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.)
The phrase "can't cut the mustard" (not able to handle the job) doesn't apply to honey bees. It's spring and honey bees are emerging en force from their hives to collect nectar and pollen to feed their colonies.
The fields are awash with mustard.
By the way, O. Henry, in his collection of short stories, The Heart of the West, was apparently the first known person to use the phrase, "Cut the mustard." He wrote: "I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard."
Today we hear the more negative version, "can't cut the mustard."
Meanwhile, it's a joy to see a bee swathed in gold dust from the mustard. In doing so, our bee is akin to the kid with a milk mustache. Life is good!
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," UC Davis emeritus professor and retired bee wrangler Norman Gary writes in the newly published second edition of his book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "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 71 pounds (35 kg) of pollen."
The next time you see honey bees collecting pollen, think of a colony gathering 71 pounds of pollen a year!
When folks hear about the 70-year beekeeping/bee wrangling career of 85-year-old apiculturist Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of Davis, they ask:
"How many times has he been stung?"
Let's see, can you guess?
Gary, internationally known as "The Bee Man," 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.
He 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.
So, how many times has he been stung?
"I didn't keep records, of course," the Sacramento-area resident understandably points out. "Many thousands for sure! I was probably stung over a thousand times during one summer as an apiary inspector in New York state. We didn't wear gloves."
"People don't understand that a sting is not very significant if you remove the stinger within several seconds before much venom is injected," he says. "So we worked fast and took chances that resulted in more stings but we didn't mind that much because we developed a strong tolerance, without significant reactions, and removed the stings instantly."
"During my long career, I manipulated much greater numbers of colonies more frequently than most bee researchers because my research was field-oriented. So several hundred stings per year for 70 years is a lot of stings. My guess is that the total number of stings would be around 20,000. Unfortunately the sting number estimates were greatly exaggerated during some of my TV shows. But that is show biz!"
Gary, author of the newly published Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees, second edition, writes in his book that "most people have an exaggerated sense of dread concerning bee stings due to a wealth of misleading negative information in the media."
Bees are defensive, not aggressive, he says. "Defensive behavior happens only when you are very close to the hive. Bees foraging on flowers or collecting water certainly have the ability to sting, yet they behave as if hey are totally defensiveless. They will fly away in response to the slightest disturbance. Remember, a bee that has stung dies within a few seconds and the colony benefits only if this sacrifice is made in defense of the colony."
Gary, who holds a doctorate in entomology from Cornell University, joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1962, retiring in 1994 after a 32-year academic career. He has authored more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals. During his professional bee wrangling 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: the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and TV appearances with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.
In his book, Gary covers activities inside and outside the hive, reproduction, management of colonies, honey and other products, urban beekeeping, beekeeper education (he mentions the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program), and entertaining with bees, among other topics.
That's in addition to colony defense and sting prevention. "The Bee Man" zeroes in on stinging behavior, getting stung, minimizing the effects of stings, reactions to stings, and why bees sting.
Why do they sting? "Defensive behavior is necessary for their survival, to protect the colony and the stored honey and pollen."
Just as pesticides, parasites, predators, and a multitude of microorganisms threaten the survival of honey bees, so do hobby beekeepers who are rearing too many colonies for bees to “survive and thrive.”
“Increasing populations of bees can easily ‘overgraze' the resources," says Gary, 85, whose expertise in beekeeping, including professor, scientist, author and professional bee wrangler, spans seven decades. "Excessive competition for limited nectar and pollen sources also threatens hundreds of native bee species, such as bumble bees, that have similar dietary requirements.”
He acknowledges that his chapter on Urban Entomology, “treads on sacred beekeeping ground by proposing a radical change to beekeeping in urban environments.”
But it's time “to recognize the realities of the urban environment and make appropriate changes in beekeeping practices,” he declares.
Gary, a Sacramento-area resident known internationally as “The Bee Man” says that urban environments vary greatly, from the heart of New York City or San Francisco where small residential lots typically have limited vegetation to smaller urban areas that that often have “open countryside within the foraging area of your bees.”
“This is far more than typical hobby beekeepers are harvesting these days,” Gary relates. “It should be obvious that hobby beekeepers are keeping too many colonies in the typical urban environment.”
“Hobby beekeepers typically start out with one or two hives, but that often leads to several more due to their enthusiasm for keeping bees and harvesting more honey and equating the number of hives with elevating their status as beekeepers.”
In his book, published by Fox Chapel Publishing, East Petersburg, Pa., Gary shares his beekeeping knowledge, dispels many beekeeping myths, and provides science-based information. He covers such subjects as “To Beekeep or Not to Beekeep,” “The Bees' Home,” “Reproduction,” “Colony Defense and Sting Prevention” and activities inside and outside the hive.
Gary, who holds a doctorate in entomology from Cornell University, joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1962, retiring in 1994 after a 32-year academic career. He has authored more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals.
A 70-year beekeeper--one of the longest in the nation--Gary 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.
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.
Today, as a musician, he plays the clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute with several groups, and is updating his website, http://www.normangary.com.
No more “Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet,” though./span>
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."