Backyard Orchard News
The news is not good.
The honey bee crisis is worsening.
Back in November of 2006, commercial beekeeper David Hackenberg of Pennsylvania sounded the alarm. Fifty 50 percent of his bees had collapsed in Florida. Other beekeepers came forward with equally bad news: some individuals reporting losing one-third to 100 percent of their bees.
Quickly referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomenon is characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, flying off and leaving behind the queen bee, brood and stored food.
Fast forward to today: a federal survey shows a heavy bee dieoff this winter, and research published last Friday in the journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) shows an alarming number of pesticides found in pollen and wax samples from 23 states and a Canadian province.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, agrees that bees are in trouble and the declining population is worsening. Scores of beekeepers have reported opening hives and finding them virtually empty.
Meanwhile, another federal survey on bee winter losses will take place April 1 through April 14. That should shed more light on a darkening crisis.
Perhaps CCD is due to a yet undiscovered virus. Perhaps it's due to a combination of factors: pesticides, diseases, pests, viruses, malnutrition and stress.
"Unexpected, periodic losses of honey bee colonies, very similar to this, have been noted in the bee journals since the late 1800s, but they tended to be very short term," Mussen says in his March 19th Bee Brief, published on the UC Davis Entomology Web site. "In 1965, 66, and 67 a similar problem persisted for three years. Our current session is the longest yet."
"The intensity of research on possible leads to the causes of CCD is increasing around the world, as other countries are having similar losses in their honey bee colonies," he writes in his Bee Brief. "The global nature of the problem suggests that some other, more fundamental aspect of the environment may be involved. Honey bees prosper best and are best able to resist diseases, parasites, exposures to toxins, etc. when they have fed on a quality diet.
"For bees in general, and honey bees in particular, that means a constant supply of pollens that provide their required proteins, vitamins, lipids, sterols, minerals, antioxidants and carbohydrates. While global warming may not directly challenge a species of insect that can prosper from very cold climates to the equator, climate change may result in more stress on the bees. Increased periods of dry, hot weather or cold, rainy weather, could limit availability and access to those important pollens. The bees will have to rear their brood at the expense of their body nutrient reserves. The brood will be less well fed, and in turn will not be good at rearing the next 'round of brood.' "
That sort of downward spiral, Mussen says, will leave the bees very fragile and susceptible.
The MAAREC Web site (Mid-Atlantic Apiculture and Extension Consortium) hosted by Pennsylvania State University, offers latest updates on the crisis.
Tending the Bees
When the annual California Agriculture Day took place yesterday on the state capitol grounds, thousands of visitors buzzed the booths learning more about the food they eat and the agriculturists that provide it.
But that wasn't the only buzz.
The California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) booth included a bee observation hive, a glassed-in hive where visitors could watch colony activity.
Brian Fishback of Wilton, president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association, pointed out the queen, worker bees (sterile females) and the drones (males) to the visitors, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Secretary of Agriculture A. G. Kawamura.
"Look," Fishback told a group of young children. "There's a boy bee. See him? And look, there's a bee ready to enter the world."
"One-third of the food you eat is pollinated by bees," he said.
The beekeepers' booth was staffed with bee experts, including UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty members Lynn Kimsey and Eric Mussen. Kimsey, a former beekeeper, directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology and is a professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology. Mussen, an Extension apiculturist or bee specialist, is active in national and state honey bee organizations. He currently serves as the CSBA parliamentarian.
Roger Everett of Porterville, president of CSBA, was there, along with CSBA secretary-treasurer Carlen Jupe. So was Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, chair of the California State Apiary Board and past president of the California State Beekeepers’ Association. Mike and Donna Tolmachoff of Madera represented the Central Valley Beekeepers’ Association; in fact, Mike serves as the president this year.
