Newly published research in the journal Toxicon indicates "No, they're not."
"A survey on 5115 beekeepers and 121 patients treated with bee venom by an apitherapy clinic in the Hubei province, the epicenter of COVID-19 in China, reported that none of the beekeepers developed symptoms associated with COVID-19, the new and devastating pandemic. The hypothesis that immunity to bee venom could have a preventive effect was expressed and the authors of the Chinese survey suggested that the next step should be animal experiments on monkeys."
That's the opening paragraph in the research article, "Beekeepers Who Tolerate Bee Stings are Not Protected against SARS-CoV-2 Infections," published last month in the open-access journal.
The authors, German scientists Heidrun Männle, Jutta Hübner, and Karsten Münstedt, set out to explore the hypothesis of beekeeper immunity to the deadly virus. They asked all German beekeepers to complete an assessment form "which would summarize their experiences with COVID-19."
They found that two beekeepers died from COVID, and 45 were affected. One had been a beekeeper for 10 years and had no underlying health issues. He had developed "a level of tolerance to the effects of bee stings," they wrote. Not much information was available on the second beekeeper.
"The study shows that beekeepers are not immune to infections caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2," they summarized. "Especially, our data do not support the hypothesis that beekeepers are not affected by SARS-CoV-2 due to their exposure to bee stings and the associated immunity. The severity of the disease was not influenced by various variables like how long they had been a beekeeper, total number of bee stings received, number of bee stings received in the year 2020 and potentially allergic reactions to bee stings. However, the reaction to a bee sting (none versus mild swelling versus strong swelling) influenced the severity of two of the symptoms of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, namely exhaustion and sore throat pain, all of which were more pronounced in beekeepers who reported being more sensitive to bee stings. Beekeepers with less or a minimal reaction to bee stings were less likely to suffer from severe symptoms."
So, bottom line, their results "did not confirm the findings of the Chinese study." But there's this....
"However," the authors added, "since the antiviral effects of bee venom have been found in several studies, we cannot exclude that there could be a direct preventive or alleviating effect when bee venom is administered during the infection."
"The question why 121 patients of apitherapy clinic treated with bee venom did not develop symptoms associated with COVID-19 cannot be answered by our study," the authors acknowledged. "There could be a direct preventive or alleviating effect when bee venom is administered during the infection. In retrospect it would have been interesting to assess the time intervals between string exposure, onset of disease symptoms or contact to infected people."
Note that many questions are neither answered nor explored, and that this study was published before the development and arrival of vaccines.
The day originated back in the 1800s as a way to recognize and thank farmers for all the work they do to feed our nation--and the world.
It's also time to thank a beekeeper.
When beekeeper Kim Flottum of northeast Ohio, the 30-year editor of Bee Culture, addressed the recent Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference at UC Davis, he predicted that the nation's 250,000 beekeepers (who manage around 4 million colonies) will turn into a million beekeepers in five years.
A million. We can only hope!
Flottum applauded "the incredible rise of new beekeepers in the last 10 years."
"The urban, surburban and country beekeepers are younger than the norm and we have more women beekeepers than ever," said Flottum, who launched the magazine, BEEKeeping, Your First Three Years, two years ago. "This isn't like the 1970s Green Movement--I'm old enough to remember that. It's got legs! But watch out for an ugly urban disaster like a major beespill or bad honey recall."
Beekeepers are becoming more and more diverse, specializing in honey production, pollination services and queen bee breeding. Pollination services and queen bee breeding are the most profitable, Flottum said. Honey, not so much.
"If I'm in beekeeping, pollination services is sure bet," he said. "Beekeepers now get 200 bucks a colony for almond pollination in California. Pollination is more profitable than honey. Bee breeding? Queens can sell for as much as $40 or $50."
"In the United States, we eat on the average 1.2 pounds a year, but in Canada, it's 2.5 or 2.4 pounds." He lamented that unsafe and/or questionable honey from China floods our nation's supermarkets and is being sold at undercut prices. (Some statistics indicate that a "third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals"--Food Safety News.)
It's important for American beekeepers to label their honey "Made in America" or localize it by city or state, he said.
Flottum also touched on such issues as honey bee health, nutrition, loss of habitat, poor quality forage, and pesticides.
The varroa mite/virus is the No. 1 problem for beekeepers, he said. "Other stresses include nutrition, nosema, pesticides...All of these can be fixed with money, increased diversity of bee stock, and a move way from both ag and in-hive legal and illegal chemicals."
Meanwhile, thankfully, the appreciation of honey bees seems to be growing. Brought here in 1622 by European colonists in Jamestown, Va., bees now pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.
Happy Farmers' Day. Happy Beekeepers' Day.
(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, teach beekeeping and bee health workshops. See the Niño lab at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is hosting a two-day course on honey, Nov. 10-11.)
And it's definitely not a good time to be a honey bee.
The wind-whipped storms that are ravaging California are wreaking havoc on the state's almond pollination season, says honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and president of the Western Apicultural Society.
The situation: California's million acres of almonds require two hives per acre for pollination. Without bees, no almonds.
Honey bees usually fly when temperatures reach around 55 degrees. During inclement weather, they hole up inside their hives. They're so unlike our postal workers who vow that “neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet” can stop mail delivery. Unfavorable weather for bees? Think "no-fly zone."
