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As Honeybees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

By Sasha Ingber via nationalgeographic.com

Not every bee may count, but Sam Droege is counting every bee.

On Saturdays, the head of the landmark Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey leaves his straw-bale house, where bees burrow in the walls, and goes to his office—for pleasure. From his desk, a recycled segment of a lane from a bowling alley, he pores over bee specimens with a microscope.

“I’m looking deeply into [their] eyes to see what they reveal,” said Droege. “I’m looking for species in potential trouble, gathering information on their status before they’re designated an endangered species.” (See “Intimate Portraits of Bees” for more of Droege’s bee pictures.)

Droege is pioneering the first national inventory of indigenous wild bees, a task of growing importance. The buzz started in 2006 when honeybees, the non-native species used commercially to pollinate crops, began to mysteriously vanish after leaving their hives. If honeybees continue to wane in coming decades, scientists believe wild bees could save our crops. (See “The Plight of the Honeybee.”)

Problems for Pollinators

More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have disappeared in the past ten years. Though native to Eurasia and northern Africa, honeybees pollinate a third of the American diet, from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton. In 2010 they contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops. (Related: “U.S. Honeybee Losses Not as Severe This Year.“)

Pesticides, fungicides, and viruses, among other factors, have contributed to the honeybees’ decline. Though they lack a traditional vertebrate circulatory system, they’re vulnerable to parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, which deforms their bodies and shortens their life span.

Little is known about the hardiness of the honeybee’s native counterpart, the mostly solitary wild bee. Many scientists believe that wild bee populations were once greater, but have dwindled as land was developed and agriculture intensified.

Home gardeners may also be contributing to the bees’ habitat loss. Gardeners with a love of exotic plants often uproot native ones, not realizing that this deprives most pollinators of their food. Other factors limiting the bees’ food supply include the effects of climate change, droughts, floods, and flowers blooming prematurely as the days grow warmer.

The Bees in Our Backyard

“People were collecting bees in the early 1900s, but they weren’t doing quantitative analyses,” said Georgetown University biologist Edd Barrows.

In 1998, Barrows gathered bees in Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia, using mesh, tentlike structures called Malaise traps. The bees he collected then—still awaiting examination due to lack of time and funds—could serve as a historical reference point to show scientists how the preserve’s bee fauna is changing due to water and air pollution, erosion, and invasive plants.

“We need to have some way of measuring whether native bees are increasing or decreasing,” said Droege.

His own survey methods are unconventional, albeit familiar to scientists on shoestring budgets. To collect bees, plastic party cups act as pan traps. (Droege says the idea stems from the 1970s, when butchers gave their customers yellow pans, which people would fill with soapy water to catch bugs outside.)

Workers from New Horizons Supported Services, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities in Maryland gain employment, paint the cups to mimic the colors bees prefer in flowers. Then the cups are filled with propylene glycol—the same substance used to maintain moisture in food, medicine, and cosmetics. Its low surface tension means that insects will sink to the bottom. Every two weeks, the traps are emptied by volunteers.

After that the bees are washed, dried, and stored at the USGS lab in repurposed pizza boxes. Their deaths serve as a chance to learn about, and monitor, potentially endangered native bee species.

The biggest problem is telling the bees apart. Bees are often difficult to differentiate, and about 400 species—ten percent of North America’s bees—lack names. (Compare that to the 1,000 ant species that have been named.)

“[They're] not something someone like a birder could look at, and say, ‘That’s a robin,’” said biologist Daniel Kjar of Elmira College in New York.

So Droege spends hours trying to identify species. His team captures the pitting on their skin, the striations of hair on their abdomens, and other physical traits with a macro lens camera—a sort of insect portraiture. Droege says these body features may help bees avoid predation and attract mates.

Harvesting the Unknown

Today, scientists will go to great lengths to study the small insects.

Sean Brady, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology, is studying evolutionary relationships between different bee species. He’s sequencing their genetic material, which can cost between $10,000 and $50,000 for a complete genome.

He’s also interested in understanding why, among certain bee species that produce offspring twice in a season, the first brood spends its lifetime caring for the second hatching instead of reproducing. The work may help him understand the social behavior and pollination strategy of wild bees.

