Posts Tagged: honey bees
That's the question PBS Newshour asked Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for its "Just Ask" feature.
Mussen, who retired in June after 38 years of service but continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall on the UC Davis campus, has been stung plenty of times. And the whole world knew it when this photo of "The Sting" (below) went viral.
When a bee stings, it cannot remove its barbed stinger without yanking out its abdominal tissue, aka "guts." It's basically a suicide mission in defense of its hive. Of the three castes in the colony, only the female worker bee dies when it stings. The queen can sting multiple times. The drone (male) has no stinger.
The stinger is hollow and pointed, like a hypodermic needle, Mussen told PBS Newshour reporter Anna Christiansen. The stinger, he explained, contains two rows of lancets, or saw-toothed blades.
Christianson also quoted Mark Winston, biologist and author of Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive (Harvard University Press) as saying that the blades alternate, “scissoring together into your flesh."
"It looks — and works — like a screw anchor, meaning that once in, the stinger can't retract," Christianson wrote. "Muscles connect the stinger to a venom sac, from which a cell-destroying toxin is pumped into the hole."
Mussen further explains bee stings in a UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Pest Note, Bee and Wasp Stings.
"Stingers are effective weapons because they deliver a venom that causes pain when injected into the skin," Mussen wrote. "The major chemical responsible for this is melittin; it stimulates the nerve endings of pain receptors in the skin. The result is a very uncomfortable sensation, which begins as a sharp pain that lasts a few minutes and then becomes a dull ache. Even up to a few days later, the tissue may still be sensitive to the touch."
"The body responds to stings by liberating fluid from the blood to flush venom components from the area. This causes redness and swelling at the sting site. If this isn't the first time the person has been stung by that species of insect, it is likely that the immune system will recognize the venom and enhance the disposal procedure. This can lead to very large swelling around the sting site or in a whole portion of the body. The area is quite likely to itch. Oral and topical antihistamines should help prevent or reduce the itching and swelling. Try not to rub or scratch the sting site, because microbes from the surface of the skin could be introduced into the wound, resulting in an infection."
Mussen says that nearly everyone has been stung by an insect at one time or another., and for beekeepers, it comes with the occupation. "It's an unpleasant experience that people hope not to repeat, but for most people the damage inflicted is only temporary pain," Mussen wrote. "Only a very limited portion of the population—one to two people out of 1,000—is allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings. Although this publication is about stings from bees and wasps, the information pertains to stings from fire ants as well."
He warns that it is important to remove the stinger immediately because the venom will continue to pump for 45 to 60 seconds following a sting. Mussen usually scrapes and removes the stinger with a fingernail. "Much has been written about the proper way to remove a bee stinger, but new information indicates it doesn't matter how you get it out as long as it is removed as soon as possible. Fingernails or the edge of a credit card are both effective tools. If a stinger is removed within 15 seconds of the sting, the severity of the sting is reduced."
A honey bee embeds its stinger in the wrist of Eric Mussen and then tries to pull away. Note the abdominal tissue trailing. (This is an actual photo of a bee sting; it was not posed.) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Better, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who today published the last edition of his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. Last? "Or, it's the last edition I'm solely responsible for."
Mussen retired in June after 38 years of service. Now it's "Welcome, Elina Lastro," who joined the department this week.
"The summary data from this spring's suvey on winter colony loss is available for review on beeinformed.org, the public's entry to information from the Bee Informed Parnership (BIP)," Mussen wrote. "Since it is called winter loss, it does not necessarily record the total losses in many operations because colonies are lost over the entire year, picking up considerably in fall and winter. Until recently the summer losses, often replaced using colony splits, were unreported. The good news is that the national average loss declined to 20.7 percent, the best in about a decade. Not many beekeepers blamed CCD (no logical explanation) for their losses, but mites and starvation were leading explanations."
Mussen pointed out that "since the data was listed by state averages, I wondered if that data were placed on a map of the U.S., could we see some sort of regional patterns." So, he did just that.
"Using colored pencils and scribbling, I colored like a kindergartner (or at least like I did in kindergarten and still do.), I did not see much of a pattern that stuck out. The states with the highest average losses (over 60 percent) did form a cluster (Illinois, Indiana and Michigan). The states with losses in the 50 percent range were all east of the Mississippi River: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. States with losses in the 40 percent range were spread equally all over the country: Oregon, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut.
"States with losses in the 30 percent range filled in a swath of states just south of the 50 and 60 percent losses, as well as Washington, Utah, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. States with losses in the 20 percent range included seven of our southeastern states: Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas. California, Idaho, Oklahoma and Hawaii showed state average losses below 20 percent."
A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Foxgloves, meet the European wool carder bee.
European wool carder bee, meet the foxgloves.
It's like "old home week" when these two get together. The plant (Digitalis purpurea) and the bee (Anthidium manicatum) are both native to Europe.
European wool carder bees, so named because the females collect or "card" leaf fuzz for their nests, were introduced in New York in 1963, and then began spreading west. They were first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) arrived in America 341 years before their cousins. European colonists brought the honey bee to America (Jamestown colony, Virginia) in 1622, but the honey bees didn't make it to California (San Jose area) until 1853.
