That would be the varroa mite, Varroa destructor, an eight-legged external parasite that attacks and feeds on honey bees. Those mites can spread viruses and decimate a healthy colony.
How can you monitor, mitigate and manage them?
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her lab are hosting a short course on "Varroa Mite Management Strategies" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
"Current beekeeping challenges call for all beekeepers to have a solid understanding of varroa mite biology and management approaches," said Niño, in describing the course. "We will dive deeper into understanding varroa biology and will devote majority of the time to discussing pros and cons of various means to monitor, mitigate, and manage this crucial honey bee pest."
The course, limited to 20 participants, will cover varroa biology, treatment options and chemical-free options. Participants are to bring their bee veil or suit. The $200 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. The last day to register is Monday, Oct. 7. Click here to register.
Originating in Asia, the varroa mite is now found throughout most of the world. It arrived in Japan and the Soviet Union in the early 1960s and South America in the 1970s. From the 1970s to 1980s, it spread to South America, Poland, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. The pest was first detected in the United States in 1987, in Canada in 1989, and in 1992 in the United Kingdom. It has since spread to Ireland, New Zealand and Hawaii, but to date, has not been found in Australia.
The female is reddish brown, while the male is white. They measure 1–1.8 mm long and 1.5–2 mm wide.
The course is sponsored by the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, (CAMBP). directed by Niño. The program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. For more information, contact CAMBP program manager Wendy Mather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She spoke on "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation" to a capacity crowd gathered July 18 in the ARC Ballroom.
“Who needs to act?" she asked. "Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses.”
Quoting noted biologist/author E. O. Wilson, Dicks said that insects are “the little things that run the world.”
Dicks began her presentation by chronicling news media accounts of “insectageddon,” which Cambridge fellow Robert Macfarlane defined on Twitter as “the current calamitous population decline of insect species globally, with catastrophic results for life on earth.”
One news story, by environment editor Damian Carrington of The Guardian, warned that "The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems." Carrington, in his Feb. 10, 2019 piece, titled “Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse of Nature," wrote that “More than 40 percent of insect species are declining and a third are endangered...The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.”
“Wild insect pollinators have declined in occurrence, diversity, and in some cases, abundance, in Europe and North America,” Dicks told the crowd. “Lack of data for other regions prevents global assessment of status for insect pollinators, but the main drivers of decline are operating everywhere.”
“Why does pollinator decline matter?” she asked. “Eighty-eight percent of wild plant species depend on pollinators. At least half of the crop pollination serves are provided by wild pollinators—half by managed honey bees.”
Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses must get involved, she reiterated.
What Farmers Should Do
For example, she said, farmers should
- Plant flowers for nectar and pollen
- Manage hedges and forest edges for wildlife
- Restore and protect flower-rich native habitats like meadows, scrubland and woodland
- Provide set aside or fallow areas
- Leave field edges and corners to naturally generate
- Provide nesting sites for bees ("bare ground, big old trees and bee hotels")
What the General Public Should Do
The general public's role should be:
- Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees
- Let your garden grow wild
- Cut your grass less often
- Don't disturb insect nest and hibernation spots
- Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
What Governments Should Do
Dicks touched on 10 "pollinator policies" that governments should do:
- Raise pesticide regularly standards
- Promote integrated pest management
- Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessment
- Regulate movement of managed pollinators
- Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals
- Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in a extension services
- Support diversified farming systems
- Conserve and restore 'green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes
- Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination
- Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified and ecologically intensive farming
Dicks, in her position at the University of East Anglia, engages in research in entomology, agroecology, management of biodiversity and ecosystem services on farms. (See research profile.)
In addition to addressing pollinator decline and "who needs to act and what should they do," the researcher touched on how to motivate people: "insights from the behavioral sciences; and the importance of local knowledge and culture."
Awareness and Understanding Are Not Sufficient
She offered key insights from behavioral science, noting that "awareness and understanding are not sufficient; decisions are not always rational; social norms are important; peer-to-peer communication within social groups drives behavior change and people must feel ABLE to act in their current context."
Dicks recommended that the attendees become acquainted with the work of the coalition Promote Pollinators (https://promotepollinators.org). An excerpt from the website: "Pollinators play a key role in the conservation of biological diversity, ecosystems, food production and the global economy. The effects of current human activities hamper animal pollination. Promote Pollinators, the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators, reaches out to potential new partners to develop and implement national pollinator strategies. The coalition believes that country-led politics can foster policy measures and innovative action on protecting pollinators."
She also cited the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Dicks described pollinator decline as "a complex issue." People--including some politicians--have to change to help protect the pollinators and the ecosystem.
How Some Politicians Use Science
Dicks quoted author Mark Avery, former director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: "I have rarely seen a policy argument won through logic and science, even though everybody pretends that they are. No, politicians use science like a drunk uses a lamp post--more for support than for illumination."
The conference, “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” covered a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. (See agenda.)
Dicks keynoted the conference on Thursday morning, July 18, and Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, delivered a keynote address on Friday, July 19, discussing "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes."
Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, both of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, co-chaired the conference. Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and events manager Elizabeth Luu coordinated the four-day event.
Presenters from 15 Countries
Williams said that presenters represented 15 countries: Australia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. "And we had at least one attendee from China--although not presenting."
"This was the fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy," Williams said. "Each time we try to add new elements that address emerging challenges and new directions in research. This year's sessions felt as fresh and innovative as ever, adding symposia on climate change, innovative monitoring and data collection, and urban bees. By restricting presenters to those who had not presented in the past six years we also added new voices and perspectives."
"We also grew. In the past the conference has been just under 200 attendees. This year it topped 250, and we had to turn away several people because we simply could not fit more into the space. We added a second evening of posters to provide more time to interact. The response was overwhelming with 112 poster presenters!"
Williams said that the conference "also added more explicit policy elements by creating a set of ViewPOINTS documents summarizing key areas in pollinator biology and heath that target policy makers. This has allowed for collaborative interaction across the attendees and a set of deliverable products from our interactions."
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, coordinated the conference, with events manager Elizabeth "Liz" Luu serving in the lead role.
"It was an amazing team effort pulling it all together," Williams said. "Liz Luu from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center (HRC) was in a word, fantastic, keeping every thing and everyone together. The HPC really showed what it can do and what tremendous value it adds to our campus. The organizing committee worked so well together, sharing the load throughout. A great set of colleagues!"
The next International Pollinator Conference will take place at Pennsylvania State University. Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University launched the conference in 2012. They are held every third year.
The conference, themed "Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health," opened Thursday night with registration and a reception in the Good Life Garden at the Robert Mondavi Institute on Old Davis Road, UC Davis campus.
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, is organizing the conference, with Elizabeth Luu of the Center serving as the events manager.
Presentations began Thursday morning in the ARC Ballroom with Williams delivering the welcoming speech. Keynote speaker Lynn Dicks, research fellow with the School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK--she works on sustainable farming and conservation of wild pollinators--addressed the crowd on "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation." (More to follow.)
The next keynote speaker is Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Pennsylvania State University. She will speak on "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes" at 9 a.m., Friday, July 19.
Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs, a professor with the Michigan State University's Department of Entomology, launched the International Pollinator Conference in 2012. They are held every three years. This is the first one at UC Davis.
Stiles, Bee City USA founder and pollinator champion, serves as a Xerces Society science advisor. She launched Bee City USA, now an initiative of the Xerces Society, in June 2013. Stiles was named the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign's "United States' Pollinator Advocate of the Year" in 2015. "My days are now filled with learning all I can about pollinators, native plants, pesticides, and what people can do to support the 200,000+ species of hardworking pollinators that sustain our planet," she says.
Stiles will speak on "Urban Pollinator Conservation: Bee Campus USA and "Bee City USA as a Model for Meaningful Community Engagement" on Saturday afternoon, closing out the conference.
Dr. Terry, who has practiced veterinary medicine for more than 35 years, founded Michigan's first feline-only hospital, serving there for 22 years. She now owns https://www.a2beevet.com./ A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, she serves on the Committee on Environmental Issues and periodically lectures to veterinary schools and conferences on honey bee medicine. Dr. Terry is also a volunteer member of World Vets, which provides veterinary medical services to underserved areas worldwide. "For fun" she flies her Cessna 172, and in 2015 participated in the Women's Air Race Classic started by Amelia Earhart and friends in 1929. She was recently elected secretary of The Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium earlier this year. (See more on her website.)
The conference sessions on Thursday covered "Novel Quantitative Methods in Pollinator Ecology and Management" (seven presentations) and "Drivers of Host-Pathogen Interactions" (seven presentations).
Friday's conference includes sessions on "Variable Climates and Changing Pollinators" (seven presentations) and "Causes and Consequences of Pesticide Use: From Use Patterns to Pollination Services" (eight presentations). Saturday's conference includes sessions on "Integrative Approaches to Improving Bee Health Across Landscapes" (nine presentations) and "Pollinators in Urban Environments" (12 presentations).
Among the speakers at Saturday's session on "Pollinators in Urban Environment," which starts at 1:40, will be two from UC Davis. Elina Nino, director of the California Master Beekeeper Program, will discuss the program and honor the newest Master Beekeepers. Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will discuss "Linking Pollinator Heath, Microbiome Composition and Human Provisioning in Anna's Hummingbird (Calypteanna). (See schedule.)
Robbin Thorp Tribute
At the entrance to the ARC Ballroom is a poster, created by Professor Williams, that pays tribute to the late global bee authority Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation. Thorp, 85, died June 7 at his home in Davis.
"Robbin was a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994, but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his passing," the poster read. "Indeed, his scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many academic scientists."
"Through his tireless efforts in research, advocacy and education, he has inspired a new generation of bee researchers."
"We miss you, Robbin."
