bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Turtle and bees reek havoc

A seething swarm of bees that almost blacked out the sun descended in a deafening drone on Simuldhap village this morning, attacking everyone who failed to get out of their way ...
... so begins a colourful article in the Indian Telegraph about a bee incident after a truck of honeybees ran into a turtle in Malda, West Bengal.

It ends rather well too:
As the fire fighters arrived, their hoses ready to fire water cannons and wash out the winged terrors, beekeeper Mohammad Tawakali, who was only slightly injured, pleaded with them.

“This is our only livelihood. The bees have settled down and are just flying around. If you kill them, we will suffer immensely. This is the only source of income,” he told them.
There's no byline for the journalist. What a shame!

Getting older on a wing and a prayer

I've heard it said that many animals share the same number of heartbeats in a lifetime (one billion?), but new research suggests that a honeybee's life is measured in wingbeats.

Dr Andy Higginson of the University of Nottingham (UK) has discovered that as bees age and their wings deteriorate, they become less choosy in the flowers they visit. He has therefore put forward a foraging model suggesting that bees have a finite number of wing beats in their lives.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pipless wonders

Is it any wonder that British chainstore Marks & Spencer is in trouble? They are preparing to sell pipless clementines. They think they've done it by making sure bees can't cross-pollinate their seedless clementines (clemenules) in Valencia, Spain which have been grown six miles from the nearest seeded variety.

Can M&S really be sure that the bees again haven't read the books and have flown further from their hives than expected. We'll see when the fruit goes on sale in December. Will there be a rebate for customers getting the pip?

A feast fit for a king

Those of a nervous disposition should jump to the next posting, but if you are still with me, brace yourself.

Thanks to Zachary Huang, here's a delightful picture of a little princess eating queen larvae. (This is a frame of queen cells used by beekeepers to rear queens. The queen larvae with their royal jelly are inside wax cells which hang down from the frame.)

And if you want to see more such pictures, don't miss Zach's bug-eating website.
 Posted by Hello

Pheromone that keeps young bees at home

Old forager bees exert some sort of influence on young nurse bees keeping them at home -- but how do they do it? Zachary Huang and others have discovered the answer.
Experiments showed that if a significant number of forager bees didn’t come home, the young nurse bees would mature ahead of schedule and head out to become foragers themselves. If the older bees were kept inside more than usual -- as in an extended rain shower -- fewer young bees would mature, but instead stick to brood care.
Pheromones were suspected, but couldn't be identified. Many quick-acting “releaser” pheromones are known, but the researchers suspected “primer” pheromones that worked to keep bees at home are slower-acting.

Then they discovered that forager bees carry a chemical called ethyl oleate in the abdominal reservoir in which they store nectar. Young bees don't have ethyl oleate and it is the primer pheromone that keeps them at home.
Forager bees load up on ethyl oleate when they’re buzzing about gathering food, but don’t digest it. The forager bees feed the chemical to the worker bees, and the ethyl oleate keeps them in a teenage state, sort of like being grounded to watch the younger siblings. As the old bees die off, the chemical no longer is fed to nurse bees. Eliminate ethyl oleate and the bees mature into foragers.

... Huang said the system makes sense for the health of the hive. Young bees -- those in the first two to three weeks of life -- are biologically better suited for brood care, thanks to some boosted blood protein. Bees forced out too early aren’t great navigators, and since foraging is dangerous, they risk dying before their time.
Zachary Huang of Michigan University may be a familiar name to Propolis readers -- he's the one with the brilliant bee pictures.

Latest study sees no harm in GM crops

The latest UK research on GM (Genetically Modified) crops has found no evidence that they harm the environment.

The Bright Link Project (pdf leaflet) is a four-year study on relatively large plots (0.25-0.5 hectares) studied GM winter rape and sugar beet (tolerant to certain herbicides) grown in agricultural rotation patterns. The results are then compared to plots of conventional plants and the numbers and diversity of weed seeds left in soil analyzed. The Project is backed by the UK Government and funded by biotech companies.

The Project concluded that the GM varieties, used in this way, did not deplete the soil of weed seeds needed by many birds and other wildlife.