Now they're together again, so to speak, but it's not a happy situation when a male wool carder bee spots a foraging honey bee.
Male European wool carder bees are very aggressive and territorial. They'll "bonk" other insects that land on "their" flowers such as lamb's ear, catmint and basil. They'll bodyslam honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and even a hungry praying mantis or an eight-legged spider (arachnid) or two. It's all about trying to save the floral resources for their own species so they can mate and reproduce.
One thing is certain: honey bees forage faster when those foxy male European wool carder bees buzz the garden.
They know each other well.
Male European wool carder bee heads for a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's inside? This male European carder bee is investigating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey(
Male European carder bee (right) targeting a honey bee that is seeking nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European wool carder bee nestled inside a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We've trained puppies to "come," "sit" and "heel."
We've trained an African grey parrot to say "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! Meow!"
We've trained the kitty to ignore the parrot.
But how do you train a praying mantis?
Our resident praying mantis, the lean green machine, conceals himself in the African blue basil. That's been home, sweet home for the past week. Before that, it was the lantana, catmint, Mexican sunflower and cosmos. He goes where the bees are and the bees are now all over the African blue basil.
We cannot create a "No fly zone." We cannot ban the bees from traveling. And we cannot ban the praying mantis from doing what he does best: ambushing prey and eating them.
Lately, however, he's allowed us to photograph him in the early morning, before his bee breakfast.
He does not respond to "Say cheese!"
Nor does he respond to "Say bee!" Or "Say Apis mellifera!"
You cannot train a praying mantis.
Praying mantis stretches in the African blue basil. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A little aerobics under the cosmos, as a bee does a flyover. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's not "Say cheese!" It's "Say bee!" (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's no secret that honey bees like the sugar/water mixture in hummingbird feeders. If there's no bee guard on the feeder or if the feeder isn't bee-proofed, bees will sip the mixture. They also will lick the spills. A sudden gust that sways or upends the feeder is "bee happy time."
However, should we be attracting honey bees to our hummingbird feeders and/or providing them with sugar/water syrup? Is the syrup mixture good for the bees?
Curious minds want to know.
One rural East Bay Area area resident who feeds the hummers and caters to honey bees in her garden asked that very question. Since bee guards prevent the short-tongued bees from reaching the food (hummers, as we all know, have long tongues), she hung "plant saucers from a tree with sponge in one and a terrycloth towel in the other so the liquid doesn't cause them to drown, and the bees swarm all over it to eat the sugar water. I can go through two gallons of sugar water a day. Who knew bees could eat so much."
"Bees are in trouble elsewhere but not here," she shared. "I didn't intend to be a bee feeder. I don't have hives for them or collect their honey."
The bees come to eat and she enjoys watching them eat. Her intention is to help the bees. "Walking into a swarm of bees to fill their feeders is thrilling. I don't hurt them and they don't hurt me. And having them here is a simple way for me to educate people about the importance of bees and contrary to the common belief that we need to be afraid of them. People leave here with a different view of their gentleness and importance."
She makes a 3-to-1 ratio (three parts water, one part sugar) for the hummers and bees. However, her neighbors wonder if she is harming them "because they need the protein from pollen" and the bees "might find the sugar water addictive."
Will it harm them?
Newly retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has answered a lot of humminbird feeder/bee questions during his 38-year career.
"Feeding honey bee colonies sugar syrup has been going on since man determined how to refine sugar from beets and canes," Mussen said. "However, in most cases, we feed these syrups to honey bee colonies only when they are short on nectar at times when nectar is critically important, especially for brood rearing in the spring and for making sure there is enough food in the hive to get the bees through winter."
"Nectars contain very small amounts of numerous plant-derived micronutrients that are essential to honey bees," he pointed out. "We have known that all along, but recently some research has documented that components of honey make the honey better for bees than sugar syrup. Honey-fed bees have more robust immune systems, they learn locations of food sources more rapidly, and they forage more quickly than sugar syrup-fed bees."
So, the question: Is she harming the honey bee colonies with the syrup feeders?
"I doubt it," Mussen said. "Some beekeepers feed hundreds of colonies from open buckets of sugar syrup in southern U.S. beekeeping operations, and their colonies do just fine. However, I counsel against such an approach, since the strongest and least needy colonies get most of the syrup, leaving little behind for the weaker, more needy colonies. Each should be fed individually with a hive feeder."
So bottom line, "If you wish to continue feeding the bees, they will keep taking the syrup. However, since it is not nectar, the bees will be 'robbing' the syrup from its source. The problem with that is that once robbing gets started, bees from one colony begin to try robbing from neighboring colonies. The bees fight at the entrances and many are killed. I am sure that we can say that many colonies are benefitting from your syrup in one respect--just like the hummers--but there are downsides to the practice."
In addition, beekeepers may find their honeycomb tinted red or polka-dotted. It's not honey; it's syrup.
A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)