Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
You've probably seen a blue moon, which happens every two to three years. That's when a second full moon occurs in a single calendar month.
You've also probably seen blueprints, blue books and blue-plate specials. You've sung the blues and you've been blue.
But, have you ever seen a blue honey bee? As blue as...well...a blueberry?
We recently visited the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, when we saw a...drum roll...blue bee! It was foraging on a purple coneflower.
I captured the image with a Nikon D700 camera, equipped with a 105mm macro lens. Settings: shutter speed, 1/160 of a second; 6.3 f-stop; and 800 ISO. No flash. No tripod.
Honey bee guru/Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology looked at the photo and agreed it was a blue bee.
Now Mussen, who has been with the department since 1976 and is a favorite of the national news media, knows bees. He's also captured many images of bees, none blue (although many beekeepers have turned blue, especially during massive colony losses).
So, a blue bee?
"The exoskeletons of insects are waxy and oily," Mussen said. "Given just the right angle to the sun, you can see structural colors that are not the true pigments of the exoskeleton. In fact, there are some very shiny, metallic-looking insects that lose their sheen when they die, never to be seen again."
Just the right angle to the sun.
Once in a blue moon...
A blue honey bee on a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue bee scaling the coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) has nothing on honey bees.
Sometimes foraging honey bees are covered with their own kind of gold--pollen--or protein for their colonies.
We saw this honey bee dusted with gold from head to thorax to abdomen as she gathered pollen from blanket flowers (Gaillardia). Her flight plan seemed uncertain, as her load was heavy and her visibility, poor. She struggled to take off, but take off she did.
Speaking of the Gold Rush and honey bees, entomologists always associate the arrival of honey bees in California with the California Gold Rush. That's because honey bees were introduced to California in 1853, right in the middle of the Gold Rush.
Back then, the hills were covered with wildflowers where bees gathered nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein). Today, however, scientists are worried about bee malnutrition.
"Honey bee colonies need a mix of pollens every day to meet their nutritional needs," says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "In fact, they should have a one-acre equivalent of blossoms available to them daily to meet their demands. They can fly up to four miles from the hive--a 50-square mile area--to gather that food and water (and propolis, plant resin)."
A worried beekeeper recently asked him about the declining bee population and wondered why his own colonies were dwindling. In addition to malnutrition, Mussen listed a few other possibilities:
Varroa mites – "They suck the blood from developing pupae and adult bees, shortening their lifespans. They vector virus diseases, the easiest to see being deformed wing virus. If you have adult bees around the colony with curly, undeveloped wings, then you have too many mites. If you see mites on the bees when you look in the hive, that is too many mites."
Nosema ceranae and other diseases – "You need a microscope to see the spores of a Nosema infection. Go to Randy Oliver’s webpage, Scientificbeekeeping.com, and look at the information on Nosema ceranae and spore counting."
Contact with toxic chemicals – "Since your bees can fly up to four miles away to forage, that also is the distance within which they can get into trouble with bee-toxic chemicals. It is not likely that the organic farm is a source. However, if there are other farms around, or if your neighbors (golf courses, shopping centers, parks, playgrounds, etc.) are having problems with sucking or chewing insects, they may have used one of the neonicotinoids on their shrubs or trees. Turf and ornamental dosages are considerably higher than those used in commercial agriculture. So, the amounts of toxins in nectar and pollens can be toxic to honey bees and other pollinators."
Mussen also acknowledged that California buckeye blossoms are toxic to bees. "This was a fairly dry spring," he said. "Not too many weeds and wildflowers were around when the California buckeye came into bloom. Buckeye pollen is toxic to developing bee brood and to adult bees, if it gets to be their primary food source in the colony."
The problem could also be due to other issues as well, Mussen said. "Maybe the queens did not mate with enough drones, or the queens got too hot or too cold during their journeys to your hives, etc."
"As beekeepers, it is up to you to stick your nose in the hive, look at everything and try to determine what may be going wrong. If you are feeling way too new at this to have any idea of what is going on, then contact your local bee club--there is one in practically half of the California counties--and find someone to help access your problems."
And the pollen, that precious protein? "When beekeepers examine their hives, they should see a good supply of pollen with many colors," Mussen says.
Honey bee is covered with pollen from a blanket flower, Gaillardia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee is dusted with pollen from the blanket flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Lift off? The bee struggles to take off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee research at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, received a generous gift of $30,000, thanks to Debra "Debbie" Jamison of Fresno, California state regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR),
Jamison, who has always loved bees and appreciated their work, spearheaded the DAR drive. She recently presented the check to officials at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“I have had a lifelong love and respect for bees and I spent a lot of my childhood watching them, attracting them with sugar water, catching and playing with them and even dissecting them during a time when I imagined myself to be a junior scientist,” Jamison told the crowd at the UC Davis ceremony. “Back in those days, there was an abundance of bees, usually observed by this kid in her family’s backyard full of clover blossoms—something you rarely see any more due to spraying of pre-emergents and other weed killers.”
So when Jamison, whose first name means "bee" in Hebrew, became state regent of the California State Society of DAR, she adopted the motto, “Bees are at the heart of our existence” and vowed to support research to help the beleaguered bees.
