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California Dearth Conditions

via HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

Beeks—As you are probably reading everywhere, California is in the middle of a extended drought and this significantly affects the available food—pollen and nectar—for our bees. People can get a false sense of security about this problem since all around are extensive irrigated landscapes— golf courses, industrial parks, shopping malls with fountains and lush landscaping, apartment and condo blocks, and private homes.

However, all this is carried out by the importation of precious water from underground aquifers and water resources channeled from the middle and northern part of the state. Irrigation with re-claimed sewer water—-designated by the required violet colored pipes and valve box covers—is still a anomaly, unfortunately. Our streets are still running with rivers of wasted water, too.

For a simple tabulation of the history of the rainfall pattern, go here: http://www.laalmanac.com/weather/we13.htm

You will see, since 2000, we have been much under normal 8 years and only in excess 5 years—and not that much in excess, when the average for 135 years is only 15 inches. The population of California is projected to be 60 million by 2050, from the 34 million counted in 2007. The water is not going to be there to sustain this many people in the lifestyle currently practiced.

Many beeks are noticing their bees have small stores of honey, or sometimes, nothing. I am seeing cutouts with lots of brood, but almost NO honey/nectar stores. As beekeepers, this is important for us to monitor when doing inspections of our hives and when trying to support small nucs and cutouts after the trauma of the operations when we move them. We may need to feed our bees to help them manage the loss of available food supply—called a “dearth” –if we wish for them to be around for us come Spring. The best food for bees is their natural food—honey. This can be provided by frames of honey taken from strong hives. “junk comb” from cutouts, and honey purchased for the specific feeding purpose. A bee has a natural acidic pH in her gut that is supported by many strains of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes adapted to that pH environment. When we feed sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the more alkaline nature of these sugars alters the gut pH. Some scientists believe this is not beneficial to the gut microbes that serve the bee’s immune system. However, if the situation is one of the choice between starvation or feeding sugar, we may need to feed the sugar syrup to get by until there is a natural nectar flow.


Big thank you to Susan for contributing to our blog as well as moderating the HoneyLove Forum!

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

Neonicotinoids a Disaster in the making?

Podcast via kiwimana

This week we are talking to Dr. Henk Tennekes from the Netherlands. This is Episode fifty two of our beekeeping podcast.

You can download the podcast directly HERE, or click on the play button above. Feel free to share it with your friends.

“Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent…” - Rachel Carson

 

INTRO

Dr Henk Tennekes is a esteemed toxicologist and author.

Dr Tennekes has been working in cancer research for most of his career. He has been studying neonicotinoids in relation to decline of insects and bird life.

He discovered that this family of pesticides are not only effecting bees but other insects and birds.

In 2010 he publish his findings the in the book “A Disaster in the Making“. We encourage you to support Henk’s work and buy a copy of his fantastic book.

We encourage you to copy this recording and please give it to any friends or family that may buy pesticides for their home garden. Let’s all vote against these products with our dollars.

Buy Henk’s Book Here

Here’s What You’ll Learn

  • How Henk came up with the idea for his book
  • Clothianidin can remain in the soil for nineteen years.
  • Neonicotinoids are water soluble and threaten fish and water dependent insects
  • Insects are the main food source for many mammals and fish.
  • Neonicotinoids destroy insects immune system and help infections in beehives to spread.
  • Chytrid Fungus is wiping out frogs in California
  • Bats are being wiped out by White Nose Syndrome
  • Everything is connected, you can’t destroy insects without it effecting all species (including humans).
  • Acute toxicity tests are not effective enough to demonstrate the long effect on Honey Bees
  • Neonicotinoids are legal because of the failure of our government regulators
  • There is a break in the food chain happening before our eyes
  • Autism in children has increased since Neonicotinoids were introduced
  • Neonicotinoids are used in Pet Flea products such as “Advantage”
  • Bayer is not releasing its own studies on Neonicotinoids
  • Austrian agriculture is 40% organic :)

Neonicotinoids available now at your Garden Centre

What Was Mentioned

  • Henk’s book Disaster in the making can be purchased here HERE
  • Dutch Parliament votes to ban all Neonicotinoids pesticide use in the Netherlands, you can read more HERE
  • Sue Kedgleys work on bee health
  • Dr Alex Lu Harvard study, read more HERE
  • Syngenta and Bayer go to court against the European Commission, find out more HERE

View original post via kiwimana

Read full story · Posted in Buzz, Yay Bees

BEEHIVE HEROES

Paul Hekimian inspects a honeycomb forming in one of the hives behind his home

Paul Hekimian inspects a honeycomb forming in one of the hives behind his home (via argonautnews.com)

Backyard beekeepers work to save the local honeybee population from collapse

Story by Rebecca Kuzins via argonautnews.com

Most people who discover a beehive in their backyard would be glad to see it gone.

