Life and death in the bee observation hive...
If you ever have the opportunity to check out a bee observation hive--a glassed-in hive showing the colony at work--you can easily spot the three castes: the queen bee, worker bees and drones.
If you look closely, you'll observe the foragers performing their waggle and round dances and the royal attendants circling the queen in a retinue.
The queen will lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day in peak season. From an egg, to a larva to a pupa to a newly emerged bee, it's all there.
You'll observe the worker bees performing their specific duties: nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers. The worker bees (sterile females) run the hive. They're the "you-go" girls and the "go-to" girls.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis has several observation hives. One is in the Laidlaw conference room; another is in an entomology classroom in 122 Briggs Hall. The bees enter and exit through a thin tube connecting the inside of the colony to the outside world.
Avid bee enthusiasts place an observation hive in their homes, often in the living room. It's a honey of a conversation piece, beside being an educational experience.
The saddest part? Watching the undertaker bees carry out the motionless bodies of their sisters and brothers.
Or watching the sisters, as winter approaches, evict their brothers. The girls are protecting their precious food storage and want fewer mouths to feed.
Drones, whose only responsibility is to mate with the queen, aren't needed in the winter months.
But wait 'til spring...
It's a blue day for the honey bees.
The massive Northern California storm--one of our worst-ever storms and marked by heavy rains and equally strong winds--means that bees are clustering inside their hives.
No foraging today.
Just last Sunday we saw honey bees nectaring blue marguerite daisy (Felicia amelloides), a colorful member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). A native of South Africa, the marguerite daisy blooms through October.
This bee was quite old (notice the lack of hair on her thorax).
Today she's inside.
Out of the rain.
Here's a "cold case" to investigate.
Check your backyard or neighborhood park and see if a praying mantis has deposited an egg case on a tree limb, plant or fence.
Case in point: Over at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the UC Davis campus, a frequently watered potted plant attracts scores of honey bees seeking water to deliver to their hives.
It also has attracted a cunning praying mantis.
She just deposited an egg case on one of the stems, knowing that when her offspring emerge next spring there will be plenty of food for them.Praying mantises (Tenodera sinensis) are fierce-looking, combative insects with voracious appetites. They'll eat any insect they can catch and overcome. And not just insects: they've been known to attack and kill everything from hummingbirds to mice.
Call it a banty-rooster complex; nothing seems to frighten the pugnacious praying mantis.
About this time of year, the praying mantis deposits her eggs on a twig or stem or fence. The frothy secretion hardens into a shell to protect it from the elements and from predators.
Fast-forward to spring or nearly spring. When the weather warms, so will the cold case, and about 100 to 200 tiny mantises will emerge.
They'll be so hungry they'll even eat one another.
Can't find an egg case? Not to worry. Early next year, your local hardware store or nursery will probably have them--in the refrigerated section.
It's not a pretty sight--the Varroa mite attacking a honey bee.
Beekeepers are accustomed to seeing the reddish-brown, eight-legged parasite (aka "blood sucker") in their hives.
UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, is among those who've declared war on the mites.
She's carrying out an intensive and comprehensive breeding and selection program aimed at developing honey bees that are resistant to pests and diseases.
The Varroa mite is a serious pest of honey bees worldwide, spreads diseases, and can weaken and destroy the colony. It is no doubt one of the culprits involved in colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by honey bees abandoning the hive.
Here's what the Varroa mite looks like attacking an immature bee.
Caught between a rock and a...soft place...
You'll often see tiny sweat bees nectaring rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) in urban gardens. This plant, a native of Chile, brightens landscapes with its pinkish magenta blossoms.You probably wouldn't wear this color if you were in the federal witness protection program. It shouts "Look at me!"
The old saying that "it's so loud it could stop traffic" applies here.
It certainly stops insect traffic. (The lure, though, is the pollen, not the color.)
Last week we watched a tiny female sweat bee (Halictus tripartitus) nectaring the rock purslane.
Then she crawled to the lip of the flower, peered at her surroundings, and took flight.