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."
He alerted UC Davis scientists to an article in sciencedirect.com that indicated this anecdotal information: beekeepers living in the epicenter of the COVID-19 virus in China did not contract the virus, and neither did a group of patients receiving apitherapy.
"These people have one thing in common: they develop a tolerance to bee sting," wrote lead author Wei Yang, an oncologist from China and two associates. The trio pointed out that "It reminds us the story of the discovery of cowpox and the eventual victory of humans over this disease (Bennett and Baxby)
"In the Hubei province, the epicenter of COVID-19 in China, 5,115 beekeepers were surveyed from February 23 to March 8," Gary said, quoting the article. "This survey included 723 who lived in Wuhan, the outbreak epicenter of Hubei. Amazingly, none of these beekeepers developed symptoms associated with Covid-19. Their health was totally normal. Additional studies at apitherapy clinics, where bee venom treatments were made on patients from October to December 2019, revealed that none of the 121 patients, or the apitherapists that treated them, became infected, even though some were exposed to relatives or contacts infected with Covid-19."
"Bee venom therapy is successfully used for treating some forms of arthritis and rheumatism," said Gary, who at 86 has worked with bees for more than seven decades. "I think that the use of bee venom vs.COVID-19 should be investigated. Maybe our UC Davis Primate Center (California National Primate Research Center) will consider appropriate experiments with primates to test bee venom therapy for COVID-19. I have received thousands of bee stings during my 70 years of working and playing with bees. Maybe that's why I'm 86 and COVID-19 free!"
Norm began keeping bees at age 15 in Florida. His career includes hobby beekeeper, commercial beekeeper, deputy apiary inspector in New York, honey bee research scientist, entomology professor, author, bee wrangler and Guinness World record holder.
During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades, “The Bee Man” served as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials. Among his credits: “Fried Green Tomatoes” and appearances with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno on Tonight Shows.
He launched the Thriller Bee Shows, performing more than 100 times in three western states, with venues that included the California State Fair. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet."
Gary once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with artificial nectar. His holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He's also the person behind the "bee suit" record in the Guinness World Records; Gary clustered more than 87 pounds of bees on a friend.
As a musician, Gary plays the clarinet (B-flat clarinet), alto sax, tenor sax, and flute with several groups.
Benefits of Bee Venom Therapy
Page remembers helping his friend and mentor, the late Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr.,(1907-2003) of UC Davis, "the father of honey bee genetics," receive bee stings to alleviate his arthritis. (The bee research facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, bears the name of the "Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Center").
"I used to take the bees and put them on his neck and have them stinging so that he would get his certain number of stings a week," Page told interviewee Leal, adding that this was "not standard medical practice" but "he believed in it."
Laidlaw's daughter, Barbara Laidlaw Murphy, now of Washingrton state, remembers the bee sting therapy well. "He put bee stings on his knee and he put them on my mom's hands--for (treatment of) arthritis," she said. "They used to get the bees out of the hive in the lab sign."
"He seemed to believe in it," Murphy said. "My mom was quite enthusiastic about it for her. He would have the bee sting her on her knuckles. Her hand would swell up quite a lot. After the swelling went down she was sure that her arthritis was better and she could get back to her knitting."
See the COVID-19 Symposium, primarily on vaccines, here: https://youtu.be/O4L0OHcZ5Mk.
The things we overlook are the things we should look for.
Take mustard and honey bees.
You've seen mustard thriving in fields, but have you ever considered planting some seeds from a nursery in your garden so honey bees will have something to eat in early spring? (And then, of course, replacing the mustard with other plants so the mustard does not go to seed? The soil also benefits.)
We've been planting mustard now for several years, and it's a joy to watch the bees foraging, flying and gathering pollen and nectar. Sometimes they'll stop in mid-air to clean their tongues.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Honey bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrates 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 72 pounds of pollen."
"Pollen in the plant world is the equivalent of sperm in the animal world," Gary continues. "Fertilization and growth of seeds depend upon the transfer of pollen from the male flower parts (anthers) to the receptive female parts (stigma)."
Yes, airborne pollen causes most human allergies, Gary acknowledges.
But for us, watching the bees go airborne with a load of pollen is a treat, a treasure and a tribute to their industrious bee-ings.
The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund. See YouTube video.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.
Today is Labor Day 2019, a federal holiday celebrated the first Monday of September.
However, "the girls" are working, as they do every day of the year, weather permitting.
"The girls" are the worker honey bees.
Unless you keep bees or have access to a hive, you mostly see them foraging. But inside the hive, they are also nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.
They ensure the survival of the hive, but their life span is short.
"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."
In peak season, a honey bee queen can lay 1500 to 2000 eggs a day, and most of them will be worker bees, the most needed of the three castes (queen, drone and worker) in the hive. Although the smallest, but they do most of the work. The queen is the egg layer. The drone's role is strictly reproduction.
Worker bees forage within four to five miles of their hive. If you provide no nectar or pollen sources in your yard, they'll go elsewhere.
Theirs is a dangerous occupation. No thanks to predators (such as birds, praying mantids and spiders) and pesticides, many do not return home at night.
Like to photograph them? Try the "magic hour," which occurs about an hour before the sun sets. We love photographing them on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The light is soft, warm and welcoming.
(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. The next course is on managing varroa mites, a major pest.)