Friday, September 28, 2012

Vanishing of the Bees

     The movie "Vanishing of the Bees" was made in 2007, a year after commercial beekeepers Dave Hackenberg and Dave Mendes reported a phenomena that was later to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder.  Little has changed in the five years since the making of this movie.  Last winter losses were down by 5% in North America but short term statistics reveal little.  Better results from a single winter could simply be weather related.  There has been no single identification of the problem or a solution.  Since 2007 Scientists have discovered that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus is present in most hives that have succumbed to Colony Collapse Disorder but that it is not the only problem.  Also, prior to the onset of CCD neonicotinoid pesticides became the popular choice for farmers and since have been identified as one of the possible causes of CCD.  Most believe it is a combination of problems such as viruses, pests (Varroa), reduced genetic diversification and systemic neonicotinoid pesticides.  I believe that bees are the "Canary in the Coal Mine" for planet earth and that their weak immune system makes them the prime indicator species for major problems such as industrial agriculture (artificial chemical dependant monoculture) and human biological interference (Increasing the size of honey bees 100 years ago for greater honey yield and the worldwide spread of the varroa mite).  A step in the right direction would be a change in our agricultural system that would reduce our dependencies on chemicals and monoculture agriculture and return us to a more natural, healthy state.  Please support your local, organic farmer and beekeeper.  To purchase the movie go to Vanishing of the Bees .

*Vanishing of the Bees Study Guide for teachers here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Killer Bees

Killer Bee statue in Hidalgo, Texas
     The term "Killer Bees" refers to Africanized bees which were originally produced by cross-breeding European bees (Apis mellifera) with African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) which are a sub-species of the European or Western honey bee and are native to central and southern Africa.  In 1956, to produce the "perfect" honey bee for tropical Brazil, 26 African Tanganyikan queen bees were imported to Brazil and bred with European drones.  Queen excluders were put on the entrances of the hives to prevent introduction of these African queen bees into the Brazilian environment. In 1957 a replacement beekeeper unknowingly removed the queen excluders releasing the African queens and starting the migration of the Africanized bees through the western hemisphere.  Here is some additional information on Africanized bees provided by the University of California (Africanized Bees).  The map below show the yearly migration of the Africanized bees.

     I draw an analogy between the phenomena of the "Killer Bee" and the movie "Jaws".  The movie inspired an unfounded paranoia of entering any water even that not inhabited by sharks.  Myself, having worked and lived in bear country and swum with sharks for years pride myself in possessing a sense of calm and objectivity when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.  Nevertheless I recall hearing the unforgettable music from the movie "Jaws" every time I encountered a shark in the water after that.  The reality is that while sharks and "killer bees" do pose a threat it is important to put it into perspective and not create an exaggerated paranoia.  The city of Hidalgo, Texas where the first Africanized bees in the U.S. were identified built a larger than life statue of the "Killer bee" on wheels which is still brought out for festivals and parades.  In reality driving a car and riding a bike are far more dangerous.  It is important to note that beekeepers in Central and South America are presently using Africanized bees.  While they do produce a higher yield of honey they replace the native bees (Stingless Bees of the Maya) and do not pollinate all of the native plants.
     The distinguishing features of the Africanized bee are: Swarms more frequently (smaller swarms up to 10 times a year potentially inhabiting smaller cavities); more likely to migrate as a response to seasonal dearth (In many parts of Africa their ancestors migrated annually due to extreme seasonal drought - Queen of the Savannah is a great movie about the ordeals of the African bee); more likely to abscond (entire colony leaves) in response to stress; more aggressive defensiveness when in a resting swarm; more likely to inhabit ground nests than European bees; greater area and more aggressive defense of hive; proportionally more guard bees; more bees act in defense of a hive and do so for a greater distance (i.e. several hundred bees to a disturbance 40 meters away and may follow for a quarter of a mile); The Africanized bee has also shown a greater propensity to be aggressive to darker colours such as darker coloured dogs suggesting a link to it's greatest enemy in Africa, the dark coloured honey badger; has difficulty surviving longs periods without forage (i.e. long, dry summer periods or cold winters). Here is a research article on the DNA of Africanized bees (DNA of Africanized Bees).

1985 Africanized Bee Alert

     The Africanized bee's sting is no more venomous than the European bee and like the European bee it can only sting once.  They respond to disturbances faster, in greater numbers and for farther distances.  The prescribed defense is to retreat quickly (covering your head) to the shelter of a building or automobile.  The undesireable, aggressive traits appear to be passed by the Africanized drones so many American beekeepers are counter attacking the migration of the Africanized bees by drone-flooding or raising an inordinate number of European drones to ensure a majority European mating.  Other defence measures include frequent requeening to remove any Africanized queens and extermination of wild bee nests.  However, most scientists believe that the northward migration is unpreventable and that with time the Africanized bees will adapt to periods of dearth or cold.  They have adapted to and inhabit colder areas at the foot hills of the Andes Mountains in South America.  While there is no way to predict their arrival in Canada one deterrent is the antiquated and bizarre Canadian bee import restrictions (We can import bees from New Zealand, Australia and Chile - Canadian bee import regualtions) that make the movement of bees from the U.S. to Canada impractical.  This is why most of our imported bees in Vancouver come from New Zealand. 