Paul Hekimian is not like most people.

After discovering a hive in an avocado tree behind his Santa Monica home in 2012, Hekimian — with help from Del Rey beekeeper Rob McFarland — moved the bees into brooding boxes, which provide ideal conditions for a hive. Since then, he has been raising honeybees, extracting and bottling honey, and even adopting more bees by rescuing swarms that have gathered at places such as Tongva Park and the Santa Monica Pier.

Hekimian is part of a new breed of urban beekeepers who’ve developed organic, pesticide- and chemical-free techniques to raise smaller hives with more disease-resistant honeybees. But the way Hekimian tells it, he just sets up his brooding boxes and then leaves the bees alone so they can produce honeycombs — and more bees.

“At the end of the day, the bees do all the work,” said Hekimian, a father of two young boys who also has his hands full running both a wholesale bakery and a technology consulting business. “You’ve heard the phrase ‘busy as a bee.’ These bees are very busy.”

Hekimian’s work and that of other backyard beekeepers is more than just a hobby. It’s also an environmentally minded response to the colony collapse disorder that has plagued honeybees for almost a decade and threatens the very future of agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Save the bees, save ourselves

In 2006, beekeepers began noticing that many worker bees had abandoned their hives, resulting in a loss of one-third of the nation’s honeybees. Since then, bees have continued to disappear, with scientists and researchers citing several possible reasons for the loss. Some argue that a fungus or virus is responsible, or that the bees have died from poor nutrition or parasites. More recently, numerous articles in scientific journals maintain a specific group of pesticides is the cause of the problem.

The sudden and rapid decline of the bee population has gotten the attention of President Barack Obama, who had two hives installed at the White House garden this summer — making him the nation’s most high-profile urban beekeeper.

In June, Obama created a Pollinator Task Force to establish a federal strategy aimed at promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

“Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” reads a statement announcing the task force. “Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover.”

Or, as Hekimian says it: “If the bees go, they’re taking us with them. One in three pieces of food is touched by bees.”

Already struggling with drought, California’s almond industry also relies on bees for pollination. Bees also play a significant role in pollinating strawberries, watermelon, broccoli, squash and myriad other agricultural and other plants.

Some cities have responded to colony collapse disorder by legalizing beekeeping on private property, and the Santa Monica City Council adopted such an ordinance in 2011.

“The city council recognized bees are a very important link in the food chain,” said Dean Kubani, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “Bees play so many important roles in the production of fruit and vegetables and most of what we eat. … I think in the past, there was a fear that bees in urban and suburban areas would harm people. That has shown not to be the case.”

The fight to legalize bees in L.A.

The Los Angeles City Council has been studying how the city could adopt its own backyard beekeeping ordinance since February. Some Los Angeles residents, like Rob and Chelsea McFarland, are already keeping bees. Founders of the nonprofit organization Honey Love, the couple has conducted an extensive neighborhood outreach and lobbying campaign in favor of a bee-positive city ordinance.

Chelsea McFarland said she and her husband made the decision to become beekeepers after a swarm showed up in the backyard of their Del Rey home.

“We have an organic garden and we knew about [colony collapse disorder]. We knew the bees were in trouble,” she said.

When the McFarlands contacted the city for advice about handling the swarm, they were told “the only thing to do was exterminate [them],” she recalled. “That’s still the case. Part of the [city’s] policy should be not only to legalize [beekeeping] … but to try and rescue rather than exterminate.”

Sylvia Henry is also a Los Angeles beekeeper and Honey Love member. She started keeping honeybees in March after Hekimian brought a swarm to her Mar Vista home, where her hive shares space in the backyard with eight chickens. “I’m an old farm girl,” Henry said. “I grew up on a farm in Chino.”

Henry said she is “thrilled” with her hive, which has already produced 30 pounds of honey. She’s “read all of the books in the library on bees” and is fascinated by the “whole entire cycle” of beekeeping and the “social set-up” of honeybees.

Not far from Henry’s backyard, another group of bees live on the roof of Louie’s of Mar Vista, a popular neighborhood restaurant and bar on Grand Avenue south of Venice Boulevard.

