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Posts Tagged: Susan Cobey

Now That's Italian!

Now that's Italian!

The Italian honey bee (below) nectaring on a zinnia at the University of California, Davis, is striking for two reasons: she's as gold as starthistle honey in the sunlight and she's a very young forager.

"That is a pretty young bee to be a forager," said Exension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "Look at all that baby hair."

When European colonists introduced honey bees (Apis mellifera) into the Jamestown colony (now Virginia) in 1622, it wasn't the Italian. It was what beekeepers call the "dark bee" subspecies of Northern Europe, Apis mellifera mellifera.

The Italian or Apis mellifera ligustica didn't arrive in America until 1859. "The American beekeeping public was enamored with the newly available yellow and gentle bees," bee breeder-geneticist and co-author Susan Cobey wrote in a chapter of the book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. "As a result, Italian-type bees form  the basis for most present-day commercial beekeeping stocks in the U.S. Following the arrival and success of honey bees from Italy, U.S. beekeepers developed an interest to try other honey bee subspecies."

Indeed, it took 231 for years for honey bees to arrive in California. Beekeeper Christopher A. Shelton introduced honey bees to the Golden State in 1853, establishing an apiary just north of San Jose. (Check out the bee plaque at the San Jose International Airport.)

Cobey, of UC Davis acclaim, serves as the project leader of the Honey Bee Stock Improvement Program, working with Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University, and other scientists.They aim to enhance the genetic diversity of domestic bee stocks through the importation of honey bee germplasm (drone sperm).

Meanwhile, this week over at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk (who worked with Cobey at Ohio State University) is extracting honey.

If you look at the backlit honey, it looks just like the young Italian honey bee that Mussen says "is pretty young to be a forager."

Italian honey bee forages on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Italian honey bee forages on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Italian honey bee forages on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk admires a freshly bottled jar of honey to the sun. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk admires a freshly bottled jar of honey to the sun. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk admires a freshly bottled jar of honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:48 PM

A Two-Fold Bee Conference

Seattle will be the place to "bee" on Oct. 4-7.

That's where the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) will hold its annual meeting--and this year it's in conjunction with the Washington State Beekeepers' Association.

Bee scientists, beekeepers, and bee aficionados will gather in the Embassy Suites Hotels for the four-day conference to talk about what's troubling the bees, to learn about scientific advancements, and to discuss how to alleviate the declining bee population. Registration is under way; those who register by Aug. 31 will receive a discount.

"There will be more presentations devoted to commercial beekeeping topics, but we will honor our roots and have concurrent sessions for the small-scale interests," said WAS spokesperson Fran Bach.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, known for her queen bee-rearing and queen bee insemination classes at the University of California, Davis, and now affiliated with Washington State University, will speak on queen bee rearing in the Pacific Northwest.

As the project director of the Honey Bee Stock Improvement Program, Cobey continues to work closely with California beekeepers, queen bee producers and the Almond Board of California.

Cobey and her colleague Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University, are heavily involved in increasing genetic diversity in U.S. honey bees. They're gathering germplasm (drone sperm) in European countries and integrating it in the U.S. honey bee gene pool, aiming to build a stronger, more disease-resistant bee.  

European colonists introduced the honey bee to America in 1622 but a genetic bottleneck occurred when the U. S. Honey Bee Act of 1922 restricted further importation.

"The selection, development, maintenance and adoption of highly productive European honey bee stocks that can tolerate Varroa (parasitic mites) and resist diseases offer a sustainable, long-term solution" to the ongoing declining bee population, they point out in their chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.

At the Seattle conference, Sheppard will speak on "Importation and Distribution of New Genetic Stocks of Honey Bees."  WSU doctoral student Megan Taylor will discuss "New Developments in Honey Bee Germplasm Preservation at WSU."  Another WSU doctoral student, Brandon Hopkins, will cover "New Developments in Honey Bee Germplasm Preservation at WSU." 

