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.
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.)
It's a honey of a book.
Honey bee expert Norman Gary, emeritus professor of apiculture at the University of California, Davis, is the author of a newly published book on beginning beekeeping titled Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
“Keeping bees is far more challenging than caring for common pets,” says Gary, who retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career.
“Beginning beekeepers become confused by conflicted information they find in books written by amateurs or inaccurate advice on the internet.”
In the 174-page book, Gary shares his extensive beekeeping knowledge spanning more than six decades. “It dispels many beekeeping myths and provides new insights based more on science than on tradition.”
For example, “most people have an exaggerated sense of dread concerning bee stings due to a wealth of misleading negative information in the media,” Gary writes. “With more knowledge and firsthand experience, these fears rapidly vanish.”
“An occasional bee sting comes with the territory, comparable to the small risks associated with most pets,” Gary writes. “Cats scratch, dogs bite, horses kick, and birds peck—just to name a few.”
The book is available online on the Amazon, ebay and other websites, and at a number of bee supply companies and bookstores.
The chapters include “To Beekeep or Not to Beekeep,” “The World of Honey Bees,” “The Bees' Home,” “Getting Started,” “Honey Bee Reproduction,” “Activity Inside the Hive,” “Activity Outside the Hive,” “Colony Defense and Sting Prevention,” “How to Manage Colonies,' “Honey and Other Hive Products” and “Fun Things to Do with Bees.”
Gary trains bees to perform 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.
He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness Book of World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt.
Gary dedicated the book “to everyone who supported my career with bees: beekeepers, professors, scientists, students, research assistants, movie directors, Hollywood stars, photographers and family—especially Mom, who never complained about stray bees or tracked honey inside the kitchen—and to my dog, who led me to the bee tree that started it all.”
Among those contributing to the book were several “bee people” affiliated with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Gary, who received a doctorate in apiculture at age 26 from Cornell University in 1959, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1962. He developed and taught the first insect behavior course at UC Davis, and developed and taught a graduate course on the use of television for research and teaching.
A native of Florida, Gary turned a fascination for bugs at age 4 into hobby beekeeping at age 15 when his dog led him to a dead tree containing a wild honey bee nest. He transferred them to a modern hive where they became his “pets.”
Gary, who now lives in the Sacramento area, maintains a website at www.normangary.com/