Backyard Orchard News
Youngsters like to joke about what a honey bee says when she returns to the hive: "Honey, I'm home!"
Honey...what is it?
The National Honey Board defines honey as "the substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants are gathered, modified and stored in the honeycomb by honey bees. The definition of honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance. This includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners."
Honey ranges in color from nearly white to light amber to nearly black. The nectar source determines the color.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, jars of multicolored honey grace the windowsill of the conference room. As the sun sets, the colors are dazzling.
Below, bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Laidlaw facility, and beekeeper-junior specialist Elizabeth Frost show four jars of honey.
Hear the buzz?
That's the sound of a honey bee's wings moving at about 11,400 times per minute.
As a field bee, the worker bee lives only several weeks during the peak nectaring season. She can fly four to five miles a day, at a speed of about 15 miles per hour. When her wings (she has four) fray and wear out, she can no longer fly.
We recently spotted a honey bee with very ragged wings nectaring lantana and another nectaring lavender.
A world of difference between the wings.
For more information on honey bees, check out the UC Davis bee biology Web site and the links page.
Mason wasps are strikingly beautiful.
The black and yellow patterns are intriguing, but even more intriguing are the mud nests they build.
Makes sense that these wasps are called mason or potter wasps, named for what they do. Their human counterparts work with stone, brick, and concrete.
Native Americans reportedly designed some of their pottery in the shape of wasp nests.
Last month we spotted two mason wasps in our garden. One was seemingly sunning itself on a salvia leaf. Another was sipping nectar from a rock purslane.
Now if we could only find their nests...
Sunny Side Up
The warmth of the sun and the lure of nectar beckoned the hover flies or flower flies to our bee friendly garden.
We saw this one nectaring the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) last weekend. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as "family Syrphidae, probably the genus Platycheirus."
It stood quite still, sipping the nectar and soon honey bees and a mason wasp joined it.
But for a minute, it seemed to have a "Mine" sign slapped on the blossom.
Hover fly on rock purslane
Ready for Take-Off
Ever wonder how a honey bee sees?
Its compound eyes are comprised of hundreds of single eyes (ommatidia), each with its own lens. It can distinguish colors, but can't see red, which it interprets as black.
Honey bees can even recognize human faces, according to a December 2005 article in the Journal of Experimental Biology. University of Cambridge scientists did a Pavlov-dog type experiment, in which they showed bees black-and-white photos of human faces. They trained the bees to recognize faces with a reward (sugar syrup) or a bitter quinine solution (punishment). In ensuing tests, the researchers took away the rewards and punishment. Result: the bees made a beeline for the "reward faces" 80 to 90 percent of the time.
If you want to see how bees see, check out scientist-artist Andy Giger's Web site, B-Eye. "There are differences between the bee's view of the world and ours," he says. "The bee has a lot fewer ommatidia than we have photoreceptors, and they are not evenly spaced."
B-Eye, Giger says, "ignores most of these differences, simulating just the optics of the honey bee's compound eyes. It shows what a bee would see of a flat image, with the bee facing straight at the plane of the image."
Seeing is bee-lieving.