On Labor Day, a federal holiday, we celebrate the our country's labor movement, our gratitude, and our achievements.
But there is no Labor Day holiday for the worker bee, one of three castes (queen, worker and drone) in a honey bee colony. No Labor Day holiday for the queen, either. In peak season, she will lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day. A laborious task, to be sure.
Most will be worker bees, the most needed of the three castes. Worker bees perform such age-related duties 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. The worker bees (sterile females) run the hive. They're the "you-go" girls, the "you-got-this" girls and the "go-to" girls.
No "atta boys" here. The boys, or drones, have one job to do: mate with a virgin queen (in flight) and then they die. (Or as the late Eric Mussen, UC Extension apiculturist emeritus and a longtime member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, would add "They die with a smile on their face.")
It's a matriarchal society.
But life is short for the foraging worker bees.
"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," says Gary, whose entire apicultural career spans 75 years, from student to retirement 26 years ago. (He still works with bees.)
For the foragers, collecting nectar and pollen can be dangerous. Their searching expeditions and forays can take them four to five miles from their hive. Due to predators (including birds, praying mantids and spiders), pesticides and other issues, many do not return home at night.
They put the "severe" in persevere.
What's not to admire about the honey bee? All hail Apis mellifera, not just on Labor Day, but every day of the year. You go, girls! You got this!
(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.)
If you haven't been around honey bees much, and can't distinguish the queen from a worker bee (sterile female) or drone (male bee), head over the California Master Beekeeper Program displays at the California Honey Festival on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in downtown Woodland.
You can watch the bees in a glassed-in observation hive: the three castes, the queen, the workers and the drones.
In peak season, a queen can lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day.
It's a matriarchial society and the workers (females) do all the work. The workers' age-related specific duties include 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. The worker bees run the hive.
The California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), directed by Extension apiculturst Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematoogy, is a "continuous train-the-trainer effort," as its website indicates. "The CAMBP's vision is to train Apprentice, Journey and Master level beekeepers so they can effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UC Cooperative Extension staff."
This is science-based education! This is not Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie in which bee misinformation reigns supreme. The scenario: "Barry B. Benson, a bee just graduated from college, is disillusioned at his lone career choice: making honey. On a special trip outside the hive, Barry's life is saved by Vanessa, a florist in New York City. As their relationship blossoms, he discovers humans actually eat honey, and subsequently decides to sue them."
The most egregious error: male bees have nothing to do with making honey or finding flowers or running the hive. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The drone's sole task is to mate with a virgin queen and then he dies. Any drones left in the hive by the end of the season (late fall, early winter) get kicked out by their sisters. They're just another mouth to feed. The gals don't want to deplete their precious resources.
The California Honey Festival, launched in 2017, is a good place to learn about bees and honey. Admission is free.
Some of the activities:
- The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center will showcase its honey tasting wheel and offer free honey tasting.
- The California Master Beekeeper Program will staff two educational booths. Visitors can examine a bee observation hive, check out the beekeeping equipment and peer through microscopes. Kids' activities are also planned.
- The Bohart Museum of Entomology of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematolgoy will showcase bee diversity in its specimen drawers. Its live "petting zoo" will include Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects (walking sticks) that folks can hold, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
- The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden will address pollinator needs and gardening.
- The Woodland Public Library will offer a children's reading hour.
- Uncle Jer's Traveling Bee Show will provide educational performances.
- The UC Davis Bookstores booth will contain honey, books, and other gifts for sale.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and a co-founder of the California Honey Festival, says 100 vendors will sell everything from food to plants to arts and crafts. Visitors can don a bee costume and get their picture taken in the UC Davis Pollination Park, a collaboration with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
An after-party is planned at The Hive, part of Z Specialty Food, Woodland. Harris, the "Queen Bee" of Z Specialty Food, said advance registration is required. Access https://zspecialtyfood.com/event/california-honey-festival-after-party/.
If you're thinking of apiculture, you might be thinking of drones (male bees).
But if you're thinking of agriculture--more specifically sustainable agriculture practices in the 21st century--you ought to be thinking of the importance of unmanned aerial robots.
These drones promise to have a huge impact on 21st century sustainable agriculture.
Indeed, a newly published review paper, “Drones: Innovative Technology for Use in Precision Pest Management,” appearing in the Journal of Economic Entomology, should be required reading. The work of a four-member international team of scientists, including UC Davis entomologist Elvira de Lange, it's one of the first of its kind to summarize scientific literature on the use of agricultural drones for pest management.
De Lange, who assembled the team of authors, says that sustainable agricultural practices in the 21st century should increasingly depend on drones and other innovative technologies.
In advocating the need for more research, the authors say that drones are becoming an important part of precision pest management, from detecting pests to controlling them.
In their review, they emphasize "how sustainable pest management in 21st-century agriculture will depend heavily on novel technologies, and how this trend will lead to a growing need for multi-disciplinary research collaborations between agronomists, ecologists, software programmers, and engineers."
