Items of interest to beekeepers 23 February 2018

Supplied by Fran Bach Editor of both WAS and Washington State Beekeepers newsletters









THINK OF HONEY BEES AS ‘LIVESTOCK’, NOT WILDLIFE, ARGUE EXPERTS University of Cambridge – The ‘die-off’ events occurring in honey bee colonies that are bred and farmed like livestock must not be confused with the conservation crisis of dramatic declines in thousands of wild pollinator species, say Cambridge researchers. Writing in the journal Science, the conservationists argue there is a “lack of distinction” in public understanding – fuelled by misguided charity campaigns and media reports – between an agricultural problem and an urgent biodiversity issue. In fact, they say domesticated honey bees actually contribute to wild bee declines through resource competition and spread of disease, with so-called environmental initiatives promoting honeybee-keeping in cities or, worse, protected areas far from agriculture, only likely to exacerbate the loss of wild pollinators. “The crisis in global pollinator decline has been associated with one species above all, the western honeybee. Yet this is one of the few pollinator species that is continually replenished through breeding and agriculture,” said co-author Dr Jonas Geldmann from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology. “Saving the honeybee does not help wildlife. Western honeybees are a commercially managed species that can actually have negative effects on their immediate environment through the massive numbers in which they are introduced. “Levels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction,” Geldmann said. Honeybees are vital for many crops – as are wild pollinators, with some assessments suggesting wild species provide up to half the needed “pollinator services” for the three-quarters of globally important crops that require pollination. However, generating honeybee colonies for crop pollination is problematic. Major flowering crops such as fruits and oilseed rape bloom for a period of days or weeks, whereas honeybees are active for nine to twelve months and travel up to 10km from their hives. This results in massive “spillover” from farmed honeybees into the landscape, potentially out-competing wild pollinators. A recent study by the co-author of today’s Science article, Dr Juan P. González-Varo, showed honey bee levels in woodlands of southern Spain to be eight times higher after orange tree crops finish blooming. “Keeping honeybees is an extractive activity. It removes pollen and nectar from the environment, which are natural resources needed by many wild species of bee and other pollinators,” said González-Varo, also from Cambridge’s Zoology Department. “Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. Except this livestock can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease.” As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have depressed bee immune systems and sent pathogen rates soaring in commercial hives. Diseases are transferred to wild species when bees feed from the same flowers, similar to germs passing between humans through a shared coffee cup. This puts added pressure on endangered wild European bee species such as the great yellow bumblebee, which was once found across the UK but has lost 80% of its range in the last half century, and is now limited to coastal areas of Scotland. Both wild and cultivated pollinators are afflicted by pesticides such as neonicotinoids, as well as other anthropogenic effects – from loss of hedgerows to climate change – which drive the much-publicized die-offs among farmed bees and the decline in wild pollinator species over the last few decades. “Honeybee colony die-offs are likely to be a ‘canary in the coalmine’ that is mirrored by many wild pollinator species. The attention on honeybees may help raise awareness, but action must also be directed towards our threatened species,” said Geldmann. “The past decade has seen an explosion in research on honey bee loss and the dangers posed to crops. Yet little research has been done to understand wild native pollinator declines, including the potential negative role of managed honey bees.” Geldmann and González-Varo recommend policies to limit the impact of managed honeybees, including hive size limits, the moving of colonies to track the bloom of different crops, and greater controls on managed hives in protected areas. “Honeybees may be necessary for crop pollination, but beekeeping is an agrarian activity that should not be confused with wildlife conservation,” they write. —– WAR DANCE OF THE HONEY BEE BY Karl Gruber, February 1, 2018, The Scientist Magazine The paper A. Fujiwara et al., “First report on the emergency dance of Apis cerana japonica, which induces odorous plant material collection in response to Vespa mandarinia japonica scouting,” Entomol Sci, doi:10.1111/ens.12285, 2017. The Waggle Dance Honeybees are famous for their waggle dances—figure-eight boogies that foragers use to inform nestmates about the locations of food or water. But entomologists were unclear about whether the dances could also be used to help ensure colony safety. Unwelcome Guests Ayumi Fujiwara, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, and colleagues simulated wasp attacks on hives of the Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica) to test the bees’ response to danger.  “Giant wasps attack the nests of honeybees to feed their brood in autumn. As a result, wasps may sometimes annihilate a whole honeybee colony,” she says. Dance Off The researchers found that the bees did use a waggle dance as a warning signal, but only in response to sightings of one wasp species, Vespa mandarinia japonica. “The hive entrance dance informs bees’ nestmates of a specific emergency and of the urgent necessity to collect odorous plant materials as a counterattack strategy,” Fujiwara says. The bees collect stinky plant materials, such as leaves from Nepalese smartweed (Persicaria nepalensis), and smear them at the hive entrance to deter the wasps. Decoding the Moves The information coded in this new waggle dance is not yet completely clear, notes Margaret Couvillon, a biologist and honeybee specialist at Virginia Tech. “What would be interesting to see is if there are any differences in the conveying of directional information in this defensive context versus the regular foraging context,” she says. “Nature tends to be parsimonious in finding solutions, so we might expect that the bees use a similar