Posts Tagged: honey bees
What a match--honey bees and pomegranate blossoms.
Watching the golden bees forage amid the brilliant red blossoms in the late afternoon is a delight to see, especially when the sun backlights them.
The ancient fruit, native to Iran, is one of the world's first cultivated fruits. Thankfully, it is now "trendy" in California, with some 30,000 acres of pomegranates in production. We treasure its ruby-red kernels, tart flavor, and high antioxidant content. Since ancient times, the fruit has symbolized health and fertility. It's been said that Adam and Eve weren't tempted by an apple in the Garden of Eden, but by a pomegranate. In Egypt, the pomegranate was known as "The Fruit of Kings."
Spanish settlers introduced the pomegranate tree to California in 1769. The honey bees came later: 1853.
But when you think about it, honey bees and pomegranates have been together for millions of years--just not in California.
The pomegranate tree in our yard is 86 years old and has seen generations of bees come and go.
A promenade in the pomegranates...
A backlit honey bee heads for a pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caught in flight, a honey bee makes a beeline to a pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The nectar of the gods. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Where do foraging bees go to die?"
That question was asked this week of honey bee guru Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who serves as the statewide Extension apiculturist.
"Do they return to the hive? Do they retire and live out their last days inside?" he was asked.
We've all seen worker bees in the throes of death. After all, they live only four to six weeks in the busy season. But the queen bee, which can lay some 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaces them.
"Since we do not know exactly where they go, we say that they fly off in the final moments of life, lose altitude and land on whatever is beneath them, moribund," Mussen says. "They are still able to sting for quite a few minutes, as can be attested to by neighbors who find moribund bees in their lawns or swimming pools, but they die relatively soon. Bees have enzyme systems that deal with flight and when the enzymes give out, so does flight."
Mussen points out that "a few of the dying bees, maybe 15 or so, of the 1,000 or more that die daily (in a colony) during the spring, summer, and fall, do die in--or in front of--the hive."
When those bodies lose some moisture, the "undertaker bees" carry away the lighter-weight bodies and drop them 150 feet or more away from the hive, studies show. "Most of the rest just drop, somewhere, when they no longer can forage or stay in the air," Mussen says. "Bees do fly up to four miles from the hive in any compass direction, so they drop out there in that 50-square mile area."
A worker bee staggers and extends her tongue. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This honey bee died soon after this photo was taken. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"For many years, beekeepers and environmentally interested individuals have expressed the opinion that the use of neonicotinoid insecticides ("neonics") have interfered with the ability of honey bees and native bees to conduct their life activities properly," begins Extension apicuturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology in his latest edition of his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries.
"Since laboratory studies have detailed the disruptive effect on those insects, it was suggested that the same things were happening in the field. Unanticipated losses of formerly strong honey bee colonies, and easily observable decreases in bumble bee sightings, correlated well with increased use of neonics."
Mussen goes on to talk about the neonic situation in Europe and what the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has to say about the controversial issue. EFSA concluded that the neonicotinoid pesticides posed a “high acute risk” to pollinators, including honey bees, but that a definitive connection between the chemicals and loss of colonies in the field remained to be established, Mussen wrote.
Mussen, California's only Cooperative Extension apiculturist and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, says the situation is not that simple. Read why. His newsletter is available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. Access his web page and then click on "March/April 2013."
Honey bee heading for a catmint (Nepeta) patch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Hollywood movie refer to them as "killer bees." Ditto, the news media.
"The known natural distribution of Africanized honey bees (AHB) in California is along a line that runs diagonally from northeastern Tulare County to southwestern San Luis Obispo County, then south to Mexico," says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "A colony of AHB was found in Madera County following almond pollination, and the agricultural commissioner decided to call the county colonized instead of participating in a delimiting survey. However, beekeepers in Fresno County are just beginning to report encountering a few more considerably defensive colonies than they used to."
"In southern California, where AHB has been since 1994, they have pretty well filled the basin," Mussen reports. "The last time tests on feral (not human-kept) honey bee colonies and swarms were conducted, AHB were determined to be a little over 80 percent of the totals. That still may be the case with feral bees in that area, although one would expect a bit lessening of defensive behavior over time, as has happened in Brazil."
But, as Mussen points out, "it took 40 years to reach the point that AHB are not too problematic in Brazil. We have had them in California only 18 years."
“There’s no way to tell if honey bees are Africanized without DNA testing,” says Mussen, who writes from the UC Apiaries and Bee Briefs on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. “They look about the same as the European honey bee. They tend to be a little darker than European honey bees and a little smaller. What sets them apart is their intensive defensive behavior. They’ve been known to chase their victims a quarter of a mile.”
When beekeepers find intensive defensive behavior in their hives, they kill the queen bee and “requeen” the colony. “Over four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and the new queen replaces them with more daughters,” Mussen said.
Africanized honey bees are the result of attempts to hybridize European honey bees (Apis mellifera) with an African race. Researchers brought Tanzanian queen bees (Apis mellifera scutella) to Brazil in the 1950s. In 1957, some of the African bee descendants escaped from the researchers and beekeepers and began progressing north.
The descendants reached southern Texas in 1990 and southern California in 1994. “In California, they were first found “just outside of Blythe, in Riverside County,” Mussen recalls.
“As an area becomes colonized, the Africanized bees will show their true colors—they will exhibit their intense defensive behavior,” says Mussen, an Extension apiculturist since 1976,
Mussen recommends that anyone working or relaxing in areas known to be colonized by
Africanized bees “take precautions” by avoiding nesting areas. If the bees start to sting, cover your face with a shirt as you run for a building, vehicle or other shelter, he says. You can also carry an Army surplus gnat/mosquito veil with you to protect your face.
The honey bees’ pheromone, resembling the scent of a banana, sounds the alarm, alerting other bees to attack.
Beekeepers who collect swarms in colonized counties have a “high probability” of hiving an Africanized honey bee colony, Mussen points out, and should always look for unacceptable defensive behavior.
His advice: "It still is not a good idea to collect swarms in southern California and hive them in high human population areas."
“Africanized honey bees are not something to be feared,” Mussen said, “but they are to be respected.”
(Note: Click on this USDA map to see where the Africanized bees are now.)
Just by looking at this feral colony, you cannot tell Africanized bees from European honey bees (EHB). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If this cluster were in southern California, these could be Africanized bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
He sounded the alarm.
“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website. “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”
Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.
He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.
“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”
The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees. In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.
“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”
“Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”
Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.
The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."
Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.
"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"
Experts say nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill.
It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that.
Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.
If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.
So true. And now they are.
Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)