Hey, wait, take me with you!
No, leave me alone! Let me go!
Have you ever seen insects struggling to free themselves from the reproductive chamber of a milkweed blossom?
Instead of producing loose pollen grains, milkweeds produce pollinia, a waxy, sticky packet of golden pollen grains originating from a single anther. When bees and other insects forage for nectar in the "nectar troughs," where the pollinia are, they emerge with wishbone-shaped pollinia on their feet or other body parts. That is, if they emerge at all. Sometimes they die there; the reproductive chamber becomes a floral death trap.
What may seem like nature's appalling act of cruelty is actually a unique case of floral pollination, the transfer of pollina from one blossom to another.
"Milkweed flowers bloom in umbels which are clusters of individual flowers on stems that emerge from a common point," explains Eric Eldredge in an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Flowers of different species of milkweed differ in size, color, and fragrance, but all produce their pollen in waxy sacs called pollinia. The pollinia are located in two anther pouches adjacent to vertical stigmatic slits of the flowers. Pairs of adjacent pollinia are connected to each other by translator arms from a clamp located in the middle, called the corpusculum (Bookman, 1981). The complete structure is called a pollinarium."
"Insects that visit a flower to drink nectar struggle to grasp the slippery surfaces and may accidentally slip their leg, tarsus, mouthpart, or other appendage into the opening at the bottom of the stigmatic slit. This slit is formed by guide rails, which are lined with bristles that prevent the insect moving its appendage any direction but up. The top of the slit leads into the opening of the corpusculum, which has hard, sharp inside edges that taper together at the top. The corpusculum clamps firmly to the insect by pinching onto the insect's appendage. In its struggles to escape, if the insect is large enough, it can withdraw the paired pollinia from the anther pouches and fly away."
We've seen dead honey bees trapped in the milkweed blossoms while other bees forage around their carcasses. And then we've seen the frantic struggles (below). Fortunately this bee in the first three photos escaped. Another bee did not.
You should also think about "pollination journeys."
On Wednesday, March 10, community ecologist Romina Rader from the University of New England's School of Environmental and Rural Science will speak on "The Journey to Effective Pollination" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's virtual seminar.
Rader, an associate professor, says she is broadly interested in pollination ecology, landscape ecology and plant–animal interactions in natural and human-modified landscapes. She is currently working on projects that investigate the ways in which plant and animal biodiversity respond to global change and the performance of wild and managed insect pollinators in horticultural crops.
She writes on her website: "I am a community ecologist and my research focuses on plant–animal interactions in natural and human-modified landscapes. I am interested generally in the ecology of plants and animals in different types of habitats and landscapes and how they respond to differing management practices and global change. My current projects relate to wild and managed insect pollinators, their efficiency at pollinating horticultural crops and finding ways to improve fruit yield and quality by understanding their life history needs."
Rader holds a bachelor of environmental science (1998) from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She obtained both her master's degree (2005) and doctorate (2011) from James Cook University, Cairns, Australia. Her master's thesis: "Vertical Distribution, Resource and Space Use in a Tropical Rainforest Small Mammal Community." For her doctorate: "The Provision of Pollination Ecosystem Services to Agro-Ecosystems by a Diverse Assemblage of Wild, Unmanaged Insect Taxa." She won a 2017- 2020 Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.
Among her most recent journal publications:
- S.A.E.C. Wijesinghe, L.J. Evans, L. Kirkland & R. Rader 2020, ‘A global review of watermelon pollination biology and ecology: The increasing importance of seedless cultivars,' Scientia Horticulturae, vol. 271, pp. 109493,
- Heidi Kolkert, Rhiannon Smith, Romina Rader & Nick Reid 2020, ‘Insectivorous bats foraging in cotton crop interiors is driven by moon illumination and insect abundance, but diversity benefits from woody vegetation cover,' Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, vol. 302, pp. 107068,
- Jamie R. Stavert, Charlie Bailey, Lindsey Kirkland & Romina Rader 2020, ‘Pollen tube growth from multiple pollinator visits more accurately quantifies pollinator performance and plant reproduction,' Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1,
- Liam K. Kendall, Vesna Gagic, Lisa J. Evans, Brian T. Cutting & Jessica Scalzo, Romina Rader. 2020, ‘Self-compatible blueberry cultivars require fewer floral visits to maximize fruit production than a partially self-incompatible cultivar,' Journal of Applied Ecology,
- Vesna Gagic, Lindsey Kirkland, Liam K. Kendall, Jeremy Jones & Jeffrey Kirkland Romina Rader 2020, ‘Understanding pollinator foraging behaviour and transition rates between flowers is important to maximize seed set in hybrid crops,' Apidologie,
Agricultural Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger coordinates the seminars. For technical issues, contact him at email@example.com.
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.)
Then think of watermelons and pumpkins.
All those crops will be discussed in a series of free webinars on Ensuring Crop Pollination in U.S. Specialty Crops, set Jan. 24 through March 28.