     For additional information on Africanized Bees in America go to Saguaro National Park Africanized Bees  and The Africanized Honey Bees in America.  For instructional material go to Africanized Honey Bees (Power Point Presentation).

     It is autumn and for many of us beekeepers it is time to watch for wasps.  Wasps leave their nests this time of year and go out and forage.  While some will occasionally enjoy nectar they are primarily insectivores and will kill your bees and attempt to enter the hives.  For strong colonies this is not usually a problem but as a counter measure beekeepers often use entrance reducers and wasp traps.  All of our wasps will die this winter except for the new, mated queens.  This year I have identified 6 species of wasps in my garden: Vespula pensylvanica (western yellowjacket-Queen); Potter Wasp; Polistes dominula- European paper wasp; Male Vespula germanica (German Wasp - Yellowjacket); Dolichovespula maculata (bald-faced hornet) and the beautiful green eyed Bembicini (Bembix) or Sand wasp.  While I have observed a smaller yellow wasp and a similar sized Blackjacket wasp I have not made positive identification.  I have seen the western yellowjackets killing the odd bee in front of the hives but no sign of any attempted entry.  Last year I witnessed the girls mass attack of a large bald-faced hornet trying to enter the hive.  It was very violent  as the wasp attempted to fly away with a few of the girls attached.  
    We are still in our Indian summer with beautiful days, active, foraging bees and lots of flowers still available.  Soon it will be time to prepare the hives for winter, extract some honey and wax up my skis.

Bembicini (Bembix) or Sand wasp (Green eyes)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Indian Summer

The girls enjoying a Purple Coneflower

     Today is the first day of Autumn and we are entering a period of time we like to call Indian Summer.  It is perhaps my favorite time of year with lots of sunshine and cooler temperatures (16-18 Celsius or 60-65 Fahrenheit).  In the morning there is a cool, freshness in the air that is missing in the heat of summer.  Though the days are shorter there is still a wide variety of blossoms for our bees to forage on.  While I love this time of year there is also a certain sadness at the passing of another year.  Birds are heading south to winter and the leaves are starting to turn colour.  We savour this time of year in the north country, hoping to enjoy every last drop of life before the arrival of winter.  It's like the passing of an old friend. 


These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, -
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!
Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,
Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

Emily Dickinson [1830-1886]

                                                     Bombus on a Japanese Anemone

     In the spring and summer there are periods of foraging dominated by large quantities of specific blossoms like cherry, plum, apple, raspberry, black locust and blackberry.  Though the time of high pollen collection of singular blossoms is over there is still a wide variety of individual flowers available.  Some of the flowers that enticed the girls today were Borage, Calendula, Anemone, Coneflower, Strawberry, Blackberry, Cucumber, Zucchini, Bee balm, Bugbane, Aster, Clematis, Honeysuckle, Lupine, Sunflower, Hydrainga (normal and oak leaf), Scarlet runner beans, Sunflower, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Mallow, Hollyhock, Tomato, Malva, Kafir Lily, Mint, Shoofly, Cardoon (artichoke), Cosmos and Lavender.  I am presently working on adding photos of all these plants to my Bee Plants pages.    

                                                       Unidentified Bombus on Cosmos (not Kramer)

     I was determined to improve my photographic skills this year and felt I had moderate success.  Any failings on the quality of my photos I prefer to blame on my camera (it can't defend itself).  So I apologize in advance for the poor performance of my camera ( I am often heard chastising my equipment "Bad camera").  I have noticed that mid day, summer light is too bright and produces a glare.  Earlier morning and dusk provide more interesting highlights.  Also, wind is an enemy of those photographing flowers and insects.  In a web post I made last year Beeutiful Bee Photography I discussed a few of my favourite bee photographers.  Biologist Zachery Huang (Beetography) has beautiful bee photography and Eric Tourneret (The Bee Photographer) has done many amazing photographic studies of the relationship between bees and humans.  I have been particularly enthralled with the traditional cultural relationships like the "Honey Hunters of Nepal" and the "Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya".

Left Bombus Mixtus (Male) and right Bombus Caliginosus or Bombus Vosnesenskii on sunflower

     I also made an effort to identify native bees and insects that resemble bees.  I was amazed at the variety of insects that called our garden home.  Due to the incredible number of insect species (Over 450 species of native bees in British Columbia) I could not have identified the insects without the aid of BugGuide.  BugGuide is a website hosted by Iowa State University department of Entomology which allows you and I to submit photos to be identified by volunteer experts.  Despite the poor performance of my camera ("Bad camera") they do an amazing job of identifying what I would have no hope of identifying accurately.