Jamison and her state regent project chair, Karen Montgomery of Modesto, presented the $30,000 check to Edwin Lewis, professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and bee scientist/assisant professor Brian Johnson at a ceremony in the department's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Lewis gratefully accepted the check on behalf of the department and noted that his mother, Betty Lewis, is an active member of the DAR Owasco Chapter in Auburn, N.Y. “My mother would definitely approve of this project,” he quipped. Lewis gifted Jamison with a mosaic ceramic figure of a bee, crafted by Davis artist Donna Billick, co-founder and co-director of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
The funds will be used in the Johnson lab. His graduate student, Gerard Smith, researches the effect of pesticide exposure in the field on honey bee foraging behavior, and graduate student Cameron Jasper studies the genetic basis of division of labor in honey bees.
Jamison has visited the Laidlaw facility and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven several times. Last September she and Fresno beekeeper Brian Liggett "talked bees" and bee health with Cooperative Extension specialist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology.
Like the DAR, the honey bee is closely linked to America. European colonists brought the honey bee to the Jamestown Colony, Virginia, in 1622, some 153 years before the American Revolution. Native Americans called it “the white man’s fly.” Honey bees did not arrive in California until 1853, transported via the Isthmus of Panama.
The U. S. honey bee population has declined by about a third since 2006 due to the mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), said Mussen, attributing CCD to multiple factors including disease, pests, parasites, pesticides, malnutrition and stress.
Meanwhile, the gift from the nation’s oldest genealogical society to support one of the world’s oldest--and the most beneficial--insects, the honey bee, is a gift from the heart.
California state DAR regent Debbie Jamison addresses the crowd. (UC Davis photo by Chris Akins)
Ed Lewis (far right), professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology with state regent Debbie Jamison and bee scientist Brian Johnson. (UC Davis photo by Chris Akins)
A visit to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven last September: state regent Debbie Jamison, Fresno beekeeper Brian Liggett; Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomlogy and UC Davis entomology professor; and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees are in trouble. They are dying in record numbers.
That's why you should watch "Blossom Buddies," a two-part video segment in the Growing California series, produced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture in partnership with California Grown.
The two-part series explores the honey bee's contributions to California agriculture, their declining population, and why we should be concerned about bee health. California has 800,000 acres of almonds, and each acre requires two hives for pollination. That's 1.6 million colonies. Since California has only 500,000 colonies available for almond pollination, the rest must be trucked here from throughout the country. This means, as the video relates, "the largest annual bee migration in the world" takes place in California during almond pollination season, which begins around Valentine's Day.
In Part 2 of the series, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, says that about 20 percent of beekeepers in California, as well as throughout the nation, "are suffering significant losses of honey bee populations that we can't explain."
The video series includes interviews with migratory beekeeper John Miller, almond grower/commercial queen breeder Dan Cummings, and Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. (That stands for Apis mellifera, the scientific name of the honey bee.)
The footage zeroes in on California almond orchards in bloom, beekeepers tending their bees, bees foraging, and Mussen working in the bee lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. The series also includes several photos from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Who could forget the look of colony collapse disorder, of a bee antenna poking through a cell of an abandoned frame? Or the blood-sucking varroa mite--the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers--sucking blood from a forager (worker bee) nectaring lavender? Or a mite draining blood from a drone pupa?
Or you can access Part 1 on YouTube at:
And Part 2 on YouTube at:
It's well-done production that looks at the challenges we face with our declining bee population and the crippling health issues that our bees face.
Colony collapse disorder--the bee antenna tells it all. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Varroa mite on a worker bee foraging in the lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of varroa mite on drone pupa. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you've studied bees, you know that there are approximately 20,000 described species of bees in the world.
Most people are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees, but they don't know about "those big black bees" (carpenter bees) or "those green metallic bees" (sweat bees).
Harvard University and the Encyclopedia of Life to the rescue!
Jessica Rykken, Ph.D. of the Farrell lab at Harvard University, and editor Jeff Holmes, Ph.D. of the Encyclopedia of Life, Harvard University, have just published a field guide to bees that is simply outstanding.
The field guide, titled "Bees," is comprised of observer cards that are "designed to foster the art and science of observing nature," Rykken writes.
It's a guide that looks at bees much the way we all first started looking at bees. It's divided into anatomy, foraging, lifestyles, pollination, nesting habits, behavior, life cycle, associations (such as hitchhiking) and techniques (collecting and conservation).
Under nesting habits, you'll learn about the miners, masons, leafcutters and carpenters.
Under anatomy, you'll learn about body plan, look-alikes, size and shape, body color, antennae, wings, males ves females, pollen transport, tongue length, pilosity, stingers. Pilosity? What's that you ask? It means the density and pattern of hair on their bodies.
Lifestyles? No, not of the rich and famous. These point to social bees, solitary bees and cuckoo bees.
Rykken asked permission to use two of our photos, and they're in there, too. One is of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology being stung by a honey bee (Apis mellifera), and the other is a chunk of plum tree wood drilled by valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta). A Davis resident brought the plum tree wood into the Bohart Museum of Entomology for insect identification. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum (home of nearly 8 million specimens) and UC Davis professor of entomology, told him that valley carpenter bees (females) drilled the holes. The female valley carpenter bees are solid black, while the males are blond with green eyes.
The field guide can be downloaded for free on the Encyclopedia of Life website at http://eol.org. Or, just download this link to the PDF.
This photo, appearing in the field guide, is of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen being stung by a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This photo in the field guide shows a chunk of plum tree wood drilled by valley carpenter bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)