The webinars will feature five researchers with the Integrated Crop Pollination Project (ICP), including ICP co-principal investigator and pollination ecologist Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. They are free and open to the public. Each will be 45 minutes to 60 minutes long.
Coordinating the series are Katharina Ullmann, national crop pollination specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Extension apiculturist and professor John Skinner of the University of Tennessee. Closely linked to UC Davis, Ullmann received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Williams.
"The majority of U.S. specialty crop growers depend on bees for pollination of their crops," Ullmann said. "Growers know that without adequate pollination, they would not be profitable. But what are the best pollination strategies for fruit, vegetable, and nut crops? What farm management practices can growers use to support bees and the crop pollination they provide?"
First to present will be Theresa Pitts-Singer, who collaborates with Williams. She will discuss Ensuring Almond Pollination on Jan. 24 and also deliver the ending seminar on March 28 on How to Manage Solitary Orchard Bees for Crop Pollination.
Williams will speak Feb. 28 on On-Farm Pollinator Benefits for Watermelon Pollination. An associate professor of pollination and biology and a Chancellor's Fellow, Williams serves as the faculty co-director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and is a member of UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute. His applied research addresses the integration of wild and managed bees for pollination of diverse agricultural crops including seed production, row crops and orchards.
His research addresses a series of questions:
- Under what contexts, in terms of local management and landscape context, can native pollinators provide sufficient pollination for different crops?
- How can we enhance habitat and diversify agricultural systems to promote managed and wild bees?
- Do pollinators like honey bees and wild bees interact in ways to increase the overall effectiveness of crop pollination?
The answers to these questions will help alleviate the stress placed on honey bees, Williams says, and also "inform ways to more sustainability manage agricultural systems to promote biodiversity and production."
Williams has worked extensively in agro-ecosystems in California's Central Valley and in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His work in the East and West has helped form the basis for pollinator conservation planting guidelines. A continuing goal, he says, is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long-term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management.
All speakers will discuss their research, and engage with the audience in discussing pollination of wild bees, honey bees and other managed bees in almond, blueberry, tree fruit, pumpkin, and watermelon. Each registered attendee will later receive a link to the slides.
To register, attendees can click on each link (note that all times here are 11 a.m., Pacific Time (consult your time zone):
- Jan. 24: Ensuring Almond Pollination (Theresa Pitts-Singer, USDA-ARS and Utah State University)
- Jan. 31: Pollinating Highbush Blueberries: Bees Bring Bigger Berries (Rufus Isaacs, Michigan State University)
- Feb. 14: Pollinating Apples and Cherries East of the Rockies (Julianna Wilson, Michigan State University)
- Feb. 28: On-Farm Pollinator Benefits for Watermelon Pollination (Neal Williams, University of California, Davis)
- March 21: Ensuring Pumpkin Pollination (Shelby Fleischer, Pennsylvania State University)
- March 28: How to Manage Solitary Orchard Bees for Crop Pollination (Theresa Pitts-Singer, USDA-ARS and Utah State University)
The webinar series will be hosted by eXtension.org, an online Cooperative Extension network. Funding will be provided by the Integrated Crop Pollination Project, a USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant (#2012-51181-20105). Plans are to offer continuing education credits for certified crop advisors.
The 4-H Youth Development Program is an incredible opportunity for youths to learn new skills, make new friends, and become involved in leadership activities and community service projects. It's all about "Making the Best Better" and "Learn by Doing."
One of the scores of projects 4-H'ers can enroll in is entomology. That would include beekeeping!
But you don't have to be a beekeeper or be enrolled in an entomology project to enter the statewide bee essay contest. You just have to be a 4-H'er.
"Every year The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc. runs a contest for the 4-Hers and this year is no exception," wrote Extension Apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in her current newsletter. "California 4-H members have participated in this national contest organized by Dr. Eric Mussen (Extension apiculturist for 38 years before his retirement in June of 2014) on the state level. Last year Dr. Mussen passed the torch onto me, but I was a little disappointed that I received no essays from the California 4-H members. So let's see if we can get your creativity buzzing."
This year's essay theme is "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Niño urges California 4-H'ers to "put your pens to paper (or fingers on your keyboard) and start telling everyone else just how important bees and pollination are to our own wellbeing." Or maybe well-bee-ing.
The deadline to submit the essays (750 and 1000 words) to Niño is Feb. 15, right after Valentine's Day. Her email is an easy one to remember, especially when El Niño is visiting us. It's firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contest details are at http://preservationofhoneybees.org/essays#rules-overview-2. Essays from previous years are also posted.
"And if you need more motivation, every state's winner receives a book about bees and beekeeping," Niño says, "and the national winners receive a nice sum of money that they can put in their piggy banks. "
Yes. Each state winner goes on to compete at the national level. The national champion wins $750, while the second and third place winners will receive $500 and $250, respectively. Plus, there's another incentive: the national-winning essays will be published in the American Beekeeping Federation's newsletter.