Backyard Orchard News
Cobey, former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, and now with Washington State University (WSU), is an international authority on instrumental insemination. She's perfected and taught the specialized technique of instrumental insemination for more than three decades.
Based on Whidbey Island, Wash., Cobey maintains the New World Carniolan Closed Population Breeding Program, now in its 32rd generation. Her independent research program focuses on the post-insemination maintenance of queens and the selection of behavioral traits at the colony level.
Cobey currently coordinates the WSU collaborative stock improvement and maintenance program, partnering with California queen producers. A focus is the incorporation of germplasm (sperm) collected from Old World European honey bees into domestic breeding stocks to enhance U.S. honey bees. Much has been written about the germplasm repository established at WSU.
The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Cobey presents her work nationally and internationally at numerous conferences and seminars, and publishes extensively in trade journals and professional peer-reviewed publications. Her credentials include the former management of several bee research labs, including those at UC Davis and Ohio State University. She has also worked at the USDA Honey Bee Lab, Baton Rouge, and in commercial queen production in Florida and California. Cobey studied with Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., for whom the UC Davis research facility is named. She founded and operated a queen production business, Vaca Valley Apiaries, in northern California (Vacaville, Solano County).
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey (kneeling at right) at one of her queen bee-rearing classes at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Susan Cobey (right) adding bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A healthy frame of bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Historians agree that the infamous story about George Washington cutting down his father's favorite cherry tree and then admitting it ("I cannot tell a lie") is probably just that--a story. A myth. Didn't happen.
At age 6, George Washington reportedly got a little hatchet-happy and started chopping down every thing in sight. At least that's what biographer Parson Weems wrote in telling a story supposedly related to him by an elderly woman, maybe a cousin, maybe a neighbor, maybe not. Historians say there's no proof young George did that; and that Weems made up the story, later printed in a McGuffey Reader, to encourage children to always tell the truth.
So there you have it: Weems made up the story to get young children to always tell the truth.
As we all know, young George Washington (Feb. 22, 1732-Dec. 14, 1799) went on to become the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, 1775–1783, and then the founding president of the United States, serving from 1789 until 1797.
We don't know much about George Washington's early life, but we do know that as an adult, he kept bees--bees that pollinated his fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, and cherries. We do know that honey bees were here 110 years before young George was born; European colonists brought the honey bee to America (to the Jamestown colony, Virginia) in 1622.
Some tall tales also exist about bees during the American Revolutionary War. According to a fictional story first published in the Sunday School Advocate and then reprinted in the September 1917 in the American Bee Journal, 12-year-old beekeeper Charity Crabtree was tending her father's bees when she encountered a wounded soldier who told her to ride his horse to Gen. Washington's camp, just outside Philadelphia, and warn him about the impending attack by Gen. Charles Cornwallis.
However, before she could ride off, the British surrounded her and yelled “Ho, there! Stop, girl, or by heaven we'll make you!”
The story continues: "Suddenly, with the entrance of the soldiers, the bees began to buzz with a cannon's roar, as if to say, 'Here we are, Charity! Didn't Washington say we were patriots, too? Just give us a chance to defend our country!'
"Like lightning, now, Charity bent from her saddle, and seizing a stout stick, she wheeled around to the outer side of the hedge that protected the hives like a low wall. Then, with a smart blow, she beat each hive until the bees clouded the air. Realizing from experience that bees always follow the thing that hits them rather than the person who directs it, she threw the stick full force at her pursuers.
"As Charity galloped off at high speed she heard the shouts of fury from the soldiers, who fought madly against the bees. And, of course, the harder they fought, the harder they were stung. If they had been armed with swords the brave bees could not have kept the enemy more magnificently at bay.
"While Charity was riding furiously miles away, down the pike, past the bridge, over the hill, right into Washington's camp, her would-be pursuers lay limply in the dust—their noses swollen like powder horns. When the little maid finally gained admission to Washington's tent, for to none other would she trust her secret, the great general stared at her gray dress torn to ribbons, her kerchief draggled with mud and her gold hair loosened by the wind. But Charity had no time for ceremony."
Charity delivered the message about the the two attacks: the pending British attack and the bee attack. At that point, George Washington praised Charity's bees for saving the country.
Said George: "It is well done, Little Miss Crabtree...Neither you nor your bees shall be forgotten when our country is at peace again. It was the cackling geese that saved Rome, but the bees saved America.”
George Washington never said that, either.
He did, however, go on to rear bees at his Mount Vernon estate.
A young honey bee foraging on a cherry blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee deep inside a cherry blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Happy Valentine's Day!
While everyone else hands out little pink candy conversation hearts proclaiming "Bee Mine," "Miss You," "Call Me," "Kiss Me," and "I Love You," insect enthusiasts post photos of bugs "keeping busy."
We spotted an unforgettable scene recently in a flower patch behind the UC Davis Lab Sciences Building. The ladybugs (actually they're "lady beetles" because they're not bugs) were devouring aphids on the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), a desert shrub we see throughout California, northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Quite contentedly, we might add. And doing a great job, we might also add.
But that's not all they were doing.
Brittlebush makes a good dining room, living room and bedroom.
Soon the flower patch will turn into a nursery.
