Posts Tagged: honey bees
Why shouldn't there be?
When you pick up Sarah Albee's book, Bugged: How Insects Changed the World, you'll also see and read about mosquitoes, honey bees, beetles, fleas, bedbugs, mayflies, praying mantids, silkworms, and assorted other insects, or what she calls “The Good, The Bad and the Uggy.”
An entomologist's favorite subject. A kid's delight. A history book like no other.
Newly published by Walker Books for Young Readers (Bloomsbury), Bugged is about how insects influenced human history not only in America but throughout the world. It's especially good reading on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when you're focused on fireflies and fireworks and pondering parades and picnics. (That's what I did today!)
Frankly, it's delightful to see a children's book on bugs (it's targeted for readers 8 and up but actually, it a good book for adults, too). It's not your usual history book: it's an easy-to-read, fun and cleverly written book full of sidebars, photos, cartoons, and illustrations.
Bugs, as we all know are loved, hated, feared, scorned or shunned. And misunderstood.
“Most of my books and blog posts tend to be where science and history meet up--my goal is always to find a topic that is interesting and accessible to kids and get them interested in history,” Albee told us. In her last book, Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up, she devoted an entire chapter about "filth diseases," or insect-vectored diseases.
“That's what gave me the idea to do a whole book about them,” she said.
Albee, who says her inner child is 12 years old, loves bugs that are cool, amazing or just plain gross. No fairy tales here. No “Buttercup Goes to the Ball” here.
In her childhood, “I was the kind of kid that was always outside exploring, collecting, catching,” the Connecticut resident acknowledged.
In her book, Albee touches on what she calls “the bad-news bugs”:
- Public Enemy No. 1, the mosquito (think of all the mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, yellow fever and dengue)
- Public Enemy No. 2, the fly (it's to blame for sleeping sickness, typhoid and leishmaniasis, among others)
- Public Enemy No. 3, the flea (Remember the Oriental rat flea transmitted the bubonic plague?)
- Public Enemy, No. 4, the louse (Note: these critters, head lice and body lice, are not your friends. They may be close and personal but they are not your friends)
The beneficial insects, including honey bees, come into play, too. (And why not? There's a "bee" in her last name!) Albee points out that honey bees are not native to America; European colonists brought them here in 1622. She also touches on honey bee health, mentioning the mysterious colony collapse disorder, characterized by adult bee abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee and brood.
Although many people are afraid of bee stings, bee venom is “used to treat patients suffering from many ailments, including arthritis, back pain and skin conditions because it contains melittin, which is an anti-inflammatory substance,” Albee explains.
Reactions of little kids to her book? “It's been really great to see how much kids like the book," she said. "At school visits I use volunteers who dress up as doctors, and others as patients, and together we try to diagnose the insect-vectored diseases they're suffering from. Kids love the remedies we try--dosing with mercury, quarantine, bleeding and cupping, smoking cigars--all pretend of course."
Back to George Washington. If you don't know this, insects figured in our country's founding when we were battling Great Britain for our independence. As Albee correctly points out: Gen. George Washington “had both the female mosquito and the body louse on his side.”
She tells all in her chapter on “How Revolutionary!”
This photo of a bee sting, by Kathy Keatley Garvey, appears in Sarah Albee's book, "Bugged."
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but thankfully, they don't keep our bees away. The blossoms, that is. We need those pollinators!
During National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, it's a good idea to pay tribute to the apple.
If you've ever photographed a bee on an apple blossom, then captured an image of apples hanging from the branches, and then aimed your camera at a basket of apples, you can easily see the connection from A (apple) to B (bounty), thanks to our bees.
Apples (Malus domestica of the rose family, Rosaceae) is an ancient fruit, originating from Central Asia. In fact, you can still find its wild ancestor Malus sieversii, there today, according to Wikipedia.
Pomologists tell us that there are now more than 7500 cultivates of apples.
Apples are not only bee business but big business. "About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total," Wikipedia tells us. "The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6 percent of world production. Turkey is third, followed by Italy, India and Poland.”
Hats off to the pollinators!
A honey bee pollinating an apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Apples hanging from a tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The bounty--thanks to bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
That they do. Safflower fields literally buzz with bees foraging on the blossoms. Sometimes the pollen load is so heavy it's a wonder they can fly back to their colonies.
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is grown for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds. The plant looks somewhat like a thistle. The heads of the safflower, however, are commonly yellow--not purple--but can be orange or red.
We know safflower as an ancient crop. Safflower-dyed textiles dating back to the 12th Dynasty were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, according to Wikipedia.
Here in California, the name of world-renowned UC Davis scientist Paulden F. Knowles (1919-1960) is synonymous with safflower. The Canadian-born scientist, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Agronomy and Range Science, played a major role in the establishment of safflower as a California crop. Considered the "father of the safflower," Knowles gathered most of the germplasm of wild and cultivated species now in the USDA world collection.
"It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide," Wikipedia points out. "India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, the Arab World, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder."
That's something to think about when you see honey bees touch down on the blossoms. Or when you open that bottle of safflower oil in your kitchen...
Honey bee foraging on safflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee loaded with pollen heading home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Folks are planting milkweed for the monarchs.
The milkweed (genus Asclepias) is the host plant (larval food) for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). No wonder the monarch is sometimes called "the milkweed butterfly."
The perennial plant is so named for its milky juice, consisting of a latex containing alkaloids and other complex compounds. Carl Linnaeus named the genus for the Greek god of healing, Asciepius.
But milkweed is also a favorite bee plant. It's an important nectar source.
The UC Davis Arboretum has a beautiful milkweed patch near Mrak Hall and on any given day, you'll see honey bees foraging. Be prepared to see as many as four or five honey bees on one bloom. The fragrance is delightful and so are the bees!
Honey bee foraging on milkweed in the UC Davis Arboretum, near Mrak Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Walk down the garden path, lined with milkweed, and sit on the bench in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The occasion: Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), was on the UC Davis campus recently to fulfill her UC Promise for Education. Last October she vowed that if she received $2500 in contributions for UC students, she would wear honey bees. Actually, she not only reached her goal but surpassed it.
Enter Norm Gary, no doubt the world's best bee wrangler until his retirement last year. A UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology (specializing in apiculture or bee science), he showed that his work is definitely buzzworthy: he kept bees for 66 years, researched bees, wrote about them in peer-reviewed publications and popular books, and appeared in movies, TV shows, commercials, and fairs and festivals and other special events.
So, he volunteered to come out of retirement and train a few bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility to land on a nectar-soaked sponge, which he then transferred to Allen-Diaz' hand.
"I wanted to help her communicate the importance of honey bees to everyone, regarding pollination, research on pollination and teaching of bees and I wanted to help her do this by showing her how much fun it is to work with bees," he told videographer Ray Lucas of UC ANR. (See video.) The artificial nectar he used was a special one he patented.
"It was no threat," he said. For the bees it was "like kids in an ice cream store."
Allen-Diaz graciously thanked all her supporters. "I wanted to promise to do something that would highlight this incredibly important part of our ecosystem." (See video.)
He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."
What now? At the young age of 80, he says he's "devoting the rest of my life to music."
He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute.
"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue," he said. "Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend. We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc. We play swing-music style, too. "
Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor. "I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals. And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."
The "B" flat clarinet, of course.
A handful of bees, held by Barbara Allen-Diaz. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Norm Gary shows Barbara Allen-Diaz the sign in front of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is the work of Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Barbara Allen-Diaz and Norm Gary talk bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)