Posts Tagged: Susan Cobey
Varroa mites, those pesky little parasites that suck the blood out of honey bees and spread multiple viruses, are now found throughout the world, except in Australia.
Scientists blame these parasites as one of the causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD), characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive and leaving behind the queen, brood and food stores. They attribute CCD to a multitude of factors, including pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, viruses, malnutrition and stress. Thus, varroa mites are a key factor in the declining honey bee population.
Today's honey bees are ill-equipped to rid their hives of a varroa mite infestation. Indeed, beekeepers consider the varroa mite (scientific name Varroa destructor) as Public Enemy No. 1.
And that's one of the reasons why we like bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey's efforts to increase the genetic diversity in our domestic honey bee gene pool.
Cobey, who has a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, is directing a stock improvement program which aims to do just that.
"Increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees will lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests," she says.
"We have collected and imported honey bee semen (germplasm) from their original European homeland to inseminate select domestic queens produced by the California bee breeders," Cobey told us. These California breeders supply queen bees and package bees nationwide. Honey bees, as Cobey points out, "provide the essential pollination for our crops, especially in California, "the breadbasket" of our country and our world.
Cobey and her team have also re-introduced the subspecies, Apis mellifera caucasica, a dark race of bee known for its collection and use of propolis, self-medicating plant resins.
What does a mite look like? Check out the mite-infested drone below. A boy bee's only duty is to gather in the drone congregation area and mate with the queen during her maiden flight, but that won't happen with this one. No thanks to the parasitic mites, he has a weakened immune system, crippling his ability to fly.
What will happen to him? His sisters will kick him out of the hive and he will die.
The lifespan of this mite-infested drone will be short. The brownish-orange "bumps" are varroa mites. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of varroa mite on drone pupa. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Our yard is filled with such bee friendly plants as salvia, lavender, catmint and rock purslane.
Lately, however, the honey bees have taken a liking to the sugar-water mixture from our hummingbird feeder. Manufacturers' bee guards are meant to deter them but frankly, we rather like attracting both the hummers and the buzzers.
"The bees are hungry," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis and Washington State University.
We like watching the honey bees gather at the "red fountain" as the sun sets. They buzz excitedly around the feeder, sip what they think is a nectar of the gods, and head back to their hive. Soon more of their sisters arrive to partake.
So, will the honey bees make red honey from the sugar-water mixture in the hummingbird feeder? No. The honeycomb will be tinted red, but it's not honey, said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. It's syrup. Sugar syrup.
Honey bees gather around a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of honey bee sipping a sugar-water mixture. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Late afternoon sun backlights a honey bee. (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)
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)
"How do I become a beekeeper?" he asked.
A very good question, and one that the UC Davis Department of Entomology answers a lot. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen who's been with the department since 1976, is keen on helping.
"My advice to anyone who wishes to start keeping honey bees," Mussen says, "is to try to do the following, in order, if possible."
- Find and read some books on how-to-do-it beekeeping. They can be the less expensive paperbacks, like “Beekeeping for Dummies.”
- Try to find a beginning beekeeping course being taught this spring in your area. Many of the local clubs conduct such classes. (See this page)
- Try to become a member of a local beekeeping club. The members can help you get started and tell you what to watch out for in the neighborhood. If you cannot find a nearby club, see if you can find a nearby beekeeper to give you some tips. Some beekeepers list their services in the phone book Yellow Pages, under beekeeper or beekeeping.
But what about that reconditioned bee hive?
"It would be best to determine why the previous owner is no longer keeping bees," Mussen says. "If the colony died off due to American foulbrood (AFB) disease, the infectious spores will still be in the equipment. Putting new bees on the combs will simply result in loss of the new colony to disease. This is why I suggest that you become acquainted with an experienced beekeeper. He or she will be able to examine your used equipment to determine if it contains 'scales' of an old AFB infection. You can look up this information on the web or in textbooks, but until you have seen the scales, personally, it is hard to detect them."
How do you obtain bees for your hive? There are several ways.
"You can obtain bees by collecting swarms, extracting colonies from current hives, or by doing what most beginning beekeepers do, purchasing 'packages.' A package is a wire screen box containing either two or three pounds of bulk bees and a mated queen confined in her own separate cage. You take four frames out of your bee box, remove the lath holding the food can in the package, take out the queen cage and put it in your shirt pocket, dump and shake the bulk bees into the hive, spread the clump of bees out with your hive tool, and replace the four frames."
"Take the queen cage out of your pocket and, using a toothpick or wooden match stick, push a small hole through the queen candy at one end of the queen cage (you may need to remove a cork from the candy end, but I doubt it – DON’T IMPALE THE QUEEN!). Then, position the queen cage between two combs such that the screen is available to the bees at all times. Squeeze the two combs together to hold the queen cage in that appropriate position and close up the hive. Within three days, the bees should have chewed out the candy and liberated the queen. She will begin laying in another day or two. You can check for eggs a week after you installed the package."
"If all of this sound like gibberish and lingo to you, it is time to start a heavy dose of reading on bees and beekeeping," Mussen suggests.
Excellent advice! It's especially important when you're poking around with a matchstick not to "impale the queen!"
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University shows how to hold a queen--by the thorax. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A frame of Susan Cobey's New World Carniolan bees (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)