“The unknown can be a good thing,” said Brady. “There is a lot to learn in the next 10 to 20 years.”

In 2010 and 2011, Brady and Droege set up traps in the cacti and thorn scrub of Guantanamo Bay, where the native habitat is preserved in the midst of the prison camp. They collected more than a third of the bee species that live on the entire island of Cuba. A new species they discovered was quickly named—Megachile droegei, after Droege.

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Beehive Air-Conditioning via @nytimes

Q. Why are honeybees drinking water from my birdbath?

A. The birdbath may be closer to the hive than a natural source of water, said Cole Gilbert, a Cornell entomologist. Or the bees may have discovered it while foraging for nectar and pollen, then returned when conditions in the colony changed.

Bees collect water from many nonpure sources — even urine, by one report, Dr. Gilbert said — but prefer pure water, like that in a birdbath, when specifically foraging for it.

The most important factor in a hive’s water requirements is temperature control in the area where larvae are raised.

Water is collected by the same means as nectar, by sucking through the proboscis, Dr. Gilbert said. It is stored in the honey stomach, a pouch where nectar is also stored. “When foragers return to the hive, the water is regurgitated and passed by trophallaxis, a fancy word for mouth to mouth, from the forager bee to a younger hive bee,” he said.

While the hive bee smears droplets on the comb, other bees hang out near the hive entrance, fanning their wings to increase airflow through the hive. The vaporizing droplets remove heat.

When extra water is needed, a hive bee signals to a forager bee by refusing to take her nectar for some time. When it is eventually accepted, the forager bee looks for water on her next foray.

[view original article via nytimes]

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

BEES KNEES art exhibition in St. Louis

ATTN: ST. LOUIS HONEYLOVERS <3!!!

July 19th Alexi Era Gallery is throwing a BEES KNEES art exhibition at their gallery where 100% of the proceeds go to HoneyLove!! Beautiful honey bee inspired postcards, honey tasting, wine and food! There will also be 10 larger art pieces posted online for the rest of us to bid on!

Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/710777705630253/

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLovin

Spokane Washington bans neonicotinoid pesticides

Another City Has Made Its Public Spaces Safer for Bees

Spokane, Wash., is the latest city to pass an ordinance limiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

 

It’s happening very slowly, one midsize to large city at a time, but the Pacific Northwest is inching its way toward becoming a haven for honeybees. Earlier this week, Spokane, Wash., joined Eugene, Ore., and Seattle in passing citywide bans on neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide that’s widely believed to be harming the pollinators that play such an important role in our agriculture system—a full 33 percent of the crops grown worldwide depend on honeybees.

The 5–2 city council vote (the dissenting votes came from two councilmembers who said the research wasn’t convincing enough) came just after Pollinator Week, amid a rush of bee-related news. There was President Obama’s announcement of a Pollinator Health Task Force, a preview of a report that says neonics are worse for bees than DDT, and another study that showed that the supposedly bee-friendly plants you can purchase at major retail chains contain high levels of the pesticide. Eight years after the first instances of colony collapse disorder occurred, sparking increased interest in pollinator health among both scientists and environmentalists, it appears that new momentum is building behind efforts to protect bees.

In Spokane, the new ordinance won’t cover all city-owned land, as the parks department manages a chunk of public property, but it has assured City Council President Ben Stuckart that neonics aren’t being used in Spokane’s parks. The ordinance mandates that “no department may knowingly purchase or use products or products in packaging containing neonicotinoids,” but it does not apply to personal use of the pesticide on private property.

“This ordinance simply says Spokane prioritizes the protection of our food supply over the ornamental use of pesticides,” Stuckart said in a statement.

Spokane may not have a vested economic interest in protecting honeybees, but Washington state certainly benefits from the estimated $15 billion in increased crop value the bees bring with their highly efficient pollination. The state is the country’s leading apple producer, and the 175,000-some acres of orchards that grow there depend on a healthy population of honeybees and other insects to yield a good crop.

