Backyard Orchard News
What's causing colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
Are we any closer to determining the cause?
CCD, the mysterious malady characterized by bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the brood and food storage, continues to be of great concern--and rightfully so.
The headlines today read:
- Scientists discover virus that could explain drop in bee population--Science News, Timesonline
- DNA clue to honey bee deaths--BBC
A noted expert on honey bees, Mussen is frequently asked "The CCD Question."
What does he think is causing CCD?
"As the pieces are coming together, I think that a still undetermined virus is causing the problem," Mussen says. "The malady appears to be 'contagious' and 'drying' the combs seems to reduce or eliminate it."
"Our bees need to be in top physiological condition. I believe that malnutrition puts a physiological stress on the bees, especially the immune and chemical detoxification systems. Then diseases and exposures to chemicals become very significant."
Beekeepers who do a lot of supplementary feeding, he says, see fewer problems.
So, if you're a beekeeper, place your hives in locations with an abundance of high quality pollens and nectar.
And don't ignore those combs.
"If a beekeeper has them on hand, the bees most likely would be better off on newer, less contaminated (with mite-killing compounds) combs," Mussen says.
How can we help? We can plant trees, ornamentals, and flowers that provide food for the bees. "It's especially important to provide nectar and pollens at the end of the season--late summer and fall," he says. "That's when resources tend to become scarce."
What else can we do? Stop using pesticides on plants that bees visit. "The most suspect group of pesticides at this time are the neonicotinoid insecticides that move systemically in the plants," Mussen says. "They get into the nectar and pollen. However, the fungicides, thought by many to be benign to honey bees, are pretty common contaminants and may be causing more problems than we think."
Meanwhile, the search for the cause(s) of CCD continues.
A dandelion poking through the rocks near Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay, in Marshall, Sonoma County, seemed an unlikely host for squatters' rights.
It first drew a tiny bee, barely a quarter-inch long. It was a female sweat bee, family Halictidae, genus Lasioglossum, subgenus Dialictus.
She claimed the dandelion all to herself.
Not for long.
Another insect shadowed the dandelion and swooped down to feed.
It was a hover fly, family Syrphidae. (Probably a Eristalinus aeneus, observed UC Davis pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.)
So on one dandelion: a fly and a bee.
The fly is bigger. But the bee can sting. The sting, however, is rated only 1.0 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index compiled by (now retired) entomologist Justin O. Schmidt at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Fight or flight?
The dandelion blossom belongs to the fly.
On the Rim
All hail the honey bee.
Tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 22) is the first-ever National Honey Bee Awareness Day, as proclaimed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
It's "hive time" this insect has its own day.
After all, as Vilsack says, bee pollination is responsible for “$15 billion in added crop value and is an essential component of the production of more than 90 food crops.”
Vilsack points out that "Honey bees are critical to the process of pollination of our crops throughout our country and an important part of maintaining a stable and sustainable ecosystem."
He hopes that Honey Bee Awareness Day will "help highlight this important role, as well as the significant threat honey bees now face from the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)."
"The role" and "the threat"--two good reasons to increase public awareness.
We bee-lieve, however, that we shouldn't limit National Honey Bee Awareness Day to a single day in August. The entire month should be National Honey Bee Awareness Month.
Honey Bee on Almond
Honey Bee on Buckwheat
Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty:
Honey bees can fly a distance of about two to two-and-a-half miles.
Golf courses are not bee friendly. There's no forage for bees. Water run-off, containing fertilizer, insecticides and fungicides, is toxic to bees. So, if you're a beekeeper, you know NOT to keep your bees within two and a half miles of a golf course.
With honey bees, PMS means "Parasitic Mite Syndrome."
Beekeeping is big--and getting bigger--in San Francisco. Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, a newly opened beekeeping supply and honey shop in San Francisco (3520 20th St.), has received requests from 450 people who wish to be notified of the next beginning beekeeper class. The store just opened June 29.
Globally, there are more than 19,500 identified species of bees; the honey bee is just one of them. California alone has some 20,000 to 30,000 species of bees.
A squash flower opens early in the morning, often before sunrise. Native pollinators known as "squash bees" specialize in nectaring squash and other members of the cucurbits family. Later in the day, the blossom closes. If you open a folded blossom, you might see a male squash bee inside. The male likes to spend the night tucked inside the folded blossom.
It's not true that a typical hive contains only one queen bee. Twenty percent of hives have a queen daughter living there as well. Bottom line: bees don't read the books that say "one queen to a hive." Eventually, the old queen leaves (she swarms, dies, or is killed by worker bees).
The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, taking place this week in the Dry Creek Inn, Healdsburg, is drawing a lot of interest.
Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is finishing his yearlong term as president of WAS.
The key point: Honey bees are in trouble. The beekeepers and scientists attending the conference are receiving up-to-date, unpublished research on colony collapse disorder (CDD) the mysterious phenomonen characterized by adult bees abandoning their hive, leaving behind the brood and food storage.
No one knows what causes CCD, but it's thought to be a combination of factors: diseases, pesticides, viruses, stress, pests, malnutrition, and weather changes.
What's new: newly discovered pathogens are landing on the suspect list. Expect to hear more about these new pathogens later this year when the research is published.
It's rather ironic--but expected--that honey bees are nectaring the flowers outside the conference room as the participants are discussing bee health.
The bees will return to their hives and perform round dances and waggle dances to let their sisters know the direction and quality of the food source.
They have a keen sense of direction, like built-in clocks based on a sun-compass orientation.
But for humans, another clock is ticking...