Backyard Orchard News
A tip of the bee veil to Susan Cobey.
Cobey, bee breeder-geneticist and manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, has won the 2009 “Outstanding Service to Beekeeping” award from the Western Apicultural Society (WAS).
Cobey received a plaque at the organization’s 31st annual conference, held last week in Healdsburg.
Known world-wide for her expertise in instrumental insemination and stock improvement, she trained under Harry Laidlaw (1907-2003) of UC Davis, considered “the father of honey bee genetics.”
WAS president and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, presented her the award, praising her expertise, dedication and passion.
Cobey is well-known in the beekeeping industry. Her advanced beekeeping courses on queen bee rearing and queen bee insemination draw students from throughout the world.
“It’s a special honor to receive this award, especially since my return to California,” said Cobey, who participated in the first WAS conferences.
Cobey joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in May 2007, after a career spanning 17 years as staff apiarist at the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Laboratory, Ohio State University.
Cobey developed the New World Carnolians stock, a dark race of honey bees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States and Canada to create a more pure strain. A current focus of her research includes selecting and enhancing this stock to show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases.
Of her research, she says: “Over time, it has proven very productive, winter hardy, well-tempered and more resistant to pests and disease. Genetic diversity, the raw tools for selection, is critical in maintaining colony fitness and resisting pests and diseases.”
She is enhancing the stock, now in its 27th generation, with importation of semen from the German Carnica Association.
Cobey is the 28th person to receive the WAS award, and the sixth from UC Davis. Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. received the award in 1980; Robert Page in 1989; Norman Gary in 1990; Eric Mussen in 1991; and Christine Peng in 2002. Page (now with Arizona State University), Gary and Peng are all emeriti professors.
Mussen and Gary co-founded WAS in 1978 as a non-profit, educational organization designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.
If you're in the right spot at the same time, you may get a double bonus: a non-native bee and a native bee on a native plant.
We took this photo in Healdsburg last week of a non-native bee (the common European or Western honey bee, Apis mellifera) and a native sweat bee (Halictus ligatus) sharing a plant native to the Americas: the sunflower.
A golden moment.
Two on a Sunflower
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