John Atkinson and his wife Laura opened the restaurant last year at the site where his grandfather, Bill Atkinson, and Bill’s buddy Louie operated a butcher shop from 1954 to 1969.

While renovating the property, John Atkinson noticed a swarm of bees had gathered inside a large sign above the building.

“Rather than poison them, we got them out of the sign and cut off access for them to get back into the sign,” he recalled.

The bees were placed in hive boxes on the restaurant’s roof, and Atkinson hired a beekeeper to take care of them. Over the past year, the population of what the restaurant’s website calls “Mar Vista’s bees” has increased threefold.

Louie’s of Mar Vista uses honey from these hives in some of its dishes and to create its signature Bee Sting cocktail — a combination of applejack brandy, ginger beer, lemon and honey, served with a slice of lime and a mix of sugar and ginger around the rim of the glass.

“It’s not like having a goldfish”

As part of its education and support mission, HoneyLove conducts monthly seminars, including some at its bee sanctuary in Moorpark, to train backyard beekeepers.

“It’s not like having a goldfish,” Chelsea McFarland said. “You definitely want to know what you’re doing.”

Hekimian, on the HoneyLove board of directors, agrees that wanna-be beekeepers need training before they can graduate to get a beehive.

Beekeeping, Hekimian adds, is the art of observation: “You watch the behavior of the bees as they go in and out the front door. Are they going out? Are they bringing in pollen?”

Beekeeping comes fairly naturally to Hekimian. His father, Kevork G. Hekimian, kept bees when Paul was growing up in Houston.

“My dad started out with a couple of hives and then had 60 hives,” he said. “I got him back into beekeeping,”  Hekimian said of his father. “It’s come full circle.”

 

[read the full article via argonautnews.com]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove Interviews

Keeping honeybees! Sounds like fun?

LA Weekly frame
by Susan Rudnicki

So much is in the news about pollinator declines,  peril to the food supply, pesticide poisoning of honeybees—could we not help this situation by keeping our own bees?  HoneyLove exists to foster this very practice, and all of us in the group were mentored and brought along our path to becoming beekeepers by others in the craft.  In fact, this model is the very essence of our  club—”each one teach one” or “pay it forward” to help others learn.

But, there are important things to consider when contemplating the serious commitment of beginning a life of bees and beekeeping.

Probably the most important part is to become educated by reading and speaking to knowledgeable beeks about the management techniques and time commitments involved in keeping bees in a urban environment.   Getting the bees and buying equipment  comes later, but a person should honestly assess whether there is the time in life to –

1) do hive inspections every two weeks in the Spring season when bee colonies are rapidly growing in population.   Bee colonies that become crowded from lack of space management can swarm and this attracts very unwelcome attention from non-beekeeping neighbors.

2)  keep up during the whole year to assess honey production, brood space (where the bees raise the young larva), queen vigor and other issues.   Later in the Summer, inspections can be spread further apart—about a month.

3)  be realistic about getting a honey crop.   The colony, when young, must be given time to grow in strength and resilience.   The first year of a young colony, there is NO honey crop.   The second year, you may get a bit.   By the third year, they hit their stride and you can have a fine honey crop!   (This is my experience, anyway)

4)  spend the time necessary to consistently learn the techniques and understanding of how “bee society” works.   We must always keep in mind that honeybees are stinging insects and the wider public often has a well developed fear of them.   How we manage our bees and speak to others about bees goes a long way towards changing perceptions and biases—or, if lax in management and monitoring, how we may reinforce prejudices.   It is up to us to present our best “face” of the beekeeping world.

5)  develop a mentor relationship with at least one other knowledgable beek.   This takes digging, because there are not enough of us, geographically speaking!   HoneyLove conducts meetings every month, has apiary visits to the bee sanctuary in Moorpark, and has lots of material on the website to guide newbees in gaining wisdom.

6)  coming to HoneyLove gatherings and workshops gives the new beek a chance to interact with folks all along the spectrum of knowledge and to ask questions and network for further connections.

If these considerations seem a little burdensome for right now, it may not be the right time to actually get your own colony of bees.   It is a time commitment and must be managed regularly.   Perhaps just fostering the local bees with planting of inviting flowers and shrubs is a better plan.

Joining the HoneyLove forum to explore these options with others is a great way to figure out if you are indeed ready to keep bees!