“We propose extensive communication and collaboration between scientists from various disciplines, extension agents, industry professionals, and commercial growers to reach drones' optimal potential to help with pest management and control,” said De Lange, the corresponding author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Christian Nansen lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The paper covers the use of drones with remote sensing equipment, to detect pest problems from the air. It calls for the increased use of actuation drones, to provide solutions such as spraying pesticides and releasing biocontrol organisms. “Most literature concerns remote sensing,” said de Lange.
Filho just completed his master's degree on drones and remote sensing in Brazil and is currently a doctoral student. Co-authors, in addition to De Lange, are engineer and drone communication expert Zhaodan Kong, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; and remote sensing expert Wieke Heldens of the German Aerospace Center, Earth Observation Center, Germany.
“Early outbreak detection and treatment application are inherent to effective pest management, allowing management decisions to be implemented before pests are well-established and crop losses accrue,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “Pest monitoring is time-consuming and may be hampered by lack of reliable or cost-effective sampling techniques. Thus, we argue that an important research challenge associated with enhanced sustainability of pest management in modern agriculture is developing and promoting improved crop monitoring procedures.”
Drones can target pest outbreaks or hot spots in field crops and orchards, such as Colorado potato beetle in potato fields or sugarcane aphid in sorghum, the scientists pointed out. “Pests are unpredictable and not uniformly distributed. Precision agricultural technologies, like the use of drones, can offer important opportunities for integrated pest management (IPM).”
De Lange, noting that drones are increasingly used in agriculture for various purposes, commented: “They are often equipped with remote sensing technology, for yield predictions, evaluation of crop phenology, or characterization of soil properties.”
“There are myriad possibilities for use of drones in pest management,” she said. “Sensing drones, equipped with remote sensing technology, could help detect pest hotspots. Pests are often small and hard to find, so indirect detection, through changes in how plants reflect light, has the potential to find the pest earlier, treat earlier, and keep damage in check.”
“Furthermore, actuation drones, equipped with precision spray rigs or dispensers of biocontrol organisms, could apply localized solutions. Pesticide sprays exactly where needed would reduce the needs to spray an entire field. More efficient distribution of biocontrol organisms would make them a more competitive alternative to pesticides.”
“Remote sensing equipment,” De Lange added, “can also be placed on manned aircraft and satellites. However, drones fly lower, increasing images' spatial resolution, and making clouds less of an issue. They are generally cheaper and can be flown more frequently. Compared to ground-based devices, drones can cover much more ground in a shorter period of time.”
The authors said that drones could also be used to distribute sterile insects and mating disruption, and contribute to pest outbreak prevention, rather than provide only solutions to existing problems.
De Lange, who holds a doctorate in chemical ecology from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, joined the Nansen lab in 2016. Her research interests include plant-insect interactions, integrated pest management, chemical ecology and precision agriculture. She does much of her research on California strawberries.
It's often mistaken for a honey bee. Hey, isn't every floral visitor a bee? No, not by a long shot. One's a fly and one's a bee.
That came to mind last weekend when we saw a large number of honey bees (Apis mellifera) and drone flies (Eristalis tenax) nectaring on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The feeding frenzy brought back all the Internet images of mistaken identities. And the arguments.
That's a bee!
No, it's not. It's a fly.
That's no fly. That's a bee.
It's a fly. Bee-lieve me!
To the untrained eye, they look alike at first glance. They're both insects, they're about the same size, and they're both pollinators.
The drone fly, though, in its immature stage is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, hangs out around manure piles and sewage, and its idea of a pool party is water that is badly polluted.
Honey bees gather nectar and pollen (and water and propolis) for their colonies. Nectar is their carbohydrate and pollen is their protein.
Drone flies mimic bees in color, size and nectaring behavior. They're actually hover flies, members of the family Syrphidae. Watch them hover over flowers like a helicopter.
Lately, we've been seeing an influx of drone flies in our little pollinator garden. Look closely at their large eyes and stubby antennae and you can easily distinguish them from honey bees. Then notice the "H" on their abdomen. Maybe that's "H" for hello? Or "H" for Halloween? Or, or "H" as in "Hey, I'm not a bee! I just mimic a bee so you'll think I'll sting you."
They're bluffing. Drone flies don't sting.
That is, honey bees heading home to their colony.
Many beekeepers, especially beginning beekeepers, like to watch their worker bees--they call them "my girls"--come home. They're loaded with pollen this time of year. Depending on the floral source, it may be yellow, red, white, blue, red or colors in between.
Below, the girls are heading home to a bee observation hive located inside the conference room of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
They're bringing in food for the colony: pollen and nectar. They also collect water and propolis (plant resin). This is a matriarchal society where females do all the work in the hive. The worker bees--aptly named--serve as nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue specialists," air conditioning and/or heating technicians, guards and undertakers.
The glassed-in bee observation hive is indeed a popular and educational attraction to watch the queen lay eggs (she'll lay about 2000 eggs a day during peak season), the comb construction, honey production, pollen storage and all the other activities. The sisters feed the colony, including the queen and their brothers (drones). A drone's responsibility is solely reproduction, and that takes place in mid-air when a virgin queen takes her maiden flight. After mating, he dies. Done. That's it.
Meanwhile, life continues inside the hive.