What remains unclear is whether limiting the use of neonics will help stem the nearly one-third of managed beehives that die off every year, on average. Dave Goulson, a professor at the University of Sussex in England, who worked on the latest neonic study, told the BBC he wasn’t in favor of an outright ban. “I think we should use them much more judiciously,” he said. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland, told me something similar, saying, “I think it’s a little bit naive to think that if we ban neonics, all of our problems will go away.”

The federal Pollinator Health Task Force doesn’t promise any sweeping ban, but perhaps the local actions of cities like Spokane can help propel more measured reforms—ones that could bring limits on neonics and other chemicals that are harmful to bees—out of the city and onto farms.

[Read original article via takepart.com]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

Boulder neighborhood state’s first to be declared ‘bee-safe’

Melody-Catalpa volunteers secure pledges to shun pesticides
By Charlie Brennan 

The Melody-Catalpa neighborhood of Boulder is proudly wearing the mantle of the first “bee-safe” locality in Colorado.

It may not be a title for which there was fierce competition, but those in the roughly 200 households of the north Boulder neighborhood who signed a pledge not to use neonicotinoids or similar systemic pesticides are buzzing with excitement over earning the distinction.

Three neighborhood residents earlier this year banded together to sign on about 20 volunteers to go door to door. And, faster than they’d dared hope, they convinced more than half of the area’s 389 households to sign a pledge not to use neuroactive chemicals that many believe are contributing to the colony collapse phenomenon reported in global honeybee populations.

Those doing so were awarded green flags, signifying their commitment, to plant in their front lawns. Some homes there have not yet been contacted by the volunteers, but will be.

“We felt really good about it,” said Anne Bliss, one of the three organizers and a resident of the 3500 block of Catalpa Way. “We thought we would finish this by the end of May, and we more than had our goal really quickly. It took us a couple weeks.”

Molly Greacen, another of the drivers behind the Melody-Catalpa bee-safe initiative, said, “The real concern is that if we can get lots of other people to get excited about this idea, then all of Boulder can become bee-safe.”

[view full article via dailycamera.com]

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Los Angeles in June

via Susan Rudnicki

honeylove-10a_Snapseed

BEEks —we are going into high summer, and if all health is good in your colonies and the brood nest has been managed successfully to prevent swarms, you should be able to harvest honey from hives 2 years and older. Note the age—new hives, from this Spring or Winter are needing you to let them keep their stores for building up.

We are in a strong drought of three years duration, so if you live near the foothills and your bees must rely on lots of natives for pollen and nectar, they may be finding the pickings slim. You may need to feed them. Only inspection and conferring with other knowledgeable beeks will help you determine this. Please utilize the great opportunity HoneyLove offers as a networking resource by attending our educational meetings and events and using the Forum to advance your confidence by posing questions. Beekeeping is a extended learning curve craft with lots of nuances.

photo by rebeccacabage.com

Stay up on your inspection schedule (every 2 – 3 weeks)  and keeping records of when you do them, what you see, and what you think your observations portend for the colony.  Drone brood frames discovered in the brood nest can be moved up to the top box and after the drones hatch, this area is often filled with honey.

Keep  your ant control barriers in good order for young hives, weak hives, or recently hived swarms, cutouts or trap-outs. They NEED this cheap, easy and effective insurance from you.

Please take the time to be observant of all the flowering trees, shrubs, and annual flowers that your bees use for their food.  Eucalyptus, Mellaleucas, Grevilleas, Grewia and many others  are blooming now—we should strive to know these plants and their bloom cycles to truly know our bees.

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, Yay Bees

PODCAST: Michael Bush on Treatment Free Beekeeping

Podcast via kiwimana

Michael Bush
Treatment Free Beekeeper / Author and Speaker from Nebraska
WEBSITE: http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm
BOOK: “The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally” http://goo.gl/1l747d

Want more? Watch the HoneyLove video interviews with Michael Bush below!