They handed out free honey bee sticks, "I Love Honey" stickers, recipe booklets, and bee fact sheets, and answered questions about bees. Crystal Hubbard of Häagen-Dazs distributed free ice cream. Some 40 percent of the ice cream brand’s flavors depend on honey bee pollination. Häagen-Dazs strongly supports honey bees. Their financial support includes bee research at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
So, how busy was the beekeepers' booth? They handed out 2600 honey bee sticks and 1500 individual servings of Häagen-Dazs.
Meanwhile, the bees in the observation hive just kept working, too.
California Agriculture Day
Bee Observation Hive
To a beekeeper, it's a four-letter word.
Specifically, the varroa mite, also known as Varroa destructor.
It's a small (think flea-sized) crab-shaped parasite that feeds on bees, either in the brood (immature bees) or on adult bees.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, just updated his Bee Brief on this blood sucker. His Bee Briefs, all posted online on the department Web site, can be downloaded for free.
This Bee Brief is titled "Treating Colonies for Varroa Mite Infestations." (You'll also want to read his updated colony collapse disorder (CCD) Bee Brief.)
It's apparent, Mussen says, that resistant mites are now prevalent in the United States, including California.
"Chemical testing has demonstrated that varroa mites commonly are resistant to fluvalinate, coumaphos and amitraz. Losses of wintering colonies were over twice as high as 'normal' during the early 2000s, with one of the worst losses (40 to 60 percent) of California (and total U.S.) commercial colonies over the 2005-05 winter. Infested colonies dwindled away during the fall and winter."
Meanwhile, a hive without a varroa mite is a scarcity indeed.
You can see varroa mites on the larva (below) and on an adult bee.
Just think if you had a blood sucker on you like that.
Mite on Pupa
Honey bees sip nectar from the Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias wulfenii) planted in our bee friendly garden.
So do flies.
Last weekend several flies flashing colors as brilliant as those blue morpho butterflies landed on the evergreen shrub.
It wasn't your basic green bottle fly. No, indeed.
This fly was the European blue bottle fly, Calliphora vicinia, as identified by UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey.
Check out the photos below showing the metallic blue-silvery coloration of the thorax and abdomen.
C. vicinia is known as a "colder-weather bottle fly," prevalent in early spring and fall when temperatures are relatively cool, about 55-75 Fahrenheit. It lays its eggs in dead bodies and sometimes inside infected wounds in healthy tissue. It's a fly species of significant forensic importance.So here was this blue bottle fly on green blossoms.
The fly was gathering some quick energy, a sugar high.
The museum houses some seven million specimens.
And that includes...drum roll...the European blue bottle fly.
Blue on Green
Sip of Nectar
The number of new housing developments throughout the country continues to shrink as we struggle with the throes of a deep recession.That's with human housing, not in a healthy honey bee hive.
The bees are busy building up their colonies, just as they do every spring. Spring officially begins Saturday, March 21, but don't tell that to the bees.
Their rapid build-up is in full swing (unless the colony is suffering from colony collapse disorder and other ailments).
The queen bee is laying eggs, the worker bees (sterile females) are tending the hive and foraging, and the drones (males) are flying out in mid-afternoon to try to mate with a virgin queen.
Watch closely inside the hive and you'll see the queen bee poke her head inside a cell that the worker bees have prepared for her. "The queen bee examines every cell before she lays an egg in it," says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. The workers decide if the colony needs more workers, drones or more queen bees and build cells accordingly.
Just think of the bureaucracy involved if bees were human. Human construction development involves concept goals, a project vision, site evaluation, financial sources, market and feasibility studies, regulatory requirements, consultations with governmental agencies, planning approvals, environmental impact reports (EIRs), building permits, construction bids, neighborhood protests (Not in My Back Yard!), and scores of inspections.
The paperwork alone would weigh down thousands of honey bees and send them spinning.
Interesting that when humans are born, they go through a long learning process. When bees emerge from their cells, they're genetically programmed and know just what to do.
And they do it.
Without EIRs and building permits.
Inspecting a Cell