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Posts Tagged: honey bees

Good News for the Bees!

Good news for the honey bees!

And none too soon.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today (Oct. 29) in a press release that "more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production."

 “The future of America's food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said in the USDA release. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

The declining honey bee population is besieged with health issues, exacerbated by pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition  Nationally, however, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy such produce as almonds, apples, cherries, cucumbers, and peaches, thank a bee for its pollination services.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Why the Midwest? "From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter."

The announcement renews and expands what USDA calls "a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest."  It's all part of the June 2014 Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs USDA to expand the acreage and forage value in its conservation programs.

Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are due Friday, Nov. 21.

This means that the farmers and ranchers will receive support and guidance to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. This will include appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management. In addition to providing good forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, the actions taken are expected to reduce erosion, increase soil health and inhibit invasive species.

California also will benefit. "This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida," according to the release.

A nice push for the pollinators!

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 9:26 PM
Tags: honey bees (214), mustard (2), NRCS (1), pollinators (2), Tom Vilsack (1), USDA (1)

Best Management Practices for Honey Bees

The Almond Board of California will unveil its Honey Bee Best Management Practices tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 16) in an ongoing effort to promote and protect bee health.

The board will do so by holding a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time with questions directed at Richard Waycott, CEO, Almond Board of California; 
Bob Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California
 and Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

It promises to be a comprehensive set of Best Management Practices or BMPs. Media members who wish to participate can access this page.

Remember last spring when beekeepers in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards reported losing 80,000 colonies?  Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site.

Mussen wrote about the issue in the March/April edition of his newsletter, from the UC apiaries, published on his website. We also blogged about it.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" Mussen asked. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."

Communication is key to a good BMP. The Almond Board recently published three informational pieces, “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,” "Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds,” and “Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds” (in English and Spanish).

The topics include:

  • Preparing for arrival
  • Assessing hive strength and quality
  • Protecting honey bees at bloom
  • Honey bees and insecticides
  • Honey bees and fungicides
  • Using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays
  • Honey bees and self-compatible almond varieties
  • Best management practices for pest control during almond bloom
  • Removing honey bees from the orchard
  • Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses
  • What to expect in an investigation

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), headed by Dennis van Engelsdorp, produced three short videos as the result of a 2012-2013 beekeeping survey.  Project Apis m (PAm) published some of the information online about varroa mites, nosema, honey bee nutrition and the like.

It's important for almond growers and beekeepers to keep the lines of communication open. Bees make a "bee line" toward the almond blossoms, but the growers and the beekeepers don't always make a timely "bee line" toward one another to resolve issues that surface.

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 9:26 PM

The Bees and the Blue Angels

Honey bees and the Blue Angels...

Honey bees sometimes seem to fly in formation over such plants as flowering artichokes, but their precision--if you could call it that--never matches that of the Blue Angels.

For one, the pollen-packing bees are wobbly and bump into one another. But they always seem to know where they're going and how to get there. They're the pride and joy of the agricultural world as they collect pollen and nectar.

The Blue Angels' flight demonstration squadron is the pride and joy of the U.S. Navy. In fact, their mission is " to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach."

The Blue Angels' show drew thousands of spectators on Sunday in San Francisco.  We watched the  aerobatics from the deck on the Flying Fish charter sportsfishing boat. We we all surged with patriotism, excitement and awe as the Blue Angels maneuvered their Hornets into diamond and delta formations, solos, slow passes, barrel rolls and tight turns.

Honey bees engage in their own kind of air show as they carry their pollen and nectar back to the hive. They don't do diamond and delta formations or barrel rolls, but back at the hive, they know how to perform waggle and round dances, making slow passes and tight turns.

Honey bee
Honey bee "squadron" aiming for the flowering artichokes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee "squadron" aiming for the flowering artichokes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue Angels maneuvering their Hornets into a diamond formation. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue Angels maneuvering their Hornets into a diamond formation. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue Angels maneuvering their Hornets into a diamond formation. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bees buzzing by, performing their solo missions. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees buzzing by, performing their solo missions. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bees buzzing by, performing their solo missions. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue Angels roar past the city of San Francisco. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue Angels roar past the city of San Francisco. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue Angels roar past the city of San Francisco. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 13, 2014 at 8:08 PM
Tags: bees (2), Blue Angels (1), Fleet Week (1), honey bees (214), Hornets (1), San Francisco (1)

Why Do Honey Bees Die When They Sting

Eric Mussen
"Why do honey bees die when they sting?"

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."

Read more about bee stings in the PBS Newshour feature question, and in the UC IPM Pest Note, Bee and Wasp Stings.

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)
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)

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)
The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 5:39 PM
Tags: bee sting (1), Eric Mussen (52), honey bees (214), PBS Newshour (2), stinger (2)

Better Statistics for the Bees

Eric Mussen
The bees. What about the bees? How are they doing?

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."

Be sure to check out his latest newsletter. His website also lists many of his other newsletters and the Bee Briefs he's written over the last 38 years.

 

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM

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