When you're a honey bee and you're packing pollen and approaching your landing--an artichoke thistle--it's a good idea to clean your proboscis (tongue) first.
Caught in flight: a honey bee doing a little grooming.
This one hovered like a syrphid fly or flower fly, perhaps waiting for the bee below her to move a bit as a few seconds lapsed.
"A long tongue (proboscis--pronounced pro-BAH-sis) is used to suck nectar from flowers," Explains Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "It functions as a straw, yet it unfolds and retracts like a miniature landing gear. Extemely sensitive taste buds at the tip trigger the sucking response for the intake of nectar and water."
The honey bee touched down, the grooming complete, and the other bee gone.
Just a few seconds in the life of a honey bee cleaning its "miniature landing gear" before it lands on another thistle.
Christmas in May?
When it's in full bloom, the aptly named "tower of jewels," Echium wildpretii, which can tower as high as 10 feet, looks very much like a Christmas tree. Think of the brilliant red blossoms as red bells.
Native to the island of Tenerife, it belongs to the family Boraginaceae. It's a biennial, meaning that it takes two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. In the Vacaville, Calif., area, it blooms in its second year, around mid-April and diminishes by mid-May.
Honey bees love its nectar and pollen. And the pollen? It's blue, which is always a surprise when beekeepers open their hives. "Where did that blue come from?"
Scilla sibirica (wood squill) and Epilobium angustifolium (fireweed) also yield blue pollen as does Gilia tricolor (bird's eye). Borage pollen is a bluish-gray.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes emeritus entomology professor Norman Gary of the University of California, Davis, in his best-selling book, "Honey Bee Hobbyist, The Care and Keeping of Bees."
"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 about 77 pounds of pollen."
Gary adds: "Pollen in the plant world is the equivalent of sperm in the animal world. Fertilization and growth of seeds depends upon the transfer of pollen from the male flower parts (anthers) to the receptive female parts (stigmas)."
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>
Well, how about "bees in the bell tower"?
The Epiphany Episcopal Church of Vacaville, Calif., has just that: bees in its bell tower. (See Bug Squad blog, Blessed Are the Bees.)
When consulted, veteran bee scientist, author and former professional bee wrangler Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, recommends "let them bee."
"Yes, it looks like an established colony in the bell tower," the Sacramento area resident wrote in an email. "At that location and height there should be no interaction between the bees and people. They are pollinating plants within at least a one-mile radius from the church so they should be regarded as being beneficial. There is a good chance they will not survive more than a year because they probably will succumb to mites, bee diseases, and parasites. Once they die, you have the option to enclose the peak of this spiral structure with screen to prevent the entry of a swarm next year. And if they survive more than a year, then there is no problem."
The bees inside the bell tower "are probably inside a wall structure," Gary says.
Meanwhile, congregation member Carlyn Crystal, the "junior warden" or "people's warden" of the church--she addresses issues with the facility and grounds--is monitoring the situation. The bees have been there for at least two years, maybe longer, she says.
Home sweet home. And they appear to be thriving.
Gary, known internationally as "The Bee Man," holds a doctorate in entomology (apiculture) from Cornell University and served on the UC Davis entomology faculty from 1962 to 1994.
A beekeeper for seven decades and the author of Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees, he has written more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet." (As a professional musician, he performs in area bands, but sans the bees.)
"The Bee Man" holds the Guinness World record for keeping 109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds.
You may have seen him and/or the bees he trained in action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits over the last 35 years include 18 films, including Fried Green Tomatoes; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials; and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.
Gary, now 87, has been working on two research projects for the past four years. He reports he's "nearing the finish line." Both projects involve patent applications.
"The Bee Man"--aka scientist, author, musician and former professional bee wrangler--has never meet a bee he didn't like. He also maintains a keen sense of humor. "My age," he quips, "matches my IQ."
Honey bees have nothing on the late Helen Reddy (Oct. 25, 1941-Sept. 29, 2020), an Australian-born singer who roared like a lion: "I am woman, hear me roar."
Her hit song, "I Am Woman," released in 1972, became an anthem for the women's liberation/equal rights movement back in the '70s.
"I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman"
Worker honey bees basically do all the work in the colony, and they're out there foraging on everything they can find--when the weather cooperates. Lately we've been watching collecting pollen and nectar on lion's tail, Leonotis leonurus and thinking about UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary's book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstate," he writes in his entry on pollen foraging. "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."
Gary, known internationally as "The Bee Man" for his career as a hobby beekeeper, commercial beekeeper, deputy apiary inspector in New York, honey bee research scientist, entomology professor, author, bee wrangler and Guinness World record holder (he holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) served on the UC Davis entomology faculty from 1962 to 1994 after a 32-year academic career. He has kept bees for some seven decades and has authored more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet."
But back to the girls on the lion's tail. They are determined, these girls. Helen Reddy packed a punch, but honey bees know how to pack a wallop of pollen on lion's tail.
"I am honey bee; hear me roar."