AND! Please click below to subscribe to HoneyLove on YouTube!!
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How LA homes lost their hives

via Mark Vallianatos
historyofbeesinamerica
The decision by the Los Angeles City Council to consider legalizing bee-keeping on single family properties raises the question: why were backyard bees banned in the first place? While researching some zoning and building code changes, I came across a council file from the 1940s that contained dueling petitions on beekeeping in the west San Fernando Valley. This sparked my interest in how Los Angeles has regulated bees over the years, especially through the zoning code. Zoning is a tool that local jurisdictions utilize to regulate land use. The zoning of residential properties, and what agricultural uses were allowed on single family homes, changed as Los Angeles transformed from the nation’s leading farming region to a suburban and industrial powerhouse.  I’ve tracked down a partial history of the regulation of bee-keeping in the city of LA.  These controls on (and controversies about) bees represent competing visions of the city and how we should live in it. I hope reflecting on when and why LA homes “lost their hives” can provide context that will be useful as the City re-legalizes urban bee-keeping.

J.P. McIntyre and his bees, circa 1880 | California Historical Society

Bee-keeping grew alongside Agriculture in Southern California and the benefits of bees to farmers and the economy were widely recognized.  The keeping of bees was, however, banned within the city limits of Los Angeles on June 10th 1879. A decade later, in 1889, when the city adopted its first home-rule city charter, the power to restrict bees was enshrined in a list of nuisances. The Charter authorized Los Angeles “to suppress and prohibit … the keeping of bees within the city limits, and any and all obnoxious, offensive, immoral, indecent or disreputable places of business or practice.”  (Charter of the City of Los Angeles as Adopted, January 1889).
Was bee-keeping really considered to be that bad? Some of the other activities on the charter’s list of problematic businesses, like bawdy-houses and gambling dens, were regulated out of moral concerns. Others, such as laundries and cattle yards, were considered to be types of businesses that should be limited to certain areas because of the risks (fire, odors, etc) associated with their operations. Bee-keeping fell into this latter type of activity. I was surprised to see, in news accounts from the late 19th century, that the biggest perceived threat from bee hives wasn’t people getting stung by bees. It was the belief that bees threatened the fruit crop fruit by eating and stinging pieces of fruit. Proponents of banning bee-keeping in LA also cited the danger posed to horses by swarms of bees.

This law didn’t stop all bee-keeping in residential areas. As the City grew by annexing surrounding land, exceptions to the bee ordinance were made for newly added districts that were primarily agricultural. In 1915,  the San Fernando Valley was exempted from the bee-keeping ban when it was annexed to LA. The ban itself didn’t seem to be widely enforced in parts of the city where it did apply.  A 1917 Los Angeles Times article on the benefits of back-yard bee-keeping, for example, dismissed the law against bees as “an ancient and still-unrepealed city ordinance.” (‘Back-Yard Bee Keeping Cuts Living Cost Here.’ Los Angeles Times, Jan 28, 1917.)

The legality of the ‘ancient’ ordinance was eventually tested at the California Supreme Court. In 1936, Mrs. Edna Ellis was accused of violating the LA city ordinance by keeping five hives of bees at a residential property on the 4000 block of Sequoia St. The Deputy City Attorney prosecuting the case called bees “a nuisance” and “vicious.” “They are stinging people all over the neighborhood,” he claimed. “Children go outside and get stung. They can’t even pick flowers.” In her defense, Mrs. Ellis told the court: “I love bees. To me, they’re pets… Like cats and dogs to some people. My father kept bees before me and I have been keeping them myself for twenty-five years.” (‘Court Hears Bee Defense: Woman Accused of Keeping Apiary in Violation of City Ordinance.’ Los Angeles Times. June 27, 1936.) Ellis was convicted and appealed the decision, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court accepted her statements about “the benefits to the residents in her community resulting from the cross-pollination of the fruit blossoms and flowers in addition to the commercial value of the bees” but still found that there is “a reasonable basis for the exercise of the police power in prohibiting beekeeping within the city limits,” upholding the law and Ellis’ conviction.  (In re Ellis, 11 cal.2d 571, 1938.)

As World War II drew to a close, LA planners tried to balance the San Fernando’s Valley’s agricultural heritage with pent-up demand for space for housing and industry. It was on this shifting terrain that arguments about bees started to define what types of residential properties were suitable for keeping hives. In April 1945, 13 residents of Canoga Park sent a petition to the Los Angeles City Council requesting a law “prohibiting stands of bees in the west end of the San Fernando Valley. Bees in this locality are not only a nuisance and danger, but they cause a great deal of damage to crops such as peaches, grapes and others. .. As they ripen, the bees sting the fruit and cause them to rot. It is dangerous to try to gather fruit with so many bees around. At present, people who live in the city, but who own vacant acres, are putting in bees just to annoy those of us who really make our homes out here.” (Council File 19744, April 23, 1945).

