Backyard Orchard News
Entomologists, geneticists and virologists are still searching for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Yes, they're still searching, and no, there' s no known cause yet.
CCD is a mysterious phenomonen characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive. They leave behind the brood and stored food.
When we attended the 55th annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in December 2007, one of the highly attended seminars dealt with the plight of the honey bees. Pennsylvania State University entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeff Pettis were among those addressing the crowd.
In research just published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed science publication, they and their colleagues found that a higher total load of pathogens--viruses, bacteria and fungi--appears to show the strongest link yet with CCD.
The researchers examined 91 colonies from 13 apiaries in Florida and California. They screened for bacteria, mites, Nosema (protozoan parasites) numerous viruses, nutrition status and 171 pesticides. They also sampled adult bees, wax comb bee bread (stored and processed pollen) and brood.
"Of 61 quantified variables (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCDm" they wrote. "Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with a greater number of pathogens than control populations, suggesting either an increased exposure to pathogens or a reduced resistance of bees toward pathogens. Levels of the synthetic acaricide coumaphos (used by beekeepers to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor) were higher in control colonies than CCD-affected colonies."
Their research, the first comprehensive survey of CCD-affected bee populations, suggests that CCD "involves an interaction between pathogens and other stress factors," they wrote. They presented evidence that CCD is "is contagious or the result of exposure to a common risk factor."
Bottom line: High pathogen loads are linked to CCD symptoms, but scientists still don't know what causes bees to become infected with SO MANY pathogens.
What this research does is narrow the direction of future CCD research. It's a big step in the right direction.
"Help the bees" continues to be a resounding cry. Helping to fund the research is Häagen-Dazs (about 50 percent of their ice cream flavors depend on bee pollination). Those visiting their educational Web site can donate funds to Penn State and UC Davis.
Plight of the Honey Bee
Thunder boomed across the garden.
The carpenter bee (Xylocopata tabaniformis orpifex) meant business.
She headed straight for the slowly opening rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). Never mind that the petals hadn't quite unfolded.
Tackling the tiny pink blossom, she sipped her fill of nectar, and then, with another thunderous roar, vanished.
No wonder large, loud carpenter bees scare little children.
Pollen-Covered Carpenter Bee
Honey bees love catmint as much as cats love catnip.
Fact is, catmint and catnip belong to the same family: the mint family or Lamiaceae. The family also includes such aromatic celebrities as peppermint, sage, thyme, lavender, basil and oregano.
So, when the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven opens Oct. 16 on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus, you'll see 13 catmint (Nepeta faassenii) plants sharing the garden with scores of other bee favorites.It's a good choice. Catmint boasts colorful blue-lavender flowers and fragrant gray-green foliage. It's drought-tolerant. It was named Plant of the Year in 2007 by the Perennial Plant Association.
Best of all, bees love it.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is a bee friendly garden. The site is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the UC Davis campus. The haven will provide a year-around food source for bees and "bee" an educational experience for visitors. They can glean information about honey bees and what to plant in their gardens to attract bees.
If you already have catmint in your garden, you're one step ahead of everybody. And one wingbeat away from the bees.
This is one food source that will help our bees stay in "mint" condition.
It's a crazy world out there.
Now our beleaguered honey bee has a new foe: the Rasberry crazy ant, Paratrechina sp. nr. pubens.
The Rasberry crazy ant is driving Texans crazy.
A UC Davis entomologist sent me an Associated Press news story about how these crazy ants are wreaking havoc in Houston and are now spreading to about a dozen counties in the Lone Star State.
First, this ant, about the size of a grain of rice, is named for an exterminator named Tom Rasberry who spotted the exotic, invasive pest near Houston in 2002 and sounded the alarm.
Second, these ants are considered "crazy" because they don't march like well-disciplined soldiers in a parade but weave erratically like equally crazy cockroaches.
Third, they eat honey bees, which already have enough trouble dealing with colony collapse disorder, pests, diseases, pesticides, stress, malnutrition and global climate changes.
