Backyard Orchard News
What's wrong with this photo?
A honey bee is nectaring a lavender, right?
But if you look closely, you'll see a Varroa mite--a parasite--attached to her.
Varroa mites, considered the No. 1 pest in the honey bee industry, are linked to colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind food stores and the brood.
Varroa mites are so common that it's rare to find a hive without them.
Female mites reproduce inside brood cells in the hive. Mites suck the bee blood or hemolymph; in doing so, they spread viruses, stunt the growth and cause deformities.
Within two years, they can destroy a colony.
Not a pleasant sight.
Mite on bee
A recent visit to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden found honey bees making a...yes...beeline...for the pink oxalis (Oxalis herta), a native of South Africa.
Some folks consider oxalis, especially yellow oxalis, a "weed." Indeed, "oxalis management" is a key topic at park conferences, at garden club meetings and over backyard fences.
Now a weed is simply an unwanted plant in a particular place. It may be a "nuisance" because it crowds out desirable plants, steals the limited soil nutrients, spreads diseases, or doesn't meet someone's strict aesthetic requirements or expectations.
To a honey bee, however, there's no distinction. Oxalis, aka wood sorrel, beckons them, unfolding an aromatic welcome mat, and the bees buzz in.
End product: food for the hive, and a sweetener for us humans.
The honey bees are hungry.
There are fewer flowers blooming this time of the year, so the bees are foraging for what they can.
This morning the bees were all over the lavender (Lavandula) in our yard. One bee, packing red pollen (probably from rock purslane), glided in, strapped herself to the lavender, and sipped the nectar from a floral "cup."
The bees are a little testy this time of the year. They're foraging for their winter stores as the days grow colder and shorter and the floral supply fades. "Honey bees don't forage when it is cool, below around 50 degrees," says bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk of the University of California, Davis.
To help support the declining bee population, it's crucial to offer the bees a year-around food supply, and that's exactly what the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the UC Davis, will do. A public open house is scheduled June 19.
Meanwhile, it was Red Letter Day today as the pollen-packing bee made her rounds.
Packing Red Pollen
Red Tongue, Red Pollen
That's the title of a new display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis.
It's quite timely and appropriate because of the beleaguered bees.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has a keen interest in bees, and not just because she's an entomologist and a former beekeeper. She's instrumental in the administrative aspects of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Reseach Facility, including the newly planted Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden. Plans call for a public open house June 19.
And if you ever want to check out the wide variety of bee specimens (from honey bees to carpenter bees to sweat bees to blue orchard bees, et al), be sure to visit the Bohart. Bees are among the seven million insect specimens housed there.
The Pollination Nation display emphasizes the importance of bees. "Approximately three quarters of all flowering plants rely on animals, mostly insects, for pollination," the display reads. "Wild insect pollinators include bumble bees, flies, solitary bees, butterflies, ants, beetles and wasps.”
“Farmers rely heavily upon the managed colonies of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) to pollinate crops. Not only do honey bees help produce our food but they also provide us honey and wax. Recently honey bee colonies have been dying off and their numbers are declining. Disease and mites may be the root of the problem, but insecticides and habitat loss also pose serious threats.”
Researchers at UC Davis, Kimsey explained, are trying to "understand and solve the problems of declining pollinators, both native and domesticated, by studying their taxonomy, ecology, life history traits, diseases and behaviors."
The Bohart Museum, located in 1124 Academic Surge, was founded in 1946 by the late Richard M. Bohart, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Dedicated to teaching, research and service, the insect museum houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America.
The museum also includes live insects such as Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and walking leaves. “That’s our petting zoo,” Kimsey quipped. (Yes, you can hold them.)
More information about the Bohart, visiting hours, and guided tours is available from public outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang at (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"R" is for research at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Faciity at the University of California, Davis.
What's it all about?
The Laidlaw facility is a nexus for diverse bee research and scientists from throughout the world.A poster hanging in the Laidlaw facility explains: "We provide cutting-edge research on basic bee biology, genetics, pollination and conservation. We address international concerns about bee health and meet the needs of California's multibillion dollar agriculture industry. Our program combines research on honey bees and native species to promote sustainabiity of pollinators and pollination."
The researchers include:
Honey bee specialists: Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey and manager of the Laidlaw facility (she trained under Laidlaw); bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk who manages the Robert Page Honey Bee Pollen Hoarding Selection Program; and Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Postdoctural Fellow Michelle Flenniken. An insect virus researcher, Flenniken investigates the viruses and other microbes associated with honey bees using a molecular biology approach.
Native pollinator specialists: Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor; and Neal Williams, assistant professor. Thorp "officially" retired in 1994 but continues to conduct research on bees (Apoidea) with a focus on native bees, their ecology, systematics, biodiversity, conservation and pollination relationships. Williams says his lab "explores fundamental questions about the evolution and ecology of bees and pollination as well as applied research on crop pollination and native bee conservation within the context of global change and agricultural sustainability."
Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at UC Berkeley, is closely associated with UC Davis. Her Berkeley lab explores "the conservation and sustainable management of ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control in agricultural settings." Her group is involved with several research projects through the Laidlaw facility.
Other visiting scientists include Stephen Hendrix of the University of Iowa; Susan Monheit, UC Davis; Lora Morandin, UC Berkeley; and Alexandra Klein and Claire Brittain, both with the University of Goettingen, Gemany.
Another exciting research program at UC Davis involves the aging and lifespan of the honey bee. Robert Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and now founding director of the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, is a co-principal investigator on this research. It's part of the federally funded Biodemographic Determinants of Lifespan, directed by UC Davis entomology professor James R. Carey.Another highlight at the Laidlaw facility is the newly planted Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden designed to be a year-around food source for bees and an educational experience for visitors. Also new is the Campus Buzzway, a quarter-acre wildflower garden to be planted this fall.
"R" is for research. "B" is for bees.
A Bee Wave