Mussen, California's Extension apiculturist for 38 years before retiring in 2014, continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and respond to inquiries about honey bees. Not one to say "no," Mussen is serving a sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), which was founded at UC Davis and gearing up for its 40th anniversary meeting Sept. 5-8 Davis.
And the steady rain we're having? How will that affect the pollination season?
“Rain," said Mussen, "is hard on the almond bloom for a few important reasons." He lists five reasons:
- Rain frequently is accompanied by cooler weather, which delays bloom. But, the delay can last only a short while, and then the flowers open and shed pollen, despite the weather. Honey bees usually neither forage on damp or wet blossoms, nor fly in the rain.
- If pollen grains come into contact with water, the water enters the openings in the pollen grains, through which the pollen tubes are supposed to emerge. The water is absorbed by the living protoplasm in the pollen grain and bursts its contents.
- Free water tends to transport spores of fungal, and sometimes bacterial, diseases to open flowers. Those microbes can invade the floral tissues, or in some cases, begin a journey through the flowers into the branches of the tree. When rain is imminent, growers usually will apply a fungicide to their trees to reduce the amount of infection. Frequent rains can promote multiple pesticide applications.
- By almond bloom time, honey bee colonies are collecting as much pollen as they can find, to feed an expanding brood nest. A prolonged period of inclement weather will interfere with nectar and pollen foraging, and leave little food to raise be brood. Lack of incoming pollens can reduce brood rearing, sometimes even to the point of the adult workers consuming most of the younger brood to save the nutrients for better times.
- Beekeepers who are used to seeing their colonies increase from 8-10 frames of bees to 10-12 frames during almond bloom may be disappointed this year due to a situation that is beyond their control. Providing supplemental feed can help their bees to a limited extent, but we have no supplemental feed that matches the nutritional value of mixed pollens.
Mussen says that native, solitary bee species, such as the blue orchard bee, also can be impacted negatively by continuous wet weather. “Foraging flight is curtailed, pollens and nectars are diluted or washed away, nesting sites can be flooded, and preferred or required floral sources may not be available that year,” he said. “This can have substantial negative impacts on the size of the following generation.”
Bottom line: it's not a good time for almond growers, beekeepers, and bees.
Well, not just pink. All other colors, too.
It's National Honey Bee Day on Saturday, Aug. 20.
That's when we officially celebrate the honey bee, Apis mellifera, which the European colonists brought to the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1622. The honey bee didn't arrive in California until 1853 when a beekeeper brought colonies to the San Jose area.
How did National Honey Bee Day originate? U.S. beekeepers launched the event in 2009. In fact, they petitioned the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture to recognize and pay tribute to its smallest agricultural worker, to spread awareness, and to advance beekeeping. This year's theme: "Beekeeping: A Hobby with a Sweet Taste."
When bees are out foraging, they bring back to the colony four essentials: nectar, pollen, water and propolis (plant resin that's used as a glue to seal small spaces).
But that's not the only thing they bring back to the hive.
They can also bring back pesticides that can kill or harm a colony.
Just in time for National Honey Bee Day, the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, has developed and published Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings "to help pest managers make an informed decision about how to protect bees when choosing or applying pesticides."
Cheryl Reynolds, senior editor/interactive learning developer for UC IPM, wrote a piece today on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website about the project, first describing the UC IPM mission as "to protect the environment by reducing risks caused by pest management practices."
"The bee precaution ratings are based on the reported effects of a pesticide's active ingredient on adult honey bees or their brood," Reynolds wrote. "You can find and compare ratings for active ingredients including acaricides (miticides), bactericides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides."
"Ratings fall into three categories," she noted. "Red, or rated I, pesticides should not be applied or allowed to drift to plants that are flowering. Plants include the crop AND nearby weeds. Yellow, or rated II, pesticides should not be applied or allowed to drift to plants that are flowering, except when the application is made between sunset and midnight if allowed by the pesticide label and regulations. Finally, green, or rated III, pesticides have no bee precautions, except when required by the pesticide label or regulations."
Reynolds emphasized that the bee precaution pesticide ratings "are not the pollinator protection statements on the pesticide label."
"Each crop in the UC Pest Management Guidelines has links to the bee precaution ratings and provides guidance on how to reduce bee poisoning from pesticides," Reynolds pointed out.
Meanwhile, Happy National Bee Day! Thank a bee! And if you want to become a beekeeper, UC Davis offers classes.
If you attended the 141st annual Dixon May Fair, held May 5-8, and saw the honey bee display in Madden Hall, you probably heard the buzz.
In keeping with the theme, "Buzzing with Excitement," bees buzzed in the bee observation hives as fairgoers singled out the queen bee, worker bees and drones. Images of bees pollinating almonds graced the walls. Youths in Garry Haddon's beekeeping project in the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, displayed their decorated boxes. A smoker, gloves and beekeepers' suits lined a fence.
The UC Davis E.L. Niño lab, headed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Department of Entomology and Nematology, shared beekeeping equipment, facts about bees, pollinator posters (Guess if I'm a pollinator or not?) as well as bee observation hives. They told fairgoers that bees are responsible for a third of the food we eat, and if there were no bees to pollinator our crops, we wouldn't recognize the produce section of our supermarkets. Most of the shelves and bins holding fruits and vegetables would be empty.