mechanism in these different situations.” —– BEEHIVES AS INDOOR-OUTDOOR DECOR This is an amazing new idea, ideal for folks who want to be up close and personal with their bees yet not risk too much intimacy. And it’s a super way to introduce all your friends and family too. —– THE MORE KINDS OF BEES, THE BETTER NEWARK, N.J. — The larger an area, the more species of wild bees are needed to pollinate crops, a Rutgers University study shows. The findings appeared this past week in the journal Science. Many controlled ecological experiments have shown increased pollination results from having more species, but the Rutgers-led study is one of the first to confirm that increase in nature. The researchers observed, collected and identified more than 100 species of wild bees pollinating crop flowers on 48 farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over several years. More than half (55) of these species were needed for pollination at one or more farms in one or more years. Pollination is an “ecosystem service” – one of the life-sustaining benefits, like clean air and water, we receive from nature. “Our results confirm the importance of biodiversity in keeping the planet habitable for human beings, at least if our findings apply to other ecosystem functions as well,” said lead author Rachael Winfree, a Rutgers University-New Brunswick ecologist. Scientists estimate that wild pollinators provide as much as half the crop pollination that occurs worldwide. At a time when domestic honeybees in North America are beset with colony collapse and other problems, the role of wild pollinators becomes even more important. “I like to think of this as a real-world question,” Winfree said. “These are real farms and real farmers, and each farmer needs his crops pollinated. The answer turns out to be, that when you require that all farms are pollinated, you need an order of magnitude more bee species than has been needed in experiments.” In her earlier work, Winfree made several suggestions for farmers and landowners who wanted to encourage wild pollinators to pollinate their crops. “Farmers can plant fallow fields and road edges with flowering plants, preferably plants whose flowering periods are different, because wild pollinators need to be supported throughout the growing season,” Winfree said. “They can reduce pesticide use and avoid spraying during crop bloom when more bees are in the crop field.” —–Rutgers University —– From Dr. Christina Grozinger at POLLINATOR-L – RESEARCH JOBS 1. PhD Position: NSF-supported graduate studies in evolutionary epigenetics and genomics of social insects, Hunt Lab, University of Georgia The first project, in collaboration with Ken Ross at UGA, explores how a supergene and phenotypic plasticity influence variation in colony queen number and social behaviors in the fire ant *Solenopsis invicta*. The second project, in collaboration with Sarah Kocher at Princeton University, investigates how gene regulatory evolution has influenced evolutionary variation in social behavior in halictid bees. Applicants must meet requirements of admission to the Graduate School at the University of Georgia (  The start date is flexible, but the student would ideally begin Fall Semester 2018. Prospective applicants should email Brendan Hunt at with a statement of interest. Info 2. Assistant Professor of Entomology (tenure-track), Department of Wildlife, Sustainability, and Ecosystem Sciences, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas We are especially interested in applicants with a specialization in pollinator ecology or insect conservation, who can integrate into our existing programs in wildlife and plant-community conservation.   Details at —– BIOLOGICAL BEEKEEPING – THE WAY BACK By Dee & Ed Lusby The information has been on Dee’s website for a long time. Now it is available as a downloadable e-book or a nice, cloth-bound hard copy. Available on Amazon sites worldwide and soon in bookstores. Check it out at —– CATCH THE BUZZ 1. Over 33,000 People Took To The Streets Of Berlin To Demand A New Food And Farming Policy That Protects The Environment – 20 Jan 2018 – Farmers, consumers, beekeepers and food activists joined the march that was led by 160 tractors and ended in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Equipped with colourful posters and creative costumes, they walked under this year’s motto “Stop the agro-industry!”. Many dressed up as cows or chickens, others buzzed across the city as bees or butterflies. A giant dead bee was floating in the air, lying on its back and carrying the slogan “Agro-industry kills”. Farmers from all across Germany had travelled for many hours by tractor to take part. The event was organised by a broad alliance of more than 100 farmers’ organisations: environmental, animal welfare and development organisations, known as “Wir haben es satt!” (we are fed up). 2. Mead in New York: Cuomo Proposes New License for ‘Honey Wine’ Producers – New York has licenses for farm breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries. If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push is successful, farm meaderies will have one of their own.   Cuomo’s budget proposal would create a farm meadery license. Meaderies produce braggot, which is made with barley malt and honey, and mead. Mead is produced by fermenting honey with water and adding other ingredients, such as fruits and herbs. Mead is often referred to as “honey wine.” There is a growing number of meaderies across the U.S. In 2003, there were 30. As of early 2016, the number of meaderies soared to 300. 3. Too Many Bees, No Matter Where, Can Be A Bad Thing for Bees, Beekeepers and Anybody in the Fecal Flight Path – There’s lots of discussion about whether we have pushed past hard limits in the case of dairy farming, but have we gone past “peak bee”? The Great Springvale Bee Standoff is back and you’ll see more complaints about bees causing a nuisance in town. There were 27 complaints made to Whanganui, New Zealand, District Council last year about bees in the urban areas. WDC’s media release last month singled out urban hobbyists with a hive or two on the back lawn, as if the large numbers of commercial hives on the outskirts of the suburbs — particularly over winter — didn’t exist. Whanganui is a major beekeeping area, thanks to all the mānuka growing on back blocks in our region. It’s lucrative enough that hives are being delivered by helicopter to remote sites; and worth enough to prompt some dodgy behaviour.