If a queen bee were to celebrate Mother's Day (and she won't because she's too busy laying eggs), what a crowded festivity that would be.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of Washington State University, former manager of the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, describes the queen as an "egg-laying machine."
"She's the mother of all the bees in the hive," saysCobey, who studied at UC Davis with Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr., (1907-2003), "the father of honey bee genetics." During the peak season, the queen can lay up to 2000 eggs a day. That amounts to about 50,000 to 80,000 workers (sterile females) and 1000 to 2000 drones (males) in the hive.
On her maiden flight, the queen bee mates with some 12 to 25 drones in mid-air and then she heads back to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life, says Cobey, internationally renowned for her Carniolan bees and classes on instrumental insemination and bee breeding (stock improvement).
Yes, every bee in the hive has the same mother. Not so with the fathers.
In his book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist, the Care and Keeping of Bees, Norman "Norm" Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of apiculture, writes: "All bees in a colony develop from eggs laid by the queen, so they all share the same mother. All bees in a colony develop from eggs laid by the queen, so they all share the same mother. But as a population, they typically have around 15 fathers."
As Gary points out: "The queen bee has no control over the drones that inseminate her. (The virgin queen) mates while flying, never inside the hive."
It's a matriarchal society. The girls (worker bees) do all the work; they serve as 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. So their abbreviated life (during the summer the life span of a worker bee is only four to six weeks) is not surprising. The drones, or males, serve only a reproductive function. Once they they mate, they die.
Honey bee geneticist Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis (and emeritus provost, Arizona State University) studied with Laidlaw for his doctorate at UC Davis. He pays tribute to Laidlaw in his book, The Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies.
In Chapter Nine, "The Song of the Queen," Page reprinted a poem by E. B. White (Dec. 15, The New Yorker) objecting to instrumental insemination. White opined in the poem that the queen bee should "mate with whatever drone" she encounters.
Page reprinted Laidlaw's response, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, which said in part:
Her offspring slave throughout the day,
They feed her children as best they may
They would like to see a moment
Directed toward stock improvement.
If you're interested in bees and beekeeping, or just curious about these amazing superorganisms, these books read well on Mother's Day...and any other day./span>
At a recent visit to the UC Davis Ecological Garden at the Student Farm, we watched a honey bee, Apis mellifera, and a lygus bug nymph, Lygus hesperus, foraging on a batchelor button, Centaurea cyanus.
The bee: the beneficial insect.
The lygus bug or Western tarnished plant bug: a pest.
The lygus bug, which punctures plant tissues with its piercing mouthparts, was there first, but no matter. The bee joined in, edging closer and closer until they touched.
In photography insect circles, that's a "two-for"--two insects in one image.
The bee finally buzzed off, leaving the lygus bug to "dine" alone.
The lygus bug, distinguished by a conspicuous triangle on its back, is a very serious pest of cotton, strawberries and seed crops, including alfalfa. Scientists estimate that in California alone, the pest causes $30 million in damage to cotton plants each year, and at least $40 million in losses to the state's strawberry industry. The insect is also a pest of numerous fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, peaches, eggplant, tomato, potato, artichoke, lettuce, sugarbeet, and beans. See what the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), says about the pest.
What do they look like? "Adult lygus bugs are green, straw yellow, or brown with a conspicuous yellow or pale green triangle on their backs," UC IPM says. "Nymphs are light green...Lygus can move into gardens or orchards from weeds, especially when they dry up. They are a particular problem in beans, strawberries, and orchard crops, feeding on developing flower buds and fruit. Fruit may become blemished and discolored, deformed, or twisted and may develop depressions or pustules."
Cotton? "Lygus bugs," says UC IPM, "migrate to cotton from other hosts, so management of this pest begins with assessing its populations outside the field. Check for them on weeds, in nearby alfalfa, and in other crops, and keep in touch with your pest control adviser, Extension agent or Farm Advisor for area-wide information on lygus bug populations. Proper management of alfalfa harvest can reduce damaging migrations to cotton."
Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, works closely with farmers in their lygus bug battles.
It's Earth Day, an event we celebrate every April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protections on our troubled planet. This year's theme: "Restore Our Earth."
Sadly, however, most college campuses are temporarily or partially closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the face-to-face "teach-ins" are primarily Zoom sessions. Who would have thought? Who could have known?
What to do on Earth Day? Watching bees forage in a pollinator garden seems appropriate to recapture some of Earth Day's magic. Honey bees, responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat, continue to gather pollen, nectar, water and propolis every day (weather permitting), not just Earth Day.
Today's favorite fauna and flora: honey bees, Apis mellifera, foraging on rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora and packing red pollen back to their colonies. Just call them "temporary occupants" on Planet Earth. But always call them "special."
Read NASA's Nine Reasons We're Grateful to Live on Earth, posted April 21, 2020 for a better grasp of what we have and what we could lose. "The promise of a better life in the mysterious beyond can be seductive. But the fact is the more we learn about out there the more we realize how special it is here. The first astronauts to look from space back at Earth, a 'pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known,' as scientist Carl Sagan once wrote, saw a beautiful, delicate world that is perfectly suited to the bounty of life it supports."
Happy Earth Day!
So here you are, a honey bee seeking nectar from an unopened citrus blossom.
And then your tongue (proboscis) becomes all sticky with pollen, nectar and other particles.
What to do: you, the worker bee, take a brief break and clean your tongue.
This "B" gets an "A" for good grooming and multi-tasking on "C" (citrus).
- The non-native honey bee, Apis mellifera, which European colonists brought to the Jamestown colony (now Virginia) in 1622
- The non-native Satsuma mandarin, Citrus unshiu, is of Chinese origin and named after Unsyu (Wenzhou), China, but introduced to the West via Japan.
What to do:
- Thank the honey bee for pollinating the citrus blossoms! Note that National Pollinator Week is June 21-27.
A gravid praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, crawls out of a patch of African blue basil, and begins checking out the honey bees.
Decisions. Decisions. Dozens of them are buzzing around, gathering nectar for their colony. They are not aware she is there.
Finally, the mantis, her abdomen bulging with a future ootheca, spots a bee just above her head.
She knows the ambush move well. Soon spiked forelegs grip the bee, her dinner.
It was a good day for a praying mantis. It was not a good day for a bee.