Other speakers will discuss "The Value of Honey Bees in Almond Production," "Wings, Bikes and Trucks--Urban Beekeeping," "Indoor Wintering of Honey Bee Colonies," and "The Rocky Mountain Survivor Queenbee Cooperative." Still other talks range from how to prevent swarms to how to bring more bees to your garden. 

WAS co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, describes the organization as "a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America."

This photo of a honey bee on an almond blossom will appear on the WAS conference t-shirt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This photo of a honey bee on an almond blossom will appear on the WAS conference t-shirt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This photo of a honey bee on an almond blossom will appear on the WAS conference t-shirt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Off to Italy on a Very Important Mission

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey with queen cells. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It won't be lock, stock and barrel, but it will be stock.

A team of scientists from UC Davis and Washington State University will be heading for Italy tomorrow (June 19) to gather germplasm (sperm) of Old World/Italian honey bee stock. They'll bring it back to the United States to inseminate bee queens. 

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a joint appointment at UC Davis and WSU, will be in Italy with colleagues Walter "Steve" Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology, and Ph.D. student Brandon Hopkins of WSU. They're scheduled to return June 27.

Increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests, says Cobey, director of the Honey Bee Stock Improvement Program. 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.”

So, which honey bee did the European colonists introduce to America in 1622? It wasn't the Italian (blond) subspecies, now the most prevalent here. It was the dark subspecies (Apis mellifera mellifera), that made its way to the Jamestown colony (present-day Virginia) from England. 

 The Italian bees were not introduced into our country until 1859, records show.

"The American beekeeping pubic was enamored with the newly available yellow and relatively gentle bees," authors Cobey, Sheppard and David Tarpy wrote in a chapter of the newly published book,  Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. "As a result, Italian-type honey bees form the basis for most present-day commercial beekeeping stocks in the U.S." 

However, a genetic bottleneck resulted from the U.S. Honey Bee Act of 1922, which restricted further importation of Old World honey bees to prevent the introduction of the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi.

The importation of germplasm from the Old World stock of the Italian subspecies could very well result in a better bee.

That's the plan. That's the hope. The trio wants to make it happen.

The UC Davis/WSU team will fan out to bee labs and to commercial beekeepers' apiaries  and then deliver the germplasm to the WSU lab in Pullman, Wash., where they'll inseminate queen bees.

Cobey talked about the Stock Improvement Program at her May 2nd seminar presented to the UC Davis Department of Entomology.  Based at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility since 2007, she was trained by Laidlaw (1907-2003) himself. He's known as "the father of honey bee genetics."

If you access this web page, then click on the link at the top of the page below the headline, you can listen to Cobey's seminar. 

Fascinating stuff.

Italian honey bee heading toward lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Italian honey bee heading toward lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Italian honey bee heading toward lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2012 at 9:25 PM

Pollinator Paradise

Pollinator Habitat
Picture a pollinator paradise right where nature intended it to be--near an apiary.

Staff research associate/beekeeper Elizabeth Frost of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, earlier this year planted a pollinator patch in front of the facility--and what an eyecatcher it is.

She selected California golden poppies, lupine and foxgloves, among other choices. When spring emerged, the Laidlaw facility never looked so brilliant! Especially in front of the Laidlaw ceramic sign created by Donna Billick of Davis. 

Frost posted a "Pollinator Habitat" sign in front that reads: "This area has been planted with a range of flowering native plants to provide high quality habitat for native bees and other pollinators. To learn how you can create good habitat for pollinators, please visit www.xerces.org.

Frost, a UC Davis graduate who joined the bee lab in 2008 and worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, recently accepted a position on the Honey Bee Tech-Transfer Team, part of the Bee Informed Partnership. So, starting Sept. 1 Frost will be based at the Cooperative Extension office in Butte County.

What is the Bee Informed Partnership? To quote from the website, "It's an extension project that endeavors to decrease the number of managed honey bee colonies that die over the winter."