Los Angeles City staff and the Council’s Public Health and Welfare Committee considered this request. They concluded that it was unreasonable to outlaw bee keeping in agricultural parts of the valley and that “expert testimony does not support the contention that bees really damage fruit.”  (May 5, 1945 letter from Chas Senn, Director of Sanitation to George M. Uhl, MD, Health Officer). In early April, 1946, the City Council, did direct the City Attorney to draft an ordinance to prohibit keeping bees in congested parts of the San Fernando Valley. This move prompted another group of Canoga Park residents to send a competing petition to Council: “we the undersigned residents of said district, ask that the keeping of bees in the west San Fernando Valley should not be outlawed for the following reasons: Said district is sparsely settled and is mostly devoted to agriculture and bees do not constitute a nuisance. The bees render a great service to agriculture, trees and flowers by pollination, which fact is well known and the plaintiffs could not suggest a better substitute. However, there are also wild bees, which could not be outlawed. It is well know that bees do not spoil fruit. First fruit must be pecked by birds before a bee could feed on it.  We the undersigned are convinced that the bees are harmless and useful and therefore we ask that no ordinance against keeping bees should be enacted.” (Council File 23159, April 23, 1946.)

The LA City Council soon passed an ordinance, effective June 1, 1946, that split the difference between the anti-bee and pro-bee petitions. The City’s anti-beekeeping law was amended to forbid the keeping of bees on any premises within 300 feet of another dwelling or within 100 feet of an exterior boundary. This would allow bees to be kept at a single family house only if it had a huge lot. Agricultural zones and the Residential Agriculture zone were exempted, allowing bee-keeping to continue in parts of the Valley with rural zoning.

By shifting the law from a blanket prohibition on bee-keeping (with an exception for the San Fernando Valley) to a zoning-based system, planners could allow different animal and agriculture-related uses in different residential zones. In 1950, for example, a new Residential Suburban zone was created to be a hybrid between the R1 and RA zones. Residents of RA or RS zoned homes could raise “poultry, fowl, bees, rabbits, chinchillas, fish, or frogs;” but if you lived in a house zoned R1 (the most common single family zone) you were limited to poultry, rabbits and chinchillas, plus goats, horses and cows if your lot was at least 20,000 square feet. (Ordinance 97359, 1950).

At some point between 1950 and 1980, bee-keeping was eliminated as a legal use in the RA and RS zones. I haven’t yet run across the ordinance that made this change. Today, bee-keeping is only allowed in the City of Los Angeles in agricultural zone and in most manufacturing zones. Hopefully this will change soon, and hives of bees, governed by sensible regulations, will be permitted in backyards throughout the City for the first time in 135 years.


Mark Vallianatos works and teaches at Occidental College and is on the Zoning Advisory Committee for the City’s re:code LA process to revise Los Angeles’ zoning code. Mark can be reached at mvalli@oxy.edu 


LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES!!

Sign the petition | Email a letter of support to City Council Council File: 12-0785 Beekeeping

Legalize Urban Beekeeping
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Yellow Tie Event 2014 Recap!

Big thanks to all who sponsored, donated, volunteered and attended!

Special shout out to Whole Foods Market, Plaza El Segundo for the FOOD, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey for the DRINKS, LUSH Cosmetics for donating and VOLUNTEERING, and the Loo Family for HOSTING!

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New video on our YouTube Channel!

Click here to subscribe to HoneyLove on YouTube!!

Our goal is to get 10,000 subscribers by this year’s NATIONAL HONEY BEE DAY (August 2014)—Please help us spread the word by sharing this link: honeylove.org/subscribe

Big THANK YOU to She Shoots. He Scores. for producing this sweet little video on HoneyLove Co-Founder Chelsea McFarland as part of their Google funded INSIDE JOB series featuring “women with amazing and inspirational jobs”!
Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLove Interviews