                                 Very large unidentified Bombus enjoying Japanese Anemone

Native Insects from our Garden

     Today I harvested rhubarb (I sweeten with honey), potatoes, chives, blackberries, raspberries, apples, cucumbers and zucchini (Zucchini Blues) from my garden.  The weather forecast is for continued sunshine for the next two weeks.  Hopefully our Indian Summer will last well into October.  Hope springs eternal.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

 Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

                                                              Hazel enjoying a sedum

Indian Summer

The flowers' scent spiraling in the autumn air,
Beckons closer to warmth before coolness there,
The greenery makes us gasp with hidden delight,
The sun overhead embraces softly, glinting bright,
A sudden springish burst of life and rebirth,
Makes me frolic in fields of growth unearthed,
For a moment childhood feels quite near,
When conjured memories quietly appear,
Before summer commences its sad farewell,
The balmy weather murmurs a rapturous tale.

by Erin Bower  

                                                              Ahhhh!  Zucchini blossoms.

           The Girls enjoying an Indian Summer

Music by Eva Cassidy (l963-l996) My favourite singer

The girls were bringing in lots of orange or was it gold pollen today.

"Fields Of Gold"

You'll remember me when the west wind moves

Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold

So she took her love

For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

Will you stay with me, will you be my love

Among the fields of barley
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in the fields of gold

See the west wind move like a lover so

Upon the fields of barley
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth
Among the fields of gold
I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We'll walk in the fields of gold
We'll walk in the fields of gold

Many years have passed since those summer days

Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold
You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in the fields of gold
When we walked in the fields of gold
When we walked in the fields of gold

Friday, September 21, 2012

Killing Bees: Are Government and Industry responsible?

     The arrival of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006 coincided with the mass distribution of the new neonicotinoid systemic pesticides by the large agrochemical corporations.  Most believe that there are several contributing factors to CCD including pests (Varroa), diseases and monoculture industrial farming but that the one new factor in the equation is the introduction of the neonicotinoids.  Countless studies have been carried out throughout the world proving the lethal and sub lethal effects of systemic pesticides resulting in the  banning of these pesticides in several European countries (Insecticides and Bees and Pesticide banned in France).  Beekeepers in Canada have also been adversely effected by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (Pesticide suspect in Bee Deaths and Neonicotinoids kill Bees in Ontario) which are also used in consumer products (Dog and cat flea treatment, garden insecticides...) but no action has been taken by the Canadian government.
     In the United States a petition against the use of the neonicotinoid pesticide Clothianidin (Ban this Pesticide) accompanied by studies proving the lethal effects of the product was signed by hundreds of thousands of people, submitted to and rejected by the EPA.  The problem in North America is that the political power is completely controlled  by the agrochemical companies through campaign contributions and lobbying.  Many of the upper management of both the EPA and FDA are appointed from similar positions with major agrochemical corporations (Genetic Roulette).  An obvious conflict of interest. They have created an agricultural system which is completely dependant on the agrochemical products like the neonicotinoid coated genetically modified seeds which once introduced cannot be removed from the environment (Millions Against Monsanto ).  The unique system within the United States allows the agrochemical companies to release new products to the market with a "Conditional Release" without any substantial testing of the product.  The substantial testing is to be carried out by the agrochemical company (conflict of interest) and submitted to the EPA within a period of time.  What are the chances of a company making millions from the sale of a product submitting studies which show the lethal and sub lethal effects on bees and the environment.  The modus operandi is similar to that used by the Tobacco industry for decades denying the lethal effects of cigarettes.
     Until September 25th the EPA is accepting comments regarding the petition to ban the neonicotinoid pesticide Clothianidin.  There is only two actions we can take to safeguard our bees.  The first is if you happen to have an extra billion dollars (I'm a little short) in your pocket you could buy off the top ranking American politicians or EPA management or secondly submit a comment to the EPA voicing your opposal to the use of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides here.  Please keep the language in your comments civil (i.e. Replace low life, greedy, scum sucking, corrupt purveyors of death with "To whom it may concern").  "Great acts are made up of small deeds" (Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism).  Go to Beyond Pesticides for more information on submitting a comment to the EPA.
     For further information on the effects of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides on bees go to the "Insecticides and Bees" section of our Beekeepers' Library.  We also have several movies in the Video section of our website on this subject including "Bee Deaths in France", "Who killed the Honey Bee" and "The World according to Monsanto".  Also a good book on the subject of neonicotinoids can be read and downloaded here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bat Conservation

