UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: honey bees

It's National Moth Week!

Greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella, a pest of bee colonies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's National Moth Week!

The event, which runs through Sunday, celebrates "the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths," according to its website. Scientists and citizen scientists are encouraged to document their findings. It's now a worldwide event.

A few nuggets from the website:

"Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.

  • Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
  • Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
  • Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
  • Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them."

Then there are, of course, the pests such as the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. This moth slips in at night to honey bee colonies and lays its eggs. The bees struggle to remove the larvae.  Beekeepers struggle with control of the  tell-tale evidence--damaged combs.

The honey bee bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee (Dadant Publication), says the wax moth female "produces less than 300 eggs during her life span of 3 to 30 days, but a few lay as many as 2000 eggs. Mated females fly to beehives one to three hours after dark, enter, and lay eggs until they leave shortly before daylight."

Sneaky little critters!

The Hive and the Honey Bee authors relate that "the presence of the wax moth larvae usually signals a major problem such as queenlessness, an infectious disease, poisoning and starvation."

Greater wax moths are probably not what the organizers of National Moth Week, founded by two naturalists in East Brunswick, N.J., had in mind when they launched this special week! (Unless, of course, they were anglers; the larvae make good fish bait!)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Honey Bees Need Water, Too!

These triple-digit temperatures make us all thirst for water.

Honey bees need water, too.

If you see them taking a sip from your birdbath or taking a dip in your pool, the "sip" means they're collecting water for their hive, and the "dip" could mean they're dying, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

"Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water," he points out. "Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do.  Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food.  They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive.  Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."

On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease, Mussen says. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."

Unlike us, honey bees cannot simply turn on a faucet. "They will fly up to nearly five miles to find a suitable watering source," Mussen says. "Suitable to honey bees might not be suitable to us, but if it is moist, it may be visited.  Suitable to the neighbors is a separate question.  Honey bees can become quite a nuisance if they visit drippy irrigation lines or hose connections, birdbaths, pet water dishes, swimming pools, fountains, or wet laundry and the like. The water foragers become habituated to those sites.  If you try to dissuade the bees by drying up the source for a while, it becomes evident that the bees will visit the site every so often so they'll be around quickly after the water is returned."What to do? "People have tried to use repellents in the water, but the bees are likely to use the odor as an attractant when attempting to relocate the water source," Mussen points out.  "Some people have had success keeping bees and wasps out of their swimming pools with very lightweight oils or monomolecular films--their purpose is to prevent mosquitoes from being able to breathe.  But, if the water is splashed very much, you'll require a new layer."

And all those bees struggling in your swimming pool? "Not all moribund honey bees in a swimming pool are there because they were trying to get a drink. Every day, approximately 1,000 old honey bees from each colony die naturally.  This normally occurs during foraging, and the bees just flutter down to the ground, sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, or whatever they were passing over.  Some flutter into swimming pools.  They are not dead, yet, so they can and do inflict stings on people who bump into them on the surface of the water. "

Beekeepers should make sure there's a watering source on their property so the bees won't hunt for water elsewhere, Musssen says. It should be available all year around. "Once the bees are habituated to the site, most of them will use that source."

One good thing to know: Bees don't like to get their feet wet. In the Garvey birdbath, we have floating wine corks just for the bees. They can land on a cork to sip water or simply sip from the edge of the birdbath. Besides wine corks, you can also use a stone, a twig or a flat chunk of cork. The Melissa Garden, a privately owned garden in Healdsburg that was designed by internationally distinguished bee garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, includes a flat floating cork in a fountain. On any given day, you'll see bees claiming it as their own.

Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 10:33 PM
Tags: Eric Mussen (47), honey bees (205), Kate Frey (1), The Melissa Garden (1), water (4)

How Revolutionary!

Sarah Albee
There's a fly on President George Washington's nose.

Why shouldn't there be?

When you pick up Sarah Albee's book, Bugged: How Insects Changed the World, you'll also see and read about mosquitoes, honey bees, beetles, fleas, bedbugs, mayflies, praying mantids, silkworms, and assorted other insects, or what she calls “The Good, The Bad and the Uggy.”

An entomologist's favorite subject. A kid's delight. A history book like no other.

Newly published by Walker Books for Young Readers (Bloomsbury), Bugged is about how insects influenced human history not only in America but throughout the world. It's especially good reading on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when you're focused on fireflies and fireworks and pondering parades and picnics. (That's what I did today!)

Frankly, it's delightful to see a children's book on bugs (it's targeted for readers 8 and up but actually, it a good book for adults, too). It's not your usual history book: it's an easy-to-read, fun and cleverly written book full of sidebars, photos, cartoons, and illustrations.

Bugs, as we all know are loved, hated, feared, scorned or shunned. And misunderstood.

Cover of "Bugged"
“A hungry flea is just trying to get a bite to eat, a stinging bee is just trying to defend her home from invaders, and a dung beetle rolling a ball of poop is just trying to make a living,”  Albee writes.