"Since the winter of 2006 - 2007, overwintering colonies in the US have died in large numbers. Affected beekeepers span the entire spectrum of the industry: migratory beekeepers to stationary beekeepers; and commercial beekeepers, part-time beekeepers, to backyard beekeepers. Migratory and stationary beekeepers alike have, on average, lost 30% or more of their overwintering colonies over the last several years. These losses are unsustainable. If they continue, they threaten not only the livelihoods of beekeepers who manage bees, but the livelihood of farmers who require bees to pollinate their crops."

Check out the Bee Informed team! And read their comments on why they like working with bees! 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...er, the Laidlaw facility...the pollinators are populating the poppies. On any given day, you can see honey bees, drone flies, hover flies, dragonflies and butterflies.

Plant it and they will come.

Beekeeper Elizabeth Frost in front of the pollinator patch she planted. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beekeeper Elizabeth Frost in front of the pollinator patch she planted. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beekeeper Elizabeth Frost in front of the pollinator patch she planted. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Flame skimmer dragonfly rests on an unopened poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Flame skimmer dragonfly rests on an unopened poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Flame skimmer dragonfly rests on an unopened poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly crawls up a petal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly crawls up a petal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly crawls up a petal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Ever seen honey bees engaging in washboarding? 

It's a behavior so named because they look as if they're scrubbing clothes on a washboard or scrubbing their home.

It occurs near the entrance of the hive and only with worker bees. They go back and forth, back and forth, a kind of rocking movement. No one knows why they do it. It's one of those unexplained behaviors they've probably been doing for millions of years.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, has witnessed washboarding scores of times. Last week the unusual behavior occurred on two of her hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. She hypothesizes that these bees are in the "unemployment line." It's a time when foraging isn't so good, so these bees are "sweeping the porch" for something to do, she speculates.

Emeritus professor Norman Gary of UC Davis Department of Entomology writes about it in his chapter, Activities and Behavior of Honey Bees, in the Dadant publication The Hive and the Honey Bee

"They stand on the second and third pairs of legs and face the entrance. Their heads are bent down and the front legs are also bent," wrote Gary, who has kept bees for more than six decades. "They make 'rocking' or 'washboard' movements, thrusting their bodies forward and backward. At the same time they scrape the surface of the hive with their mandibles with a rapid shearing movement, sliding over the surface as if cleaning it."

They pick up some material and then clean their mandibles.

Gary thinks that "these rocking movements probably serve as a cleaning process by which the bees scrape and polish the surface of the hive."

Like most people, professor/biologist/bee researcher James Nieh of UC San Diego has never seen this behavior. Nieh, who recently presented at seminar at UC Davis, later commented "It is an interesting behavior that would be particularly fascinating to observe in natural colonies in trees. It does seem to involve some cleaning behavior, although it is possible that bees are depositing some olfactory compound while they are rubbing the surface with their mandibles. We are currently conducting research in my lab on the effects of bee mandibular gland secretions on foraging orientation behavior. A new set of experiments will involve examining the effect of mandibular gland secretions on bee behaviors at the nest. I will definitely consider looking at how this potential pheromone affects washboarding."

We managed to capture the behavior with our Iphone and posted it on YouTube.  

It's interesting that of the some 25 research hives at the Laidlaw facility, occupants of two of Cobey's hives exhibited washboarding last week. 

So, what are washboarding bees doing? Cleaning their home where pathogenic organisms might congregate, per a theory by Katie Bohrer and Jeffrey Pettis of the USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab?

Or are they just creating "busy work"--"sweeping the porch" for something to do?

It would be interesting to find out! 

Honey bees engaging in washboarding behavior with
Honey bees engaging in washboarding behavior with "rocking" or up-and-down movements. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees engaging in washboarding behavior with "rocking" or up-and-down movements. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Foragers flying back to the hive as their sisters engage in washboarding activity on the wall, or what Susan Cobey calls
Foragers flying back to the hive as their sisters engage in washboarding activity on the wall, or what Susan Cobey calls "sweeping the front porch." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Foragers flying back to the hive as their sisters engage in washboarding activity on the wall, or what Susan Cobey calls "sweeping the front porch." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, May 28, 2012 at 7:03 PM

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