In his retirement, Thorp co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
Thorp, who assisted scores of the scientists who attend the pollinator conferences, was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes. Colleague Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, says that Thorp was recognized internationally for his expertise and research on bees, especially non-Apis species, known as wild bees. "I doubt that...anyone else in the world...(could) compete with his expertise in the systematics of the 20,000 species of bees on this earth...he was the go-to person to identify a bee by species." A tribute to Thorp and his life's work appears on the UC Davis Entomology and Nematology website.
The California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is hosting two short courses: one on “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” on Saturday, Aug. 3 and the other, “Working Your Colonies” on Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Program.
Each will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the facility, which is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. The deadline to register is Thursday, Aug. 1.
“These courses are foundational to beekeeping husbandry excellence,” said Wendy Mather, program manager. “They are great for folks who are thinking about getting bees next season, as well as those who currently have bees and want to ensure they're doing whatever they can to ensure the success of their hives.”
The classes are not required to become a California Master Beekeeper, but are highly recommended, as “they will help folks prepare to become a science-based beekeeping ambassador,” Mather said. Instructors are Elina Niño and CAMPB educational supervisor Bernardo Niño, a staff research assistant in the Niño lab.
Planning Ahead for Your First Hives
“Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” will take place Saturday, Aug. 3 and will include both lectures and hands-on activities. Participants will learn what's necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving. They will learn about bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to install honey bee packages, how to monitor their colonies (that includes inspecting and monitoring for varroa mites) and other challenges with maintaining a healthy colony.
The course is limited to 25 participants. The $105 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments. Participants can bring their bee suit or veil if they have one, or protective gear can be provided. For more information or to register, see https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/572.
Working Your Colonies
“Working Your Colonies” will take place Sunday, Aug. 4 and will include both lectures and hands-on activities. Participants will learn what is necessary to maintain a healthy colony. Lectures will cover advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management, and products of the hive. Participants also will learn about queen wrangling, honey extraction, splitting/combined colonies, and monitoring for varroa mites.
The course is limited to 25 participants per session. The $175 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. For more information or to register, see https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/559.
Participants can bring their bee suit or veil if they have one, or protective gear can be provided. All participants are to wear closed-toed and closed-heel shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
The California Master Beekeeping Program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. For more information, contact Mather at email@example.com.
(June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week.)
"How many? Does anyone know?"
No one did, but by the end of the Pollination Education Program, sponsored by CAMBP, all 72 youths from the Sutter Creek and Ione area of Amador County did: 20,000.
They also learned that there are 4000 species of bees in the United States, 1600 species in California, and 350 in Yolo County.
And they learned that pollinators include honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, sweat bees, hummingbirds and syrphid flies.
"Can you all say entomologist?" Mather asked. "Does anyone know what entomology means?"
"Insects," said one youth.
"Yes, entomology is the scientific study of insects," Mather told them. That's what each and everyone of you is today: entomologists! Okay?
She explained the life cycle of a bee: from egg to larva to pupa to adult. "Males are called drones," she said. "Females are called worker bees."
Toward the end of the program, Mather told the students: "You are ready for the university. As soon as you graduate from high school, I hope to see you guys here. You are all excellent, very respectable, responsible and mature scientists. I want you to please take the knowledge that you gathered here today and share it with family and friends."
The Pollinator Education Program (PEP), developed two years ago by CAMPB director and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, along with staff research associate Bernardo Niño, aims to provide a fun, immersive educational experience "to help kids of all ages understand the importance pollinators play in the lives of humans."
At the recent session, Mather shared data on native bees, explained the life cycle of a honey bee, encouraged students to be citizen scientists, and demonstrated how to carefully collect bee specimens with a bee vacuum in a catch-and-release activity.
Volunteer Robin Lowry managed the “Planting for Pollinators” and “Be a Beekeeper” station. Students tried on beekeeping suits and tested the equipment, including a smoker and hive tools.
Volunteer Julia Wentzel introduced the concept of "pollinator specialists" and engaged the students in creating a "pollinator" which they then used to transfer "pollen" to different shaped flowers. Diverse floral sources are integral to honey bee health, she said.
Matthew Hoepfinger, staff research associate in the Niño lab, opened a bee hive (inside a screened tent) and showed the students the queen, workers and drones.
Just before boarding the buses for home, the students sampled several varietals of honey. "This is really good!" a girl said. "I want more."
Ron Antone of the UC Master Gardeners of Amador coordinates the annual program, working with Amador school officials, parents and master gardeners. This year he coordinated two groups:
- Jackson Elementary. 62 third graders, 3 teachers, 2 aides, 3 parents and 2 Master Gardener volunteers from Amador County.
- Ione Elementary. 72 third graders, 3 teachers, 7 parents, 3 Master Gardeners and 3 volunteers from Farms of Amador.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology operates the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, with Elina Lastro Niño serving as the garden's faculty director and Christine Casey as the manager. Two others from the Niño lab--staff research associate Charley Nye, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and staffer Christine Torres--assisted with the pollinator education programs.
"It takes a village as they say," Mather said.
That it does.
A tip of the bee veil to CAMBP, PEP, the Niño lab, and the UC Master Gardeners of Amador County for their roles in educating youth about pollinators.