The Bright study appears to contradict another major trial, the Farm-Scale Evaluations or FSEs, held earlier this year which found that two GM varieties, a sugar beet and a spring rape, were more damaging to biodiversity than conventional crops.

Meantime, the UK Government has made it clear there is little prospect of GM crops being introduced into the UK in the short-term.

The European Union stance is that any member states' decisions on GMs should be driven by scientific results rather than public opinion -- an interesting stance for a political body.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Philippine bee initiative

As lowland dwellers in the Philippines appear to be facing financial crisis and food shortages, highlanders have other alternatives including hunting, gathering root crops and wild fruits. And now beekeeping is being encouraged. The Cordillera Green Network has delivered a basic beekeeping seminar workshop and provided starter colonies and smokers for Kibungan farmers after getting the farmers to agree to receiving technical supervision and support. A rather unfortunately-named company is lending a hand -- the PiBeeCo.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

In awe of the ooze

Crowds are flocking to a Hindu temple on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali to watch an ancient banyan tree oozing a honey-like substance said to have mystical properties onto temple buildings.

I wonder if bees have discovered it too. I can imagine the chaos that could ensue if they do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Latest result: Bulldozer 27, Beehives 0

Twenty-seven hives have been bulldozed in Alva, Florida. Beekeeper Wesley Bennefield would quite like an apology and compensation -- perhaps as much as $6,100, but that doesn't seem likely as he had failed to register his hives (required in Florida) and hadn't requested permission to site his hives by Hendry County Canal. The bulldozer workers thought the hives had been abandoned.

World's oldest man dies — long live the world's oldest man

Fred Hale, once thought to be the world's oldest person, has died on Monday at the age of 113. He was a beekeeper and his son pointed out the secrets of his father's longevity:
“His philosophy was simple: work, eat pollen and honey,” he told the Guardian from Jamesville, New York. “He had honey on his cereal and a teaspoon of pollen. But his outlook on life was that he liked to work. He worked in his garden until he was 107, and he did a lot of walking.”

There was something else - what his son described as an “easy temperament”.
By the time he died, he had outlived three of his five children. He had nine grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren.

That world's oldest man is now Germany's Hermann Dornemann, who is 111. The oldest woman, Hanna Barysevich, is 116 and lives in Belarus. I'll check out their bee credentials.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The scouts are out and about

Propolis will be stuck for words over the next few days. I'll be back on Wednesday 24 November.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Australian varroa alert

Australia, one of the last places on earth in which varroa has not yet been spotted, has just had a fright: a nest of Asian bees was found aboard a ship in Brisbane. The bees, presumably Apis cerana, may carry the varroa mite.

As a precaution, hive movements in a six-kilometre radius have been banned, the Asian bees have been destroyed and feral hives in the area will be destroyed (how will they find them!?). An Australian government agriculture official said that there was a very low risk that foraging bees had been able to transfer varroa to local domestic or feral honey bees.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Nature at its best

This is completely off-topic, but I couldn't not tell you my favourite website of the moment. It's the live webcam pictures of Mount St Helens in Washington State, USA.

The scene changes every few minutes and provides some stunning pictures. (Don't be put off if it's cloudy when you look, keep going back to it.) The volcano is expected to blow soon -- and in fact it's blowing ash and steam little by little at the moment. Don't miss it, the camera might just get swamped in ash any day now.

The love of his life

Rufus has reminded me that last weekend's (Britain's) Sunday Times (aka that monster of a paper that is the bain of young paper boys' lives) had a full page feature in its Style section entitled “We're so in love”. It was about Maurice Melzak, a documentary maker, and his bees in Highgate, London. Nice bit of bee PR -- pity that the photo features Maurice wearing leather gloves (as every good beekeeper should be aware, leather gloves are rather suspect as disease carriers).

Because of the way the Sunday Times website is organised, I don't think I can give you a direct link to the article, but try searching on Melzak here. Oh, what the hell, here's a scan (photo by Neil Wilder):

Maurice Melzak's next series is Crime Scene International starting on the UK's Channel Five tonight. Posted by Hello

Monday, November 15, 2004

Dabur fights back

Dabur, the Indian company alleged to have imported honey into New Zealand is claiming that the issue has raised unsubstantiated quality issues about Indian honey. (All foreign honeys are banned from New Zealand, but there were claims that Dabur honey is under voluntary recall in Canada as it may contain chloramphenicol, which poses a small risk of a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia.)
Dabur maintained that the company had not exported any honey to New Zealand and that it is the Kiwi authorities who should be taking responsibility of letting Indian honey inside the country.

