And it's definitely not a good time to be a honey bee.
The wind-whipped storms that are ravaging California are wreaking havoc on the state's almond pollination season, says honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and president of the Western Apicultural Society.
The situation: California's million acres of almonds require two hives per acre for pollination. Without bees, no almonds.
Honey bees usually fly when temperatures reach around 55 degrees. During inclement weather, they hole up inside their hives. They're so unlike our postal workers who vow that “neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet” can stop mail delivery. Unfavorable weather for bees? Think "no-fly zone."
Mussen, California's Extension apiculturist for 38 years before retiring in 2014, continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and respond to inquiries about honey bees. Not one to say "no," Mussen is serving a sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), which was founded at UC Davis and gearing up for its 40th anniversary meeting Sept. 5-8 Davis.
And the steady rain we're having? How will that affect the pollination season?
“Rain," said Mussen, "is hard on the almond bloom for a few important reasons." He lists five reasons:
- Rain frequently is accompanied by cooler weather, which delays bloom. But, the delay can last only a short while, and then the flowers open and shed pollen, despite the weather. Honey bees usually neither forage on damp or wet blossoms, nor fly in the rain.
- If pollen grains come into contact with water, the water enters the openings in the pollen grains, through which the pollen tubes are supposed to emerge. The water is absorbed by the living protoplasm in the pollen grain and bursts its contents.
- Free water tends to transport spores of fungal, and sometimes bacterial, diseases to open flowers. Those microbes can invade the floral tissues, or in some cases, begin a journey through the flowers into the branches of the tree. When rain is imminent, growers usually will apply a fungicide to their trees to reduce the amount of infection. Frequent rains can promote multiple pesticide applications.
- By almond bloom time, honey bee colonies are collecting as much pollen as they can find, to feed an expanding brood nest. A prolonged period of inclement weather will interfere with nectar and pollen foraging, and leave little food to raise be brood. Lack of incoming pollens can reduce brood rearing, sometimes even to the point of the adult workers consuming most of the younger brood to save the nutrients for better times.
- Beekeepers who are used to seeing their colonies increase from 8-10 frames of bees to 10-12 frames during almond bloom may be disappointed this year due to a situation that is beyond their control. Providing supplemental feed can help their bees to a limited extent, but we have no supplemental feed that matches the nutritional value of mixed pollens.
Mussen says that native, solitary bee species, such as the blue orchard bee, also can be impacted negatively by continuous wet weather. “Foraging flight is curtailed, pollens and nectars are diluted or washed away, nesting sites can be flooded, and preferred or required floral sources may not be available that year,” he said. “This can have substantial negative impacts on the size of the following generation.”
Bottom line: it's not a good time for almond growers, beekeepers, and bees.
Remember the iconic song, "The 12 Days of Christmas," which begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree?" Eleven more gifts follow: 2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, 4 calling birds, 5 gold rings, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans-a-swimming, 8 maids a'milking, 9 ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping.
Sadly, that song, published in England in 1780, lacked one gift: insects. Not one single, solitary mention of a bug. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Talk about no representation!
So in 2010, the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) replaced the traditional song with "The 13 Bugs of Christmas."
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (with the department from 1976- 2014 and now emeritus) and yours truly came up with a "bugworthy" song that focused on California agricultural pests. We performed it at the department's holiday party to roaring applause. (Entomologists like bugs.) Then it went viral when U.S. News picked it up.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Kaphra beetles,
12 Diaprepes weevils,
11 citrus psyllids,
10 Tropilaelaps clareae,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 Aedes aegypti,
7 ash tree borers,
6 six spotted-wing Drosophila,
5 five gypsy moths,
4 Japanese beetles,
3 imported fire ants,
2 brown apple moths,
And a medfly in a pear tree."
Fast forward to Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. We asked the honey bee guru (he's emeritus but still maintains an office in Briggs Hall and is president of the Western Apicultural Society--sixth term)) if we should update our "bugworthy" song, what with the influx of new agricultural pests and all. (Especially "new" and "all.") Within minutes--well, it seemed like minutes--he came up with a 2016 bugworthy version:
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Japanese beetles,
12 guava fruit flies
11 citrus psyllids,
10 brown apple moths,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 longhorn beetles,
7 imported fire ants,
6 white striped fruit flies,
5 g-y-p-s-y m-o-t-h-s,
4 peach fruit flies,
3 false codling moths,
2 peach fruit flies,
And a grapevine moth in a pear tree."
