bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Scrape, pull? Just get it out -- fast!

There's a nice roundup in the New York Times of evidence about removing bee stings.

The conventional wisdom has been to scrape them out of the skin, not to pull them, because the pulling action simply pumps more venom into the body.

However, 90% of venom is released within 20 seconds because the stinger contains enough nerves and muscles to continue pumping venom.

So the message is: just do it! Just get the sting out as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bees means friends

Shamefully, I missed this news last summer, but it's still worth repeating in full from Lithuanians in Australia:

During a recent visit by Ukraine’s President Yushchenko to Lithuania, he was gifted a set of beekeeping implements by President Adamkus of Lithuania. It turns out that Yushchenko is a keen beekeeper in his private life. President Yushchenko has now in turn gifted President Adamkus three beehives with bees, as thanks for Adamkus’ help in helping solve last year’s Ukrainian crisis.

This was a highly symbolic act, as in ancient times in Lithuania people who exchanged bees became lifelong friends, with ties as strong as between blood relatives. Bees could not be bought or sold, only exchanged. There was a whole lore of beekeeping practised in ancient times, unique in Europe to Lithuania and related Baltic nations. In fact the Lithuanian name for a special friend, "bičiulis", is derived from the word "bitė" (a "bee").

President Adamkus has entrusted the beehives to the care of the Museum of Ancient Beekeeping, located in the Aukštaitija National Park at Stripeikiai, Northwestern Lithuania. The honey that will be produced by President Yushchenko’ bees will be donated to a children’s charity.

Mmmm interesting ...

I'm sure this could be interesting, but ...

Recent research implicates acetylcholine signaling through muscarinic receptors in structural changes that take place in the honeybee brain in response to foraging. These new findings are consistent with research from earlier studies implicating cholinergic signaling in associative learning as well as in the response to an enriched environment in mammals, which suggests that cholinergic signaling may play a critical role in learning and memory mechanisms across phyla.
If I can find out what it means, I'll let you know.

Update: Google can make experts of us all:

Apparently acetylcholine was the first neurotransmitter ever identified. It is a chemical transmitter in both the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system in many organisms including humans. Cholinergic agents on the other hand enhance the effects mediated by acetylcholine. It seems these are important across the animal kingdom. But then you knew that already, didn't you?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Libya goes for honey