... We are concerned on the alerts being raised and would like to mention, in the interest of all, that Dabur Honey meets the stringent norms laid out under CODEX ALIMENTARIUS and the Indian PFA laws and is, therefore, an absolutely safe product, said a company spokesman.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Romantic views of beekeeping in rural England -- not yet at a dead end

An article in today's Daily Telegraph (aka the Daily Torygraph) talks of the new squirearchy near these parts. Apart from the hilarious opener:
It is fashionable to pretend that Britain is a classless society.
it goes on to say that the new squirearchy (rich middle-aged things from London's square mile) feels certain obligations:
Another landowner, a man who inherited a substantial chunk of the entire Yorkshire landmass, sniffs: “Noblesse oblige still exists. You have got to turn up to everybody's funeral, whether it is the local beekeeper or the gamekeeper on a neighbour's estate ...”
I wonder if I might qualify one day! Nah, not in this village! Anyway, I'm just a cheap blow-in -- or a “washashore” as they say on certain seaboards of the US.

Some of the old toffs don't like the newcomers according to an estate agent:
My client made no apology for being late, but the old couple selling the house were completely charming. It was when he drove back to London that the old boy turned to me and said: “We're not selling our family home to that b*****, whatever he offers.”

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Beehive Syndrome

There's a nasty condition called “Beehive Syndrome” that causes both hearing and vision loss. It is caused by a gene mutation and received its nickname because it has been found in 18 of 30 members of a family in Utah, the beehive state.

Madame Butterfly makes room for bees

Paris's two main opera houses also happen to be home to bees. In 1983 beekeeper and props man Jean Paucton was granted permission to put his bees aloft in the Palais Garnier while he moved home. They did so well, they stayed and now and their produce is on sale in the souvenir shop. Beehives were also later located on top of the Bastille Opera House and the idea is catching on:
... with the support of the culture ministry and Paris City Hall, [Olivier] Darne [another Parisian beekeeper] is now working on seeing more beehives installed around Paris, including a permanent &;ldquo;wall of honey” in the Marais district in the heart of the capital next spring.

... other French cities such as Toulouse and Nantes also in the process of setting up urban beekeeping.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Getting to know your bees

There's another blog out there with occasional bees. Jason tells an interesting story of his early encounters with his father's bees and points to an interesting quote in Keeping Bees, an American beekeeping book for beginners getting used to handling bees:
Pour a puddle of syrup through the screen and shake some bees into it ... Watch their little tongues go at the syrup. Touch the feet and antenna of bees crawling inside the cage wire. They can't sting through the wire. Blow on a cluster and see what it does. Poke a broom straw through the wire and into the bees. Stir them gently. Fast movement will meet with antagonism. Slow, gentle movement won't be noticed. You are learning two major skills of bee handling: do nothing until you feel safe--have confidence born of know-how--and do everything in a slow, gentle, and deliberate manner.
Nice! I haven't seen such a piece in a British bee book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Propolis prediction

A Central Australian beekeeper is predicting much-needed heavy rains -- his bees are sealing up their hives with lots of propolis.
Four years ago bees in the region went into a frenzy, collecting food and sealing up hives with a natural material called propolis.

The area measured around 600 millimetres of rain during the following summer and autumn.

Beekeeper Keith Brooke reckons the signs are there again, for more than 300 millimetres in the next few months.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Honey bath

Latino celebs (farándula) in Hollywood are hailing the qualities of honey as a beauty enhancer:
Venezuelan beauty, Englantina Zingg, believes honey has special soul-cleansing properties that other foods can’t replicate. “I take a honey bath at least once a week,” explains Englatina. “I rub honey from head to toe, and after rinsing it off, my skin feels silky smooth, and I feel spiritually cleansed.”
I'm not sure if she really means a honey bath. In any event for us poor non-farándulas, here's the version for the shower:
Englatina’s Honey Soul Cleanse (serves 1)
1 cup of honey
¼ cup of rock salt

In a bowl, combine ingredients. In the shower, rub the mixture all over the body from head to toe. The honey mixed with the rock salt has great exfoliation properties. After rinsing, your skin will feel silky smooth. Use once a week for best results.
Can Englatina do for honey what The Who did for baked beans?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Kiwis to do the semenly impossible

New Zealand's second longest trade dispute has been settled. Later this month it will be able to export honeybees and honeybee semen to the USA. A ban has been in place for 26 years. Initially exports are expected to be valued at NZ$140,000 a year.

