It's Labor Day but "The Girls" continue to work.
"The Girls" are the honey bees, a great example of a matriarchal society. How many workers (girls) do you see foraging on your flowers? But inside the hive, "The Girls" are nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers. And the males? Their responsibility is to mate with a virgin queen--and then they die.
In his newly published book, Honey Bee Biology (2023 Princeton University), UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, covers everything from molecular genetics, development, and physiology to neurobiology, behavior, and pollination biology. It's meant for bee scientists, social insect biologists, beekeepers, and those who are just eager to learn more about honey bees.
Honey bees "evolved from the hunting wasp, a group of four clades of wasps that typically provision their offspring with insects or spiders," Johnson writes in his opening chapter, 'Natural History, Systematics and Phylogenetics.' Probably the most well known of the hunting wasps (to the nonentomologist) are the mud daubers that build their nests on the sides of people's homes."
"The split between these wasps and what evolved into the bees occurred about 120 million years ago," Johnson writes.
Basically, wasps continue to be meat-eaters, but honey bees "have gone vegetarian," as Johnson points out.
When you see honey bees foraging on flowers, gathering nectar and pollen, just remember that they are vegetarians. And especially, on Labor Day, remember how "The Girls" tend to the needs of the queen, their sisters and their brothers.
As a society, we could learn a lot from honey bees.
Ever seen a honey bee packing red pollen?
Rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) is one flower that yields red pollen.
It's a drought-tolerant perennial, a succulent. But the most striking part is its color: a neon pink that could stop traffic.
Other flowers that yield red pollen include henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and horse chestnut (Aesulus hippocastanum).
Bees collect pollen as a protein source to rear their brood. If you're a beekeeper, you've probably seen the red pollen in your frames and asked "Where did that red come from?"
Some of it may have come from a nearby rock purslane.
A honey bee heads for a patch of California golden poppies. She finds a blossom she likes.
Bee: "Hey, Goldie Locks, I'm here to collect some nectar and pollen."
Goldie Locks: "You're what?"
Bee: "I want to collect some of your nectar and pollen."
Goldie Locks: "Don't you know that we California golden poppies don't have nectar--just pollen?"
Bee: "Oh? Really? I did not know that. Oh, well, pollen, then!"
Goldie Locks: "Sorry, bee. You're late. Don't you know that I close in the late afternoon?"
Bee: "Closed? What am I supposed to do?"
Goldie Locks: "Do? Come back tomorrow when I'm open for bees-ness."
Bee: Shakes her head, stomps her feet, and buzzes away.
Moral of the story: The early birds get the worm and the early bees get the pollen. And California golden poppies provide no nectar, just pollen.
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."
You may have lost track of the hours, days, weeks and months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but how can you forget National Pollinator Week?
Especially if you've ventured out in your yard, garden or park and witnessed the pollinators doing what they do best.
National Pollinator Week, set June 22-28, is a "time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them," according to the sponsor, Pollinator Partnership.
As they write on their website: "Thirteen years ago the U.S. Senate's unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as 'National Pollinator Week' marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles."
So, what can you do to observe Pollinator Week? The Pollinator Partnership says this year won't be a "typical Pollinator Week."
"We urge everyone to hold a socially distant, appropriate event. In an effort to lighten the load on state governments during this time, we are not pursuing formal state proclamations this year, but will continue to post proclamations that we do receive. Moreover, we encourage everyone to go outside and spend some time with the bees and butterflies that inspire hope in many."
And, when we think of Pollinator Week, we think of the honey bee totally dusted with pollen on a blanket flower, Gaillardia, in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
The bee just couldn't get enough of the pollen.
We just couldn't get enough photos. Bravo, Ms. Honey Bee!