Posts Tagged: honey bees
It's Presidents' Day today, a holiday for most of us but not for the honey bees.
The bees are buzzing in and around the almond blossoms, collecting nectar and pollen for their hives. Nectar provides the carbohydrates for the hive, and pollen provides the proteins.
Someone told me yesterday that she thought that the drones (males) gather the nectar and pollen. Not so. (Shades of the inaccurate information released in Jerry Seinfeld's "The Bee Movie" and the equally inaccurate term, "pollen jocks.") No, the only function of the drones is reproduction. When the virgin queen bee heads out on her maiden flight, she'll mate with 12 to 25 drones or so in the drone congregation area. Then the drones die. Happy, probably. If they don't mate, they'll die within a month. Sad, probably.
The queen bee, in peak season, will lay about 2000 eggs a day. The worker bees--all sterile female workers--serve as the nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.
It's a matriarchal society.
So when you see the bees buzzing around the almond blossoms, they're girls. Busy girls. Golden girls. They not only buzz, they rock.
They're the ones that pollinate one-third of the food we eat, including California's 700,000 acres of almonds.
You go, girls!
Wild Blue Yonder
The Tidy Tips, a native California wildflower (Layia platyglossa, family Asteraceae) is a welcome addition to flower beds.
If you walk behind the Sciences Laboratory Building on the University of California, Davis, campus, patches of Tidy Tips abound.
If it's cold, windy and rainy, no honey bees. If we're graced with a "sun break," here come the bees.
Sun break on the Tidy Tips...a sure sign of spring.
Honey Bee on Tidy Tips
It’s raining in northern California like the proverbial cats and dogs--and all the more reason to think of vacations.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, received a query last week from a family planning a camping trip to a public park in the Midwest.
A daughter is allergic to bee stings, so the family wanted to know two things:
1. Is there any way to find out what a bee population is in a specific area?
2. How can we avoid bee stings?
His answers are informative:
Is there any way to find out what a bee population is in a specific area?
Usually, the only records that are kept deal with the number of colonies registered by the beekeepers in a state once a year. If the beekeepers are commercial beekeepers, they are likely to move the colonies around for purposes of crop pollination or producing honey crops. Unless you knew all the beekeepers and their patterns of operation, there is no way to know where the colonies are.
If this is a good honey producing area, beekeepers might be moving their bees into it. You could call the park (if it is one) and see if they allow beekeeping on the park grounds.
Even if they don't, if there is good bee forage in the area (nectar and pollen), some honey bees are apt to be living around the area in "feral" colonies--not managed by anyone.
How can we avoid bee stings? Best preventative measures?
Honey bees do not tend to sting anything very far from the nesting location, unless you happen to step on one, etc. They are busy collecting water, nectar, pollens, or propolis (plant resins they use to glue things in the hive.) If something comes near the nesting location, and the bees respond to the approaching threat, then there might be some stinging.
What are the best preventative measures? This pertains to wasps, too, which sting more people in the woods than honey bees ever do. Keep your eyes open for "directed" flight by insects in an out of a specific spot. That is likely to be the nest entrance. Keep away from there.
If bees or wasps come flying out toward you, don't swing at them or try to blow them away from your face. You'll get stung immediately. If you are not yet stung, just stand very still for a moment, then ease yourself out of the area with no flailing or swinging of the arms, etc.
Put a lot of distance between you and the nest without running.
If they are all over you and stinging, then run first and work on the stings later. Honey bee stings stick in your flesh and give off "alarm pheromone," which leads to more stings in the same place. You do not want to continue to be a target.
If stung, look for the sting when you get a chance. If it is honey bees, the sting will be there. Scrape it off with a finger nail, before all the venom is pumped into the skin.
Honey bees are attracted more to yellow and blue than to other colors. Honey bees treat red and black as black. Black is bad if bees are stinging in the area. Pastel and white colors usually are best around bees.
Honey bees are attracted to odors reminiscent of lemon and are shocked by the smell of bananas--just like their alarm odor. (The aroma of bananas is similar to the scent of a bee's alarm pheromone.)
Final thought, even if there are bee hives or nests around, hardly anyone ever gets stung by them. They do their thing and you do yours, and there should not be any conflict under normal circumstances.***
For more information on bee stings, read the bee sting advice that appears in his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, a publication Mussen launched in 1976. He also writes the equally informative Bee Briefs. These publications are archived on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site.
Flight of the Honey Bee
Pull out the bottom tray (floor) of a beehive and you're likely to see lots of bee droppings, a little pollen, a few mites, a few dead bees and...a few scurrying ants.
Ants find a bee hive nice and cozy, especially in the winter as temperatures drop.
Beekeeper Elizabeth "Liz" Frost of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, who helps tend the hives never knows what she'll see during a colony inspection.
"Look," she pointed out, "see the ant carrying pollen?"
The tiny little critter hustling a heavy load of pollen made for an interesting photo.
Ants and bees are both social insects and belong to the same order, Hymenoptera. Bees and ants are sometimes called "superorganisms" as they employ a division of specialized labor, working together to support the colony for the good of all.
Ants in the bee hive, though, are a nuisance.
Off to the Nest
Almond pollination season is approaching, and with it, come concerns.
Mussen, a former New Englander who has seen dozens of almond pollination seasons in California (he's been a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976), says California now has approximately 710,000 acres of almonds. Each acre requires two hives for pollination.
Since California doesn't have that many bees, beekeepers from around the country truck in their colonies. The going rate per hive over the last several years has ranged from $100 to $150.
Generally, California's almond pollination season starts around Feb. 10, Mussen says, and ends around March 10. That takes into account the early, mid- or late varieties that bloom at different times. However, the pollination period for each individual orchard is around 10 days.
The flight hours of a honey bee during almond pollination season? Approximately nine hours a day over a 10-day bloom period.
And what are flight hours? Mussen defines "flight hours" as "the number of hours above 55 degrees when the wind is less than 15 miles per hour, given a sufficient level of sunlight without rainfall."
"I believe that if the tree varieties overlap well in bloom, the bees usually have moved the pollen around in the morning and early afternoon on good flight days," he writes in his newsletter. "That probably requires only about four hours a day."
Of course, poor weather can interfere significantly with "fertilization and nut set," Mussen says, "but it would not be the fault of the bees."
As a service to beekeepers and growers, a retired beekeeper posts information on the Almond Board of California Web site indicating who's renting colonies and who needs pollination.
Meanwhile, check out the images below of UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. Fondrk manages the Honey Bee Pollen Hoarding Selection Program at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, under the direction of Robert E. Page Jr., Arizona State University. Fondrk and Page moved the bees from Arizona to California several years ago.