And New Zealand's longest running trade dispute? The 80-year-old Australian ban on the import of New Zealand apples.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Counting them all out and counting them all back again ...

A student at University College Worcester (UK) has devised a bee counter using digital electronics. The device can count to the accuracy of one bee and distinguish whether they are entering or leaving the hive. The counter uses two light gates and bees have to cross both beams to register on a database.

Maybe the person who had to count Italy's bees this year will be delighted.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Bee humbles nuclear winter theorists

The tropical honeybee Cretotrigona prisca is calling into question the theory that a post-asteroid impact caused a “nuclear winter” that was a big player in the decimation of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

A palaeontology graduate student Jacqueline M Kozisek of the University of New Orleans says that tropical honeybees from the Late Cretaceous preserved in amber are almost identical to their modern relatives. But no modern tropical honeybee could have survived years in the dark and cold without flowering plants.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The healing power of bee stings

Bee venom has long been used to treat conditions from acute tendonitis to chronic back pain and rheumatoid arthritis, but the way it works has been a mystery. Now researchers in South Korea have begun to reveal the properties of melittin, a major component of bee venom and a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.

UPDATE 9 November 2004: The above news has sparked a discussion on Bee_L where a number of seasoned beekeepers are questioning the idea that bee venom protects against arthritis. Here's a site devoted to bee venom, though it hasn't been updated for a few years.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bear bee bait

Have you ever seen a bear raiding a beehive? Scroll down this page and you'll see a scary sight.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

No IPM, no bees

Californian beekeepers are reported to be suffering heavy colony losses because of varroa resistant to their two main anti-varroa treatments -- Apistan and Checkmite+. And the almond harvest which faced such problems this year, looks set to be much worse next year.
“This season, the infestation built up before anybody even could recognize it and it was too late for a lot of guys. Some of the beekeepers that I know are 50 percent to two-thirds wiped out,” said Galt beekeeper Guy Rutter, a member of the California Farm Bureau Federation bee commodity advisory committee. “In our case, other than normal loss during the season, we are in OK shape. Until we get through the cold weather and into January we are not going to really know our losses for sure. It is going to wreak havoc with almond pollination as far as pricing and will even reflect into the other crops like cherries, plums, apples and the summer pollination crops.”
It seems that they have misused treatments by not alternating them in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme and are now paying the price.


Bushbees or Kerrybees?

US voters clearly faced some obstacles in voting yesterday -- and some undemocratic bees tried to play a role in Ohio:
In rural Holmes County, a woman trying to vote at a township hall became upset by bees buzzing around.

“We called the trustees about it and the township clerk was going out to spray them or exterminate them somehow,” said Mary Riggle, deputy director of the elections board.
(I think the township clerk was going to try to exterminate the bees rather than the voters.)

Indian honey seeps into New Zealand

Some of that new Indian honey is thought to have found its way into New Zealand, a country that bans the import of foreign honey for biosecurity reasons.

Graeme Cammel of Auckland National Beekeepers Association says the particular brand of honey, Dabur, has also raised concerns because it is under voluntary recall in Canada as it may contain chloramphenicol, which poses a small risk of a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Retired World Banker displays entrepreneurial skills

If you have faith in the World Bank, you may like to reconsider.

When Linda Corsiga retired in 1999 from the International Finance Corp, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, she took a beekeeping course in the Philippines and set up a “a honeybee farm with a total of 45 Australian honeybees ” [sic] to work coconut palms.

The report continued:
Unfortunately, because she was not a hands-on beekeeper, all her honeybees died, along with her investments.
She then turned to organic coconut vinegar making, saying “I lived in the world of vinegar” (a reference to the family business rather than the World Bank office culture).