“Most of my books and blog posts tend to be where science and history meet up--my goal is always to find a topic that is interesting and accessible to kids and get them interested in history,” Albee told us. In her last book, Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up, she devoted an entire chapter about "filth diseases," or insect-vectored diseases.

“That's what gave me the idea to do a whole book about them,” she said.

Albee, who says her inner child is 12 years old, loves bugs that are cool, amazing or just plain gross. No fairy tales here. No “Buttercup Goes to the Ball” here.

In her childhood, “I was the kind of kid that was always outside exploring, collecting, catching,” the Connecticut resident  acknowledged.

In her book, Albee touches on what she calls “the bad-news bugs”:

  • Public Enemy No. 1, the mosquito (think of all the mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, yellow fever and dengue)
  • Public Enemy No. 2, the fly (it's to blame for sleeping sickness, typhoid and leishmaniasis, among others)
  • Public Enemy No. 3, the flea (Remember the Oriental rat flea transmitted the bubonic plague?)
  • Public Enemy, No. 4, the louse (Note: these critters, head lice and body lice, are not your friends. They may be close and personal but they are not your friends)

The beneficial insects, including honey bees, come into play, too. (And why not? There's a "bee" in her last name!) Albee  points out that honey bees are not native to America; European colonists brought them here in 1622. She also touches on honey bee health, mentioning the mysterious colony collapse disorder, characterized by adult bee abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee and brood.

Although many people are afraid of bee stings, bee venom is “used to treat patients suffering from many ailments, including arthritis, back pain and skin conditions because it contains melittin, which is an anti-inflammatory substance,” Albee explains.

Reactions of little kids to her book? “It's been really great to see how much kids like the book," she said. "At school visits I use volunteers who dress up as doctors, and others as patients, and together we try to diagnose the insect-vectored diseases they're suffering from. Kids love the remedies we try--dosing with mercury, quarantine, bleeding and cupping, smoking cigars--all pretend of course."

Back to George Washington. If you don't know this, insects figured in our country's founding when we were battling Great Britain for our independence. As Albee correctly points out: Gen. George Washington “had both the female mosquito and the body louse on his side.”

She tells all in her chapter on “How Revolutionary!”

Related links:
Sarah Albee website
Sarah Albee interview with National Public Radio
Sarah Albee interview with the School Library journal

This photo of a bee sting, by Kathy Keatley Garvey, appears in Sarah Albee's book,
This photo of a bee sting, by Kathy Keatley Garvey, appears in Sarah Albee's book, "Bugged."

This photo of a bee sting, by Kathy Keatley Garvey, appears in Sarah Albee's book, "Bugged."

Posted on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 3:02 PM
Tags: Bugged (1), honey bees (205), insects (2), Sarah Albee (1)

An Apple from Your Pollinator

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but thankfully, they don't keep our bees away. The blossoms, that is. We need those pollinators!

During National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, it's a good idea to pay tribute to the apple. 

If you've ever photographed a bee on an apple blossom, then captured an image of apples hanging from the branches, and then aimed your camera at a basket of apples, you can easily see the connection from A (apple) to B (bounty), thanks to our bees.

Apples (Malus domestica of the rose family, Rosaceae) is an ancient fruit, originating from Central Asia. In fact, you can still find its wild ancestor Malus sieversii, there today, according to Wikipedia.

Pomologists tell us that there are now more than 7500 cultivates of apples.

Apples are not only bee business but big business. "About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total," Wikipedia tells us. "The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6 percent of world production. Turkey is third, followed by Italy, India and Poland.”

Hats off to the pollinators!

A honey bee pollinating an apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee pollinating an apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee pollinating an apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Apples hanging from a tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Apples hanging from a tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Apples hanging from a tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

The bounty--thanks to bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The bounty--thanks to bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The bounty--thanks to bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, June 20, 2014 at 8:49 PM

Bees Really Connect with Safflowers!

Note the load of yellow pollen from safflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees love safflowers, says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

That they do. Safflower fields literally buzz with bees foraging on the blossoms. Sometimes the pollen load is so heavy it's a wonder they can fly back to their colonies.

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is grown for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds. The plant looks somewhat like a thistle. The heads of the safflower, however, are commonly yellow--not purple--but can be orange or red.

We know safflower as an ancient crop. Safflower-dyed textiles dating back to the 12th Dynasty were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, according to Wikipedia.

Here in California, the name of world-renowned UC Davis scientist Paulden F. Knowles (1919-1960) is synonymous with safflower. The Canadian-born scientist, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Agronomy and Range Science, played a major role in the establishment of safflower as a California crop. Considered the "father of the safflower," Knowles gathered most of the germplasm of wild and cultivated species now in the USDA world collection.  

"It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide," Wikipedia points out. "India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, the Arab World, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder."

That's something to think about when you see honey bees touch down on the blossoms.  Or when you open that bottle of safflower oil in your kitchen...

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

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

Honey bee loaded with pollen heading home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee loaded with pollen heading home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee loaded with pollen heading home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: mdhachman@ucdavis.edu