     Like many of our species of native bees, bats are endangered.  Due to disease, a negative image of bats and a loss of habitat many species of bats are struggling to survive.  It's always interesting to me to see how important every member of an ecosystem is to every other part of that ecosystem.  When one part of that ecosystem is removed all suffer.  Bats help bees by nocturnal consumption of insects which reduces the amount of required pesticide used by commercial farmers.  The same pesticides which are killing our bees right now.  Bats pollinate in tropical areas of the world and in North American deserts it is an essential pollinator of specific desert plants.
     Bat Conservation International is a great bat information resource and is working hard to conserve the world's bats.  At the Bat Conservation International website you can learn about bats, learn how to install a Bat House (here) or adopt a bat (here).  The United Nations has declared 2011-2012 International Year of the Bat and Bat Conservation International a "Founding Partner".
     Chase Community Giving is awarding grants to conservation organizations.  To help support bats through Bat Conservation International go to the Chase Community Giving page on Facebook.

1. Go to the Chase Community Giving page on Facebook, enter Bat Conservation International on “Search Charities”, then click Vote. (You can earn an extra vote by sharing through Facebook, Twitter, or emailing the link—if someone clicks on your link and votes, you get an extra vote!)
2. Go to, click on "Vote Now", search for Bat Conservation International, and then click Vote. (You must be a Chase customer to vote at this website.)
You can vote both ways, giving BCI double the votes! Voting closes September 19th.
Following the voting phase, Chase will donate a total of $5 million to the 196 charities who received the most votes. Awards will be distributed as follows:
$250,000 to the charity receiving the most votes
$100,000 to the first 10 runners-up
$50,000 to the next 35 runners-up
$20,000 to the next 50 runners-up
$10,000 to the final 100 runners-up
BCI is currently in 90th place. The top-ranked charity has 13,500 votes. If all our members and Facebook fans take one minute and vote, BCI could take the lead and win $250,000.
Every vote counts, so please vote today! 

     On Tuesday, September 18th from 7-8:30 p.m. join in the free live webcast from Bracken Bat Cave in Texas.  For information on the webcast go to BatsLive.  Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats live in this cave from March to October which is one of the largest concentrations of mammals on earth.  Should be fun. Have you hugged a bat today? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya

              A photo by Eric Tourneret of the stingless Trigona honey bees kept in traditional earthen pots

     There are about 800 species of stingless bees (Meliponines) that can be found in tropical regions of the world (Tropical America, Australia, Africa and Southeast Asia).  In fact stingless bees do have stingers but they are so small that they are ineffective and instead defend their colony by biting.  The stingless bee bite is similar to a mosquito bite.  The stingless bees will nest in open tree cavities, rock crevices or underground openings.
     The stingless bees (Melipona Beecheii and Melipona Yucatanica) in Central America have been kept by the Mayan people for thousands of years and are part of their traditional religious ceremonies.  The bees are kept like family pets in log hives or pots passed down from generation to generation.  The future of the Mayan stingless bee is bleak due to deforestation and the introduction of the Africanized honey bee which produces a far greater yield of honey.  A significant problem is that the Africanized honey bee does not pollinate many of the native trees and shrubs which as a result are declining.  The number of traditional Mayan beekeepers has reduced drastically with elderly men and women being the last of their kind.  


     Eric Tourneret is an amazing photographer who has studied the relationship between different cultures and bees including the Mexican stingless bee (The Bee Photographer).  Part of this study involves the efforts to increase traditional stingless beekeeping along with the fair trade initiative (Fairtrade in Mexico) both of which I feel are very important issues.  The group "Schools for Chiapas" is also working to promote traditional stingless beekeeping with educators, students and communities.  The video below shows the traditional Melipona bee ceremony known as Un-hanli-cab in Yucatan, Mexico.

     Native stingless bees have been kept by cultures throughout the world and the video below is of an Australian native stingless beekeeper.

     There are many species of stingless bees in the Amazon and they also play an important part in the environment as pollinators.  34 species of stingless bees have been identified in the Amazon region of which 9 were considered domesticated by the locals.  Below is a video by Eric Tourneret in his continuing study of the relationship between bees and people entitled "The Amazing Stingless Bees of the Amazon".

     To read further about the stingless bees of the Maya read Xuna Kab, The Stingless Bees of the YucatanThe State of Melipona in Mexico today and Meliponas in Yucatan.  All of these are also available in our Beekeepers' Library.  To read an article on stingless beekeeping in India go to The Hindu.
     I have been asked often if stingless bees can be imported to Canada and the U.S. and the answer is no, not legally.  However, there are reports of beekeepers keeping stingless bees for many years in the southern states having brought them up from Mexico.
     Help the School for Chiapas save the Mayan Stingless Bee through the Mayan Stingless Bee Recuperation Program (

Recent Posts

Recent Posts Widget