On Labor Day, a federal holiday, we celebrate the our country's labor movement, our gratitude, and our achievements.
But there is no Labor Day holiday for the worker bee, one of three castes (queen, worker and drone) in a honey bee colony. No Labor Day holiday for the queen, either. In peak season, she will lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day. A laborious task, to be sure.
Most will be worker bees, the most needed of the three castes. Worker bees perform such age-related duties 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. The worker bees (sterile females) run the hive. They're the "you-go" girls, the "you-got-this" girls and the "go-to" girls.
No "atta boys" here. The boys, or drones, have one job to do: mate with a virgin queen (in flight) and then they die. (Or as the late Eric Mussen, UC Extension apiculturist emeritus and a longtime member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, would add "They die with a smile on their face.")
It's a matriarchal society.
But life is short for the foraging worker bees.
"Worker bees live for approximately five to six weeks in the spring and summer," writes author and retired bee scientist and bee wrangler Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
"Those reared in the fall live for several months--long enough for the colony to survive the winter--and are replaced by young bees in late winter or early spring," says Gary, whose entire apicultural career spans 75 years, from student to retirement 26 years ago. (He still works with bees.)
For the foragers, collecting nectar and pollen can be dangerous. Their searching expeditions and forays can take them four to five miles from their hive. Due to predators (including birds, praying mantids and spiders), pesticides and other issues, many do not return home at night.
They put the "severe" in persevere.
What's not to admire about the honey bee? All hail Apis mellifera, not just on Labor Day, but every day of the year. You go, girls! You got this!
(Editor's Note: Interested in becoming a beekeeper or learning more about beekeeping? Be sure to check out the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)
During the 11th annual National Moth Week, one thing's for sure:
Beekeepers won't be celebrating the beauty, life cycle, or habitat of the Greater Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella), also known as "the honeycomb moth." It's a major pest of bee colonies that aren't maintained well.
During the night, when we are sleeping, these female wax moths slip into bee hives and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae which consume honeycomb, leaving a destructive mess. The Greater Wax Moth is the most destructive comb pest, while the Lesser Wax Moth (smaller) is less serious.
In his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Honey Bees, UC Davis emeritus entomology professor Norm Gary, explains that that the females wax moth "lays eggs at night in the cracks and cervices outside and inside the hive. Tiny tax-moth larvae tunnel through the combs--eating as they go--and lining the tunnels with silk that affords some protection from the bees, which would cast them from the colony. As the moth larvae grow larger, they are more exposed and vulnerable and are cast out of the hive by housecleaning bees."
Beekeepers remove the frames and freeze them, killing the larvae and any other pests that that might be in there--such as small hive beetles (Aethina tumida).
In its fact sheet on wax moths, the Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC), says that "Beekeepers will never completely win the battle against wax moth. It is an insect well adapted for surviving around bee colonies."
MAAREC, however, describes the larvae as "a mixed blessing." The larvae are "raised for use as fish bait, animal feed, and scientific research and they are a good representative insect to use in Biology and Entomology classes. Beekeepers see the wax moth as a pest."
Meanwhile, it's National Moth Week, and a good time to head over to the Bohart Museum of Entomology Moth Night open house on Saturday, July 30 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building at 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Indoors you'll see the Bohart Museum's global collection of moths, and outside, within a short walking distance, you'll see moths and other insects hanging on a white sheet in theblacklighting display. They are drawn there by an ultraviolet (UV) light. Yes, you'll see wax moth specimens.
"Yes, we have plenty of Greater Wax Moths as well as Lesser Wax Moths and a few other Pyralids that were reared from bumble bee nests," said entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection. (See Bug Squad blog about what Jeff Smith says about the collection)
The open house is free, family friendly and open to the public. Folks are invited to bring photos or moth specimens from their house, yard or neighborhood that they would like help in identifying, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. There also will be a craft activity, cookies, and "hot cocoa for anyone who needs help staying up past their bedtime," Yang quipped.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, houses a worldwide collection of eight million insects. It also houses a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and a insect-themed gift shop.
Ever seen a honey bee foraging on a daffodil?
In the early spring, blooms are few and far between. Daffodils are not usually considered "bee plants." But if nothing else is blooming, bees will head over to the daffodils.
On a Feb. 6th visit to the UC Davis Ecological Garden at the Student Farm, we watched a lone honey bee--probably from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility apiary on Bee Biology Road--gathering pollen in a nearby bed of daffodils.
The bee's heavy load of daffodil pollen looked like pure gold.
Norm Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, writes about the importance of pollen in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees: "The importance of pollen in the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated. Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins, and fatty substances--are derived from pollen. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae. During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers and consumes around 77 pounds (35 g) of pollen."
Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, named for a handsome hunter, who, in Greek mythology, fell in love with his own reflection (the word "narcissism" means "excessive self-love").
There was a lot of love that day in the daffodil bed.
People are keeping cool--or trying to--in their homes, workplaces or in newly opened community cooling centers.
Can you imagine what it's like for a honey bee colony? The normal brood-nest temperatures should be about 93 to 94 degrees, according to Norm Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology.
In his book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees, Gary explains that "bee colonies require small quantities of water--up to around 7 ounces per day--but the water they collect is vital to their survival. During periods of hot weather, bees evaporate tiny droplets of water in the hive to control the internal colony temperature. Maintenance of internal colony humidity is important to developing larvae. In addition, nurse bees use water to reconstitute honey to nectarlike consistency when feeding larvae."
We remember Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (now emeritus) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, telling beekeeping associations to "always provide fresh water for your bees on your property. Otherwise, they will visit the neighbor's hanging laundry, bird bath, swamp cooler, dog dish, leaky hose connection, etc."
In his book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden, Kim Flottum, then editor of Bee Culture magazine, points out that "A summer colony needs at least a quart (liter) of water every day, and even more when it's warm."
"Water is used to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey when producing larval food, for evaporation cooling during warm weather, and for a cool drink on a hot day," Flottum writes in his book.
Some folks add stepping stones or corks in water fountains, bird baths or ponds to assist the bees in their water-collecting endeavors. Usually, though, bees simply stand at the water's edge.
"Probably the most successful homemade water feeder design," Gary says, "is an inclined board that allows water to trickle down slowly into a catch basin so that it can be recirculated."
No, the bees do not abscond with their queen and relocate, says Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Gary, known as "The Bee Man," has kept bees for more than seven decades. He's a bee scientist lauded for his research, his writings (his latest book is The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees), his professional bee wrangling, and his work with Hollywood movie producers, documentaries, and talk shows. He's also a musician known for donning a full-length "bee suit" while playing the B-flat clarinet. (See more information on his career)
We asked "The Bee Man" to comment on what bee colonies do during a fire. He broke it down like this:
"Bees react to smoke by fanning, motion, flight, and immediately ingesting nectar and honey," he says. "Smoke disrupts their defensive behavior. That is why beekeepers smoke bees when manipulating and inspecting bee colonies. Some have speculated that feeding behavior, gorging on honey and nectar in response to smoke, would enable colonies to take honey during migrating from the fire area. I have smoked thousands of hives during my career. There was never any indication that bees left the hive area in response to smoke. Migration of the colony away from the fire and smoke would be impossible because the queen is full of eggs and much too heavy to fly. Consequently a colony that migrated from a fire could not survive without the queen. Wild colonies that nest inside of large tree trunks high above ground level may initially survive the fire. But they may eventually starve if all of the vegetation with their flight range has been destroyed."
However, the Aug. 19th fire occurred at night. All of the bees, including the foragers, were inside. "That did not leave any chance for the colonies," Yelle said.
"Everything burned to the ground with no signs of life or even wood left when the fire reached a pallet (4 hives). I have been finding only cleats and nails in a pile of ash. That gives you an idea on how strong was that fire."
"I did have one pallet of hives that the boxes didn't burn all down, but the bees died and brood is dying," she said.
Surviving Bees in Jeopardy
In the few surviving hives, the blazing heat killed the capped brood but some adult bees are still alive. "The colonies are low on population, and the queen has just started laying again. It will be a challenge for all beekeepers with surviving hives to restock the resources and rebuild the brood, meaning the bees are still in jeopardy."
Yelle credits a Bodega firefighter with saving her hives at another location--in Pope Valley. "He's a real hero and his name is Boone Vale, a volunteer fire captain with the Bodega Bay Fire Department and a bulldozer operator," she said. "We did lose about 60 hives," she said, but Vale saved 70 when he "pushed the hives away from the burning ones. He was on his way home after who knows how many hours of battling the fire and still stopped to save the hives."
"Bee Man" Norm Gary called the fire "an absolute disaster."
"This was an absolute disaster," said Gary. "Rick provided packaged bees for almost all of my TV shows and movies during the past 30 plus years," he said. "Rick has always been close to UC Davis beekeeping activities. He was the only commercial beekeeper who frequently attended our Bee Biology Group meetings at the Bee Biology Facility. His sister worked for me one summer. He is a fine gentlemen as well as an outstanding professional beekeeper!"
"I hope they can find some support from the industry or some other source, such as a Go Fund Me project," Gary said. "My daughter recently bought a country home west of Winters near Rick's property. The night that fire burned Rick's home, my daughter and husband were celebrating their first night at their new home. But they were evacuated in the middle of the night! Their property was saved only because another local fire a few weeks earlier had burned enough in a nearby area to provide a partial fire break!"
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