Ladybugs (lady beetles) "keeping busy" on brittlebush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Associated Press reporter Gillian Flaccus wrote that a man illegally keeping bees on the roof of his West Los Angeles home may not have to worry any more since the City Council voted Wednesday, Feb. 12 to allow backyard beekeepers to keep bees.
That's good news for our urban beekeepers.
What troubles some folks, though--and rightfully so--is that the council agreed that when at all possible, feral bee colonies should be hived instead of destroyed.
Los Angeles has been the home of Africanized bees since the mid-1990s and some of those feral cololnies are indeed Africanized. They look the same, but their behavior isn't. Africanized honey bees, which the media has dubbed "killer bees," are much more aggressive than our European honey bees, established here in California in1853.
Flaccus also quoted beekeeper Ruth Askren, who relocates feral hives to backyards all over the city, as estimating that only 10 percent or fewer of the colonies she collects are so aggressive they must be destroyed.
"Currently, most hives discovered in the city's public right of ways or reported by concerned citizens," Flaccus wrote, "are wiped out because of worries about their aggressive genetics."
Mussen, who just received a grant with UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson to research Africanized bees in California, is following the story closely. He pointed out that Africanized bees were first detected in California in 1994, just outside Blyte in Riverside County.
Fact is, not all bees (especially highly aggressive Africanized bees) are worth saving.
Mussen wrote in one of his Bee Briefs, posted on his website: "While it does appear that over the decades the Africanized honey bees in southern California have lost some of their overly defensive behavior, they still are not predictable. At times a colony population is no more apt to become disturbed and defensive than our normally kept EHBs (European honey bees). At other times they respond quickly to minimal disturbance and defend a very large territory around the hive location. Such behavior is not restricted solely to AHB (Africanized Honey Bees), however colonies of EHBs demonstrating such intensive defensive behavior usually are 'requeened' or killed by beekeepers. Requeening is a process by which the original queen in the colony is located and removed.
"Then, a young queen, mated outside the range of AHB drones, is introduced into the colony. Over a period of four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and are replaced by daughters of the new queen. Defensive behavior becomes less intense as population replacement rogresses. Individuals and organizations in southern California are advocating collecting honey bee swarms and extracting colonies from buildings, etc., hiving them, and keeping them in backyards. The probability of hiving an AHB colony is relatively high."
Meanwhile, Mussen is fielding calls from news media, beekeepers and agencies.
One person wanted to know if Mussen's views are science-based. "No," Mussen said, "it's common sense."
Mussen offers two suggestions:
1. Beekeepers needing bees should order packages from an area outside AHB colonization, such as Northern California. Be careful about ordering from queen bee breeders in Texas, "as the state is covered with Africanized honey bees."
2. If feral bees are collected and hived, move the hive to a location where there will not be interactions with people and domestic animals. Allow the bees to fill the box and then conduct an inspection. It will take only a couple minutes to determine if the bees simply mind their own business or would likely cause problems for adjacent neighbors.
Mussen also warns that the new ordinance will be yanked if problems mount. If neighbors start complaining about swarms, or bees stinging people and pets en masse, or about scores of bees seeking water elsewhere (beekeepers need to provide for their colonies), that could happen.
Then, he says, beekeepers will have no one to blame but themselves.
This is a feral honey bee colony in a backyard in Vacaville, Solano County. Containing European honey bees, it was a joy to the resident before it collapsed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We know that honey bees work hard. They forage for food within a four-mile range of their hive. They can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and their wings can beat about 200 times per second, or 12,000 beats per minute. Sometimes they'll visit 50 to 100 flowers on a collection trip. No wonder worker bees live only four to six weeks during their peak season. They literally work themselves to death.
Matan Shelomi, doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, responded. He answers scores of questions on Quora. (He won a Shorty award for his answer to "If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?”).
Shelomi took the bee question to heart.
"Nope," he wrote. "No blood vessels."
"A heart attack is when fatty deposits, clots, etc. block the coronary artery that leads to the heart muscle. Blood flow to the heart muscle itself (as opposed to the pumping chambers) stops, so the muscle dies and the heart stops beating. So to have a heart attack, you need a heart and arteries."
"Insects have a heart, sometimes, but no arteries or veins. They have an open circulatory system: all their organs just float in a goo called 'hemolymph' that is a combination of lymph and blood. Some insects, bees included, have a heart and an aorta (the vessel leading out of the heart) that pumps the blood and gives it some semblance of direction (from the back of the insect to the front), but beyond that there is no circulatory system. The heart floats in the hemolymph along with everything else. No way to stop it from receiving blood flow, because it's surrounded by it.
"Furthermore, unlike human blood, insect blood doesn't carry oxygen. They have a special network of tubes called trachea that provide oxygen: think of it having air vessels go from your lungs all throughout your body instead of blood vessels. Conceivably the trachea leading to an insect heart could all get blocked by something from the outside, which would be the closest thing to a 'heart attack' in an insect, but there's no record of that happening and its unlikely anyway. So, nope, no insect can have a heart attack. Scare them to your heart's content."
So, this month being "American Heart Month" and all, we don't have to worry about honey bees having heart attacks. All drones (male bees), however, pay the ultimate price when they mate with a queen. During the in-flight mating process, parts of the male anatomy are ripped out and they die.
Honey bee heading toward rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)