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLovin

4 States Just Got a Little Bit Safer for Bees

by Alicia Graef via care2.com

Environmentalists have been warning about the problems associated with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) on pollinators and other wildlife, but now there’s some good news that comes with a decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to phase out these toxic chemicals on wildlife refuges in the Northwest and Hawaii.

Neonics can be used in sprays, but are often applied as a coating on agricultural seeds and when it is, it spreads throughout the plant as it grows making the whole thing poisonous to a variety of insects. Studies have shown that they can be lethal to honey bees, bumble bees and other species at high doses, but even a little bit can cause problems by making them more vulnerable to other stressors. They’ve also been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder and have recently been found to be harmful to aquatic invertebrates and birds.

That’s not just bad news for pollinators, it’s bad news for us and the wild animals who depend on them to help pollinate crops and other wild plants we all depend on for food.

Earlier this year environmental organizations petitioned the agency to ban both genetically engineered crops and neonics throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System over concerns about the dangers they pose to wildlife and protected species and because their use is inappropriate on land that’s supposed to be designated to protect wildlife and conserve habitats.

In a memorandum published by the Center for Food Safety earlier this month, the FWS acknowledged that neonics could have adverse effects on a “broad-spectrum of non-target species” and agreed that their use does not meet the intent of policies that are supposed to cause the least harm to wildlife and their habitats. The agency also noted that they’re not only potentially being used on agricultural crops that are grown on wildlife refuges, but that they may be getting introduced through plants used in restoration projects.

Kim Trust, the deputy regional director of the FWS, told the AP that the agency made the decision because it is concerned about the global decline in all pollinators.

As of now, refuge managers will be required to take other steps to avoid their use on close to 9,000 acres of land in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and should have neonics completely phased out by January 2016.

“We commend the Service for taking its first step to ban neonicotinoids in the Pacific region, and now we call on the agency to permanently institute this policy on wildlife refuges nationwide,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity. Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”


Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/4-states-just-got-a-little-bit-safer-for-bees.html

Read full story · Posted in News

Those Insecticides We’re Told Aren’t Killing Bees Are Also Hurting Birds

by Steve Williams

Despite many politicians being in complete denial about the mounting evidence of a connection between certain insecticides and the collapse of bee populations, new research shows that those same insecticides are probably indirectly leading to bird die-offs, too.

A new study published this month in Nature looks at data from the Netherlands which the researchers say shows a sharp decline in certain bird populations in areas where insecticides known as neonicotinoids were used the most.

Neonicotinoids are among the new wave of insecticides that have been developed in the past 50 years. They were supposed to be revolutionary for the farming industry and were billed as less damaging for the environment and wildlife. However, study after study has linked them to a decline in pollinators and even to bee Colony Collapse Disorder, while a 2013 examination of peer reviewed literature called for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoid use as, used in the concentrations and amounts that we see on farms today, the scientists concluded there is enough evidence to suggest that these insecticides are harming bees and other insects who aren’t supposed to be targeted.

Concerns have also been raised about the wider impact on wildlife beyond our pollinators. While neonicotinoids are billed as not being as toxic to mammals, and in particular birds of prey, scientific literature has suggested an unintended impact: by killing insects that the mammals eat, they may be driving down certain sensitive populations, and that’s precisely what the study from the Netherlands found.

Interestingly the researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands started their research not by exploring the impact of neonicotinoids, but by looking at two different data sets, one of bird counts, and the other of surface water measurements of the most common neonicotinoid, and through this the scientists were able to track the decline in bird numbers during the period of 2003 to 2010 while leaving the door open for other possible causes of bird population decline.

They found that there may be several factors contributing to the fall in numbers, such as an intensification of farming which often means uprooting bird habitats, like digging up hedges or dismantling barns.

Still, the researchers found that the presence of imidacloprid, one of the leading neonicotinoids, is incontrovertibly impacting birds and may be the main cause of bird decline in the region. They found that if ground water had just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per liter, there was a 30 percent fall in bird numbers during the study period–and what’s more, some areas had pollution levels that was 50 times higher than that figure.

In total, the researchers found that 14 out of 15 common insect-eating bird species, like barn swallows, tree sparrows and starlings, had suffered sometimes dramatic population declines.

Research similar but not identical to this has been dismissed in the past because it didn’t control for other factors, but this research did, yet the pattern still emerged. That is why lead researcher Hans de Kroon believes its time to take this problem seriously because, if neonicotinoids are indirectly harming birds, they’re probably harming other wildlife that prey on insects, too.