Thirteen bugs. That's bugworthy all right.
It's just been announced that the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), founded 40 years ago at UC Davis, will be meeting ...drum roll...Sept. 5-8, 2017 in Davis, Calif.
That's the kind of advance notice we like.
Fortieth anniversary? Is that possible? It is. The group traces its beginnings back to 1977 and founders Norm Gary, UC Davis professor of entomology and noted bee wrangler; newly hired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; and Becky Westerdahl, who had just received her doctorate in biology/nematology from UC Riverside. Both Gary and Mussen are retired. (Don't mention the "R" word to them, though! Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and Gary is a jazz musician who keeps busy playing the "B" or "Bee" flat clarinet, among other instruments.) Westerdahl went on to become an Extension nematologist, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mussen will serve as the program coordinator for the 2017 event, to be held in the Activities and Recreational Center (ARC) on campus. He is already planning a program that will showcase the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Meanwhile, WAS will be meeting in a few weeks--Oct. 13-15--in Honolulu. Two of the speakers are from UC Davis: Eric Mussen, who will discuss pesticides; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, an expert in queen breeding.
What's WAS all about? Mussen, a five-time president, remembers hammering out the mission with his colleagues: "WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is encouraged from anywhere in the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon." Current president is Ethel Villalobos of Hawaii. Niño serves as the second vice president.
The entire country--indeed the entire world--is worried about bee health and the declining bee population. The United States has about 2.6 million colonies, Mussen says, while the number of colonies in California is approximately half a million.
Indeed, Davis, Calif. is the place to "bee" Sept. 5-8, 2017.
Some linger quite awhile before they buzz off.
Have you ever thought about this: Do they have taste buds?
A colleague asked that question. In fact, it was his friend's nine-year-old son who asked: "Do bees have taste buds, and if so where?"
"No," says Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service.
That's the short answer. But wait, there's more.
"Honey bees, and other insects do not have taste buds, as such," Mussen said. "They have specialized, enlarged hairs; chaetic and basiconic sensillae; that protrude from the cuticle (exoskeleton). The sensillae have gustatory receptor cells in them that sense the chemicals that are contacted by the tips of the antennae, the mouthparts, or the tarsi (feet) of the front legs. The interpretation of the chemicals takes place in the subesophageal ganglion of the bee, not in the brain. The esophageal ganglion is a very large nerve cell cluster attached beneath the brain."
It's good to see youngsters so interested in insects!
If you're a beekeeper in the United States and folks rave about your honey, then you'll want to enter the annual Good Food Awards event. You'll have a chance to win awards--and bragging rights.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, who coordinates the contest, announced that awards will be given in four subcategories: Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey. The entry period is now underway and ends Sunday, July 31. See criteria on this page.
The contest is divided into five regions--East, South, North, Central and West--with seven or more states assigned to one region, Harris said.
- "West" is California, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
- "North" is Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Minnesota
- "Central" is Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky
- "East" is Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia
- "South" is Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas
"Finalists from each region are selected on a judging day Sept. 18," Harris explained. "They are vetted according to criteria on this page. Honeys can come from August 1, 2015 – August 31, 2016. Winners are selected during the fall months and announced at the end of the year. The awards will be presented in mid-January."
Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. The Good Food Awards will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility. The honey can come from hives located in numerous places, from rooftops to fields to backyards.
Last year beekeepers from California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, New York, Oregon and Washington took home the top awards.
Bee Girl, Bee Girl Honey, Oregon
Bee Local, Bee Local Sauvie Honey, Oregon
Bee Squared Apiaries, Rose Honey, Colorado
Bees' Needs, Fabulous Fall, New York
Bloom Honey, Orange Blossom, California
Gold Star Honeybees, Gold Star Honey, Maine
Hani Honey Company, Raw Creamed Wildflower Honey, Florida
Mikolich Family Honey, Sage and Wild Buckwheat, California
MtnHoney, Comb Honey Chunk, Georgia
Posto Bello Apiaries, Honey, Maine
Sequim Bee Farm, Honey, Washington
Simmons Family Honey, Saw Palmetto Honey, Georgia
Two Million Blooms, Raw Honey, Illinois
UrbanBeeSF, Tree Blossom Honey Quince & Tree Blossom Honey Nopa, California
The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information, email Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.