Honey bees need a crazy ant like they need a hole in their antenna or a mite on their thorax.
Entomologists at Texas A&M just posted an informational Web site about the pest, which they describe as "1/8 inch long and reddish-brown."
And with a big appetite.
Fact is, these hordes of crazy ants are ruining electronic equipment--like computers, I-Pods, printers, telephones and burglar alarms--and are damaging sewage pumps and gas and electricity meters. They basically consume just about everything in sight--from the unwanted red fire ants to the beneficial ladybugs and honey bees.
Today the ant is being considered "a serious agricultural pest" because it's encroaching on "livestock, hay bales and a few honey bee farms," according to Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball in her piece published Aug. 5.
The Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture want to declare the crazy an "agricultural pest," something they must first do to seek research funds.
"If killing honey bees does not put it in the ag pest category," Rasberry told the Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball in her Aug. 5 piece, "I don't know what does."
Where did it come from?
Perhaps from the Caribbean. It could have hitchiked a ride on a cargo ship. At any rate, it's here and spreading by billions and it's not going away. You'll want to read Tom Rasberry's blog about the crazy ants.
Houston, they have a problem.
And so may we.
Safe and Secure
Death by Crazy Ants
Beekeepers consider stings just a part of their job.
However, say the word "bee" and John Q. and Jane Q. Public may not think about the pollination of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Or the end product: honey.
The bee conjures up the "S" word: sting.
Of the scores of questions that Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen has fielded since 1976 (when he joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty), many relate to bee stings.
Here are his answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:
1. Can a honey bee sting kill you?
If a person is highly sensitized to honey bee venom, one sting could be fatal, causing anaphylactic shock. Otherwise, it is just painful and likely to cause some swelling and local tenderness that will last for two or three days.
2. How do you treat a honey bee sting?
Try to remove honey bee stings as quickly as possible, since venom is pumped from a sting into the victim for 45-60 seconds. Stings are easily scraped off with a fingernail. If many honey bees are stinging, leave the area quickly and deal with the stings when you are out of range of the defensive area (about 100 feet with European honey bees, but up to ¼ mile – 1,320 feet – with Africanized honey bees). The pain can be reduced a bit by putting ice on the sting site, but the stabbing pain backs off fairly quickly without any treatment.
3. Can a honey bee hear you?
Honey bees do not have sensory organs that can pick up sounds that we can hear. They are very sensitive to vibrations. They feel us walking toward the nesting site before we get there.
4. Why do beekeepers use smokers when they visit their beehives?
The smoke from the smoker has three effects on the bees. First, it prevents the guard bees from liberating much “alarm pheromone” (smells like bananas) in the hive. Second, it prevents “soldier” bees in the hive from smelling the pheromone that has been secreted. Third, it causes many bees to fill up on honey. Despite the wives’ tales to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that the bees “think” there is a fire or that bees full of honey cannot sting.
5. Can honey bees see color?
Yes, honey bees can see nearly all the colors we see. They cannot see red, which looks black to them. They can see into the UV wavelengths a ways, which is beyond our limit at purple. UV looks black to us.
6. Do honey bees need to eat meat?
No. Unlike wasps, honey bees derive nearly all the important ingredients in their diet from pollens. Pollens contain protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, sterols, and many plant-derived antioxidants. No single pollen contains all the essential ingredients, so colonies do best where a good mix of attractive flowers are available. Nectar, the dilute sugar syrup honey bees collect from flowers, contains mostly sugar, an energy food. The flavor and color of honey depend upon the source of the nectar from which it is condensed.
There you have it: The A, Bee and C of the most commonly asked questions.
Bottom line: Sure, bees can and do sting, but our survival depends on them. Bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat (fruits, vegetables and nuts). They pollinate some 100 crops in California, including about 700,000 acres of almonds.
“The value of California crops pollinated by bees is $6.1 billion,” Mussen says.
Site of the Sting