Backyard Orchard News
Soon beekeepers from around the country will be trucking their bees to California for the annual almond pollination.
California has some 700,000 acres of almonds, with each acre requiring two hives for pollination.
But an article in the Dec. 27th edition of the New York Post raises a serious question: How healthy are the honey bees?
Since colony collapse disorder (CCD) became the buzz word in the fall of 2006, just how healthy are the bees now?
Well, CCD is still with us, and the commercial beekeeper that sounded the alarm--Dave Hackenberg of Pennsylvania--says this winter could be the worst yet.
Hackenberg told The Post that "We had around 3000 hives at the end of the summer, but they started shrinking early, so when we came to truck them to Florida, there was only 2000 of them left."
He said that he wouldn't be surprised if one-fifth of his bees died before spring. "We're hoping we can stop at 50 percent losses," Hackenberg told reporter Alison Benjamin.
CCD, the mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive--leaving behind the queen and brood--continues to wreak havoc.
That's why honey bee research is so important.
CCD is probably caused by multiple factors, according to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis and closely affiliated with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. The targeted list of suspects involved includes diseases, parasites, pesticides, pests, viruses, stress, malnutrition, and weather changes.
Beeline to Blossom
The attempt to down an airline over Detroit, Mich., on Christmas Day with a chemical explosive strapped inside a passenger's underwear may spur new interest in honey bees as bomb-sniffing detectives.
It brings to mind scientist Robert Wingo's recent talk at UC Davis. Wingo, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), New Mexico, spoke Oct. 21 on "Explosives and Narcotics Detection by Monitoring of the Proboscis Extension Reflex in Apis mellifera (Honey Bee)."
Honey bees have a keen sense of smell that rivals that of dogs, Wingo told the capacity crowd in 357 Hutchison Hall.
He and his colleagues use the Pavlov reward method to train forager bees to detect explosives used in bombs. Basically, the bees are harnessed inside a box and trained to "stick out their tongue" (proboscis) when they smell an explosive. The bees earlier associated the scent with the reward of sugar water.
With the Pavlov dogs, it was hear the sound of the bell and salivate. With the Los Alamos bees: smell an explosive and stick out your tongue.
In a news release dated Nov. 27, 2006, LANL news writer Todd Hanson wrote that this new technique "could become a leading tool in the fight against the use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which present a critical vulnerability for American military troops abroad and is an emerging danger for civilians worldwide.”
“By studying bee behavior and testing and improving on technologies already on the market,” Hanson wrote, “Los Alamos scientists developed methods to harness the honey bee's exceptional olfactory sense where the bees' natural reaction to nectar, a proboscis extension reflex (sticking out their tongue), could be used to record an unmistakable response to a scent. Using Pavlovian training techniques common to bee research, they trained bees to give a positive detection response, via the proboscis extension reflex, when they were exposed to vapors from TNT, C4, TATP explosives and propellants.”
For more information, you can also listen to Wingo's interesting talk at UC Davis (Note: in this low-cost Webcast, the audio is better than the video).
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, bomb-sniffing bees will be commonplace in airport security?
Will they take their place alongside bomb-sniffing dogs?
Meanwhile, the research continues...
Definitely a good dose of Christmas Cheer!
In the plant world, that would be the Kniphofia “Christmas Cheer," also known as "red-hot poker."
On a visit last week to the Storer Garden, UC Davis Arboretum, we encountered a lone honey bee foraging among the Christmas Cheer.
This one probably came from a nearby hive at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility tended by bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the facility.
Christmas Cheer is an Arboretum All=Star.
And so is the honey bee: an all-star.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Cleaning Her Tongue
'Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse...
--'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
No, but maybe a boxelder bug (Boisea trivittatus). In the late fall, the adults seek overwintering sites, which may include your house or garage.
The adults, about a half-inch long, are black with red or dark orange markings. Distinguishing features include red eyes and three red stripes on the thorax. Red also outlines their leathery wings. As nymphs, they are bright red.
As adults, they feed primarily on boxelder, maple, alder and ash trees but are considered a pest only when they take up residence with you.
On warm winter days, you may see them stirring around your yard or in your house.
Maybe on Christmas Eve, too.
When the U.S. Postal Service Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee meets in January 2010, let's hope the group supports the proposal for a Lorenzo Langstroth commemorative stamp.
The Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895), an apiarist, clergyman and educator, is considered the "Father of American Beekeeping."
Born in Philadelphia and an 1831 graduate of Yale University, Langstroth revolutionized the beekeeping industry by inventing the movable-frame honey bee hive, patented in 1852. He authored The Hive and the Honey Bee (1853) and Langstroth on the Honey Bee: A Bee-Keepers' Manual (1860), both in use today.
A commemorative stamp would pay tribute to his life's work and draw attention to the work of the honey bees and the declining bee population.
The Down to Earth Project of the Science Friday Initiative (4 West 43rd Street, NY, NY 10036) is spearheading plans for the proposed stamp.
In an e-mail sent us by the Pollinator Partnership: "Throughout the year 2010, the Down to Earth Program will be developing and coordinating a network of national workshops, exhibits and gatherings to teach and learn about the considerable science connected with the honey bee."
The Down to Earth Project organizers hope that "the beekeeping community, anyone who enjoys honey, and everyone who appreciates all the foods we eat which would not be available without the work of the honey bee, will write a letter or sign a petition encouraging the U.S. Postal Service to honor Langstroth in this way at this special time."
They're seeking a flood of letters to convince the Postal Service "how important Langstroth is to Americans across the country, and how a commemorative stamp would help him achieve the recognition he has so far been denied. The stamp is especially important at a time when honey bees are threatened by colony collapse disorder, and people all over the country, even in urban areas, are helping out by embracing beekeeping."
To be included in the petition, folks can send an email to LLL200@scifri.org and include their zip code (to show the breadth of the nationwide support).
Or better yet, write to:
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
1735 North Lynn St., Suite 5013
Arlington, VA 22209-6432
It's a honey of a cause.