Posts Tagged: honey bees
Understanding the honey bee’s immune system is crucial to battling the declining honey bee population, says University of California insect virus researcher Michelle Flenniken.
Speaking to 100 fellow researchers at the Honey Bee Genomics and Biology Conference, held recently in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, Flenniken said that if a bee can develop better antiviral immune responses, it’s better able to fight its foes.
"Our work is focused on understanding the natural mechanisms of antiviral immunity in honey bees--or how a honey bees fights off viral infections,” she told the researchers. “We are examining these pathways at the molecular level using gene expression microarrays.”
Flenniken, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis and a virologist in the Raul Andino lab, Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UC San Francisco, studies honey bee viruses and the role of RNA interference (RNAi) in the antiviral immune responses. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information of viruses. RNAi is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression.
RNAi can be used as an antiviral strategy in honey bees, Flenniken believes. Her research involves limiting virus production in the bees by priming their RNAi machinery with viral specific double-stranded RNA.
For the past several years, she has been analyzing viruses present in the hives of area beekeepers.
The findings she reported at the conference are mentioned in the May 10th edition of the international journal, Nature. Flenniken “presented evidence that in honey bees (double-stranded RNA) can trigger a general immune response that might ward off a variety of threats,” wrote Nature author Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib.
We look forward to seeing more of Flenniken's work.
Michelle Flenniken at an apiary. (Photo by Kim Fondrk)
"How are the bees doing?"
That's the question beekeepers are asked all year.
Well, today the annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) answered that question.
The response? Roughly the same.
Total losses from honey bee colonies nationwide amounted to 30 percent from all causes for the 2010/2011 winter.
That's about the same for the past four years:
2009/2010: 34 percent
2008/2009: 29 percent
2007/2008: 36 percent
2006/2007: 32 percent
"The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers," entomologist Jeff Pettis said in a news release issued today by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Pettis leads the Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., the chief scientific research agency of USDA.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), first reported in 2006 by Pennsylvania beekeeper (Dave Hackenberg) overwintering his bees in Florida, is still with us. CCD is a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, food stores and immature brood. The worker bees leave. Nobody knows where they go. There are no dead bees to examine.
According to the ARS news release, the beekeepers who reported colony losses with "no dead bodies present" also reported higher average colony losses (61 percent) "compared to beekeepers who lost colonies but did not report the absence of dead bees (34 percent in losses)."
Some 5,572 beekeepers responded to the survey, which covered autumn to spring--the period from October 2010 to April 2011. Together these 5,572 beekeepers manage more than 15 percent of the 2.68 million colonies in the U.S.
What's interesting is that the beekeepers said they felt losses of 13 percent would be "economically acceptable." However, "61 percent of responding beekeepers reported having losses greater than this," according to the ARS press release.
So, the losses are still not economically acceptable, but the lack of increase is "marginally encouraging."
Bottom line: roughly the same.
Honey bees working a hive at the University of California, Davis.. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
They're definitely attracted to it.
Honey bees forage furiously on the California buckeye (Aesculus californica).
It's not a good bee plant, though. It's poisonous.
Of California's main bee-poisonous plants--buckeye, death camas (Zigadenus veneosus) corn lily (Veratrum californicam) and locoweed (Astragalus spp.)--the most hazardous to bees because of its wide distribution is the buckeye tree.
Its distribution includes the UC Davis campus. If you walk behind Hoagland Hall, you'll see a thriving buckeye.
And bees and other insects foraging on the blossoms.
"Symptoms of buckeye poisoning usually appear about a week after bees begin working the blossoms," according to the Cooperative Extension booklet, Beekeeping in California, published in 1987 by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Many young larvae die, giving the brood pattern an irregular appearance. The queen's egg-laying rate decreases or stops, or she may lay only drone eggs; after a few weeks, an increasing number of eggs fail to hatch or a majority of young larvae die before they are three days old."
The booklet, co-authored by six bee experts--five from UC Davis--points out that "Some adults emerge with crippled wings or malformed legs and bodies."
"Foraging bees feeding on buckeye blossoms may have dark, shiny bodies and paralysislike symptoms. Affected colonies may be seriously weakened or may die."
UC Davis Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen edited the publication. Other co-authors were UC Davis entomology professors/apiculturists Norman Gary and Robbin Thorp (both now emeriti); apiculturist Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., UC Davis professor of entomology (deceased); and apiarist Lee Watkins (deceased). Also lending his expertise: Len Foote of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
If the name Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. sounds familiar, that's because the bee facility on Bee Biology Road, about a mile west of the central campus, carries his name.
Honey bee foraging on buckeye blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
California buckeye in bloom behind Hoagland Hall at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mother's Day, insect-style, dawned like any other day. In our back yard, golden honey bees foraged in the lavender and those ever-so-tiny sweat bees visited the rock purslane.
The honey bees? Those gorgeous Italians.
The sweat bees? Genus Lasioglossum, as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. He figures the female sweat bee (below) may be L. mellipes, which is brownish toward the tips of the hind legs.
A trip to Benicia yielded a photo of a ladybug chasing aphids. It was almost comical. A fat aphid appeared to be playing "King of the Hill" while other aphids sucked contentedly on plant juices, unaware of pending predators.
While the aphids wreaked havoc on a very stressed Escallonia (fast-growing hedge in the family Escalloniaceae), the ladybugs, aka lady beetles, wreaked havoc on some very stressed aphids.
After all, "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts."
Italian honey bee foraging on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sweat bee (genus Lasioglossum) visiting rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ladybug, aka lady beetle, chasing aphids. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
First the buds, then the blossoms, then the bees.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre, bee-friendly garden planted in the fall of 2009 next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, is, in one word—spectacular.
The strawberries planted in the haven are in various stages of growth: buds, blossoms, immature fruit and now ripe fruit.
The bees did it.
It's a good time to view the garden, which is open from dawn to dusk every day. There's no admission charge.
You'll see art work; assorted fruits, vegetables and herbs; ornamental plants; and insects! The garden provides the Laidlaw honey bees with a year-around food source, raises public awareness about the plight of honey bees, encourages visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own, and serves as a research site.
Honey bee foraging on strawberry plant in Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
End result: ripe strawberries. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)