Posts Tagged: Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility
Ever seen honey bees engaging in washboarding?
It's a behavior so named because they look as if they're scrubbing clothes on a washboard or scrubbing their home.
It occurs near the entrance of the hive and only with worker bees. They go back and forth, back and forth, a kind of rocking movement. No one knows why they do it. It's one of those unexplained behaviors they've probably been doing for millions of years.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, has witnessed washboarding scores of times. Last week the unusual behavior occurred on two of her hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. She hypothesizes that these bees are in the "unemployment line." It's a time when foraging isn't so good, so these bees are "sweeping the porch" for something to do, she speculates.
Emeritus professor Norman Gary of UC Davis Department of Entomology writes about it in his chapter, Activities and Behavior of Honey Bees, in the Dadant publication The Hive and the Honey Bee.
"They stand on the second and third pairs of legs and face the entrance. Their heads are bent down and the front legs are also bent," wrote Gary, who has kept bees for more than six decades. "They make 'rocking' or 'washboard' movements, thrusting their bodies forward and backward. At the same time they scrape the surface of the hive with their mandibles with a rapid shearing movement, sliding over the surface as if cleaning it."
They pick up some material and then clean their mandibles.
Gary thinks that "these rocking movements probably serve as a cleaning process by which the bees scrape and polish the surface of the hive."
Like most people, professor/biologist/bee researcher James Nieh of UC San Diego has never seen this behavior. Nieh, who recently presented at seminar at UC Davis, later commented "It is an interesting behavior that would be particularly fascinating to observe in natural colonies in trees. It does seem to involve some cleaning behavior, although it is possible that bees are depositing some olfactory compound while they are rubbing the surface with their mandibles. We are currently conducting research in my lab on the effects of bee mandibular gland secretions on foraging orientation behavior. A new set of experiments will involve examining the effect of mandibular gland secretions on bee behaviors at the nest. I will definitely consider looking at how this potential pheromone affects washboarding."
We managed to capture the behavior with our Iphone and posted it on YouTube.
It's interesting that of the some 25 research hives at the Laidlaw facility, occupants of two of Cobey's hives exhibited washboarding last week.
So, what are washboarding bees doing? Cleaning their home where pathogenic organisms might congregate, per a theory by Katie Bohrer and Jeffrey Pettis of the USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab?
Or are they just creating "busy work"--"sweeping the porch" for something to do?
It would be interesting to find out!
Honey bees engaging in washboarding behavior with "rocking" or up-and-down movements. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Foragers flying back to the hive as their sisters engage in washboarding activity on the wall, or what Susan Cobey calls "sweeping the front porch." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you head over to the 137th annual Dixon May Fair, the state's oldest continuous fair, you'll see a flurry of butterflies. The fair, located at 655 S. First St., Dixon, opened Thursday, May 10 and continues through Sunday, May 13.
Colorful specimens and butterfly posters from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, grace the Floriculture Building. Over in the Fine Arts and Photography Building and Today's Youth Building, scores of artists--young and young at heart--are displaying images or paintings of butterflies. In the Interior Living Showcase Building, a butterfly necklace sparkles.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility at UC Davis is showcasing a bee observation hive in the Floriculture Building, along with beekeeping equipment, a smoker, and informational posters. Also in the Floriculture Building, you'll see painted bee boxes, decorated with honey bees, from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
Ethel Calvello of Dixon, a retired teacher who painted the 26-foot-by-4-foot wall mural in the Wine Pavilion (complete with a bumble bee!), also created a ethereal butterfly painting exhibited in the Photography and Fine Arts Building. You can almost hear the wings fluttering.
This butterfly painting, in the Fine Arts and Photography Building is the work of retired teacher Ethel Calvello of Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly necklace by Marcella Segard of Fairfield is in the Interior Living Showcase Building. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This owl butterfly is from the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who holds a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University (WSU), believes that "increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests." Just as stock improvement has served the poultry, dairy and swine industries well, the beekeeping industry needs access “to stocks of origin or standardized evaluation and stock improvement programs,” she says.
You can hear her discuss her research on “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 2 in 122 Briggs Hall.
A UC Davis researcher since May 2007, Cobey is a former student of "Father of Honey Bee Genetics" Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., (1907-2003), for whom the UC Davis bee lab is named. She provided practical application to the Robert Page-Harry Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program (CPRP) theory in the development of the New World Carniolan line, in its 31st generation and now an industry standard.
"The many problems that currently face the U.S. honey bee population have underscored the need for sufficient genetic diversity at the colony, breeding, and population levels,” wrote Cobey and colleagues Walter “Steve” Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology and David Tarpy of North Carolina State University (formerly a graduate student at UC Davis) in a chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions (Contemporary Topics in Entomology).
European colonists brought a small subset of European bees to America before the U.S. Honey Bee Act of 1922 restricted further importation of Old World honey bees to prevent the introduction of the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi. These early importations represented "a limited sampling of several subspecies," Cobey said.
