educate visitors about bees and the kinds of bee friendly plants they can choose for their own gardens.
Bottom line: let's keep our bees healthy. Mussen suspects that CCD is caused by a combination of factors: malnutrition, pesticides, parasites, diseases and stress.
If CCD has a face, then two photos can tell the story. First, look at the photo of healthy bees and then look at the photo from an abandoned hive. The bee antenna poking through an abandoned cell is just plain sad.
The queen bee, the sisters, the brothers, the brood--all gone.
The calamity of CCD.
Making a difference--that's what it's all about.
An integrated pest management (IPM) team from the United States is in Central Asia for the third Integrated Pest Management Stakeholders' Forum, June 1-5 in Bishhek, Kyrgystan.
Among the team members is UC Davis entomology professor and IPM specialist Frank Zalom. He'll be participating in the stakeholders' forum and a pest diagnostics training workshop.
The event is sponsored by a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Collaborative Research Support Project (CRSP) grant. Zalom, a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America and a noted IPM specialist, is a co-investigator on the grant.
Scientists from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajkistan, as well as Kyrgystan are conferring with Zalom and his IPM colleagues from Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Montana Stae University, and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDIA).
The stakeholders' forum will include talks by key governmental and agricultural officials, and updates on IPM progress and concerns in the four Central Asian countries.
Joy Landis of Michigan State University's IPM Program is chronicling the travels on her blog.
In one blog, she wrote:
When we tell people the IPM project collaborates with colleagues in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, they are often unsure where these countries are. But, if we say they are located by all the other "stan" countries, then we get a flash of recognition.
The suffix "stan" means "land of," so Uzbekistan is the land of the Uzbeks, and Tajikistan is the land of the Tajiks and so forth. These countries have overlapping populations of various ethnic groups with distinct cultures. During the 20th century, they were part of the Soviet Union until it was dissolved in the early 1990's.
Be sure to read Joy Landis' blog for the latest updates.
Making a difference--that's what it's all about.
Sheridan Miller's gift to UC Davis for honey bee research was both generous and thoughtful.
The 11-year-old Bay Area resident raised $733 for the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility through the sale of jars of honey, candles, baked goods and a self-penned booklet on the plight of honey bees.
The fifth grader and her family (father Craig, mother Annika and sister Annelie, 8) traveled from their home in Marin County to present the check to Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey guided the group on a tour of the Laidlaw facility and apiary.
“It’s very thoughtful and generous of a little girl to think of the plight of the honey bees and to raise funds for research,” Kimsey said. "We are overwhelmed.”
Said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976: “I really appreciate the fact that so many members of the general public have become concerned about the plight of honey bees. I am particularly impressed by individuals such as Sheridan who have devoted so much time and effort in really trying to improve the health and longevity of the honey bees.”
"Honey bees pollinate delicious fruits, vegetables and even nuts," Sheridan wrote. "If they were to disappear, our food source would consist of wheat, rice and corn."
Sheridan's dedication deeply illustrates what one person can do to help save the bees.
Sheridan cannot imagine a world without bees. Neither can we.