David Gouslon of the University of Sussex, who wasn’t involved in this study but did write a separate commentary, says this research is convincing. He tells the Guardian: “The simplest, most obvious, explanation is that highly toxic substances that kill insects lead to declines in things that eat insects. … This work flags up the point that this isn’t just about bees, it is about everything. When hundreds or thousands of species or insect are being wiped out, it’s going to have impacts on bats, shrews, hedgehogs, you name it. It is pretty good evidence of wholesale damage to the environment.”

Goulson also highlights that unlike the Netherlands, the UK (and much of Europe) isn’t monitoring neonicotinoid pollution. The UK agency responsible for overseeing matters dealing with the environment and wildlife, called Defra, remains stalwart that the research isn’t overwhelming and that, at the moment, there isn’t compelling evidence to show a definite link between neonicotinoids and harm to wildlife.

Defra says that these kinds of pesticides are safe when used as recommended and points to the admittedly (usually) rigorous short-term trials carried out by neonicotinoid producers. The problem though is precisely that they are only short-term trials. Manufacturers haven’t used longer-term systematic trials but if they did, scientists say the data would show the harms neonicotinoids can create over longer periods of time.

It was hoped that this message was, at last, getting through, when in 2013 the EU imposed a two-year suspension of thre neonicotinoids, but it emerged the suspension is largely toothless because the EU is failing to track data during this time, and a two year suspension is unlikely to give any meaningful data anyway.

We have to be clear that this latest study implies a link and not causation, but because this adds to a wider body of data that all suggests a link, the evidence for probable causation is growing ever more formidable. All this leads us to ask: how much scientific data do we need, and how many impartial experts need to speak out, before our politicians will act?

Or perhaps the better question is, how many animal populations have to collapse before our governments see fit to do something and actually tackle the issue of neonicotinoids?

 

Read full story · Posted in News

Beekeeping is booming in Vienna

People living in Vienna have got a new hobby – beekeeping.

The idea really took off a few years ago after the city council started investing in beehives and placing them in prominent locations. The State Opera House, the Burgtheater and the Museum of Natural History all have bee populations on their roofs, and there are even hives on the terraces of the Vienna General Hospital (AKH).

From there however, with all the publicity, people living in Vienna also started buying rooftop beehives, and now the local beekeeping association estimates there are hundreds of tonnes of honey being harvested in Vienna. The meadows, trees, parks, gardens, roadside verges, balconies and green rooftops provide a constant, yet ever-changing palette of blossoming flowers for the insects to feed on. Temperatures also remain higher for longer in the city than in rural areas.

Over 600 Viennese have even started investing in so many hives that they have registered officially as beekeepers with a special association, the Stadt-Imker (urban beekeepers), which is dedicated to monitoring and managing the various hives in the capital.

Josef Beier who is head of the Vienna beekeeping association said: “I never would have thought it possible but it really is getting to the situation now where the only problem is space for the beehives and to store the equipment needed for the honey gathering.

“With the fact that many colonies have been dying out en masse, the subject has been very present in the media and as a result a lot of people had become interested in it – and some of those have decided to do their bit to help the bees. With many having positive experiences, others have become involved and so it has spread.

“To keep healthy bees you need a wide variety of plants and with all the exotic varieties available in window boxes and gardens, it’s a paradise for these. There is always something in bloom and at the same time the bees of course are great for Vienna’s plants.

“It only takes about 250 GBP to start off as an amateur beekeeper, which includes the beehive and the basic equipment and tools as well as protective clothing.”

[view original article via viennatimes.at]

Read full story · Posted in News

Edmonton moves forward with urban beekeeping

By Mack D. Male 

Urban beekeepers are buzzing in Edmonton now that City Council has given the green light to a pilot project that will allow hives in backyards within city limits. On July 7, the Community Services Committee approved the pilot with urgency, pushing for the rules against urban beekeeping to come to an end. The City will now undertake a pilot and will report back with recommended bylaw changes in early 2015.

The battle to keep bees has been going on for quite some time and given that numerous other cities allow urban beekeeping, this decision was seen by many as long overdue. Importantly, it’s another recommendation from Fresh that will see implementation, and it’s a sign from Council that they are serious about food and agriculture in Edmonton.

Here’s an audio story about the news:

Edmonton moves forward with urban beekeeping by Mack Male on Mixcloud

Further Reading

Sources

[view the original article via blog.mastermaq.ca]

Read full story · Posted in News

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.

Read full story · Posted in News

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