“The limited foundation stock has been propagated and expanded to establish the existing U.S. beekeeping industry. In addition, the destruction of a once widespread feral population by parasitic mites and the genetic consequences of large scale queen production practices have contributed to reduce genetic diversity in U.S. honey bee populations. “
Cobey is involved in a number of scientific research projects. She and fellow scientists and beekeepers from UC Davis, WSU and the California Bee Breeders' Association are working together to develop and test protocols for the international exchange of honey bee germplasm and to incorporate imported stocks into established U.S. breeding stocks.
Cobey is also involved in a newly formed international group devoted to preserving the Carniolan honey bee. Research that she co-developed was presented in March at the first International Symposium About the Carniolan Honey Bee in Slovenia. The conference drew scientists, researchers and queen breeders interested in the conservation of Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) and collaboration.
Cobey is known globally for her expertise on the instrumental insemination of queen bees; her classes on queen rearing and instrumental insemination attract students from all over the world.
So it's not surprising that she's in high demand as a speaker. Cobey has lectured throughout the United States, Central and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and was recently invited to Cuba for the 3rd Latin-American Beekeepers' Meeting and the 4th Cuban Beekeeping Congress.
Come November, Cobey will be a keynote speaker for the Apimondia Symposium on Honey Bee Breeding in Quebec.
If you're unable to attend the Cobey seminar at UC Davis, not to worry. It's scheduled to be videotaped and posted at a later date on UCTV.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey (center with frame) teaches a queen-bee rearing class. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beekeepers sometimes see a white-eyed drone in their hives--a genetic mutation.
All drones (male) honey bees, have these spectacular wrap-around eyes that are perfect for finding a virgin queen on her maiden flight. After all, the drone's sole purpose is to mate with a queen and then die. So, every afternoon in spring and summer, weather permitting, the drones fly from their individual colonies and gather in a drone congregation area and wait for a virgin queen to fly by. The queen will mate with 12 to 25 or so drones in in mid-air, some 20 to 50 feet above the ground. The drones immediately die after mating ("they die with a smile on their face" as beekeepers say). The queen bee? She returns to her hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life. She'll lay as many as 2000 eggs a day in peak season.
Life will be different for this white-eyed drone (below), a Caucasian (dark bee) at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis. Note that this is the same race that the European colonists brought to America beginning in the 1622. If the color looks unfamiliar, that's because today the most common bee in the United States is the Italian or honey-colored bee, not the Caucasian.
But, back to the white-eyed drone. Like other drones, he will be fed by his sisters, the worker bees. No reproduction for him, though. No gathering in the drone congregation area. No waiting for a queen.
All white-eyed drones are blind.
This is a white-eyed Caucasian (dark) honey bee drone. White-eyed drones are blind. In the foreground is honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a normal drone (male) honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It was the first swarm of the season at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
The bees swirled, darkening the sky, and then swarmed from one of bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey's hives around 2 p.m. It was a sight to "bee-hold." At the onset, the bees looked quite confused, as if not knowing what to do. (Well, after all, they'd never done this before!) Most joined the queen in a cluster on a nearby tree branch. A few stragglers touched down on leaves.
Still others headed buzzed over to the empty hive that Cobey had strategically placed below the swarm.
A few hours later, Cobey hived the swarm. Voila!
The entire scenario reminded us what biologist Thomas Seeley of Cornell University said when he addressed two separate UC Davis crowds on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.
Seeley, a professor in Cornell's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior (he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the functional organization of honey bee colonies), outlined what bees do when they swarm.
They do it, he said, through "swarm intelligence, the solving of a cognitive problem by two or more individuals who independently collect information and process it through social interactions."
"With the right organization, a group can overcome the cognitive limitations of its members and achieve a high collective IQ. To understand how to endow groups with swarm intelligence, it is useful to examine natural systems that have evolved this ability. An excellent example is a swarm of honey bees solving the life-or-death problem of finding a new home. A honey bee swarm accomplishes this through a process that includes collective fact-finding, open sharing of information, vigorous debating, and fair voting by the hundreds of bees in a swarm that function as nest-site scouts.”
In his informative book, The Honeybee Democracy, Seeley writes: "Beekeepers have long observed, and lamented, the tendency of their hives to swarm in the late spring and early summer. When this happens, the majority of a colony's members--a crowd of some 10,000 worker bees--flies off with the old queen to produce a daughter colony, while the rest stays at home and rears a new queen to perpetuate the parental colony. The migrating bees settle on a tree branch in a beardlike cluster and then hang there together for several hours or a few days. During this time, these homeless insects will do something truly amazing; they will hold a democratic debate to choose their new home."
What they do IS truly amazing. We watched the swirl of bees cluster on a tree branch where they paused, as if waiting for "directions." (Or a Google map?)
We didn't see what Seeley calls "the collective-decision making of the swarm" and "the democratic debate" but indeed that happened, as it's been happening for millions of years.
In the end, the Laidlaw bees all relocated to their new home.
Home, sweet home.
Honey bee swarm on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility grounds on Friday the 13th. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey catches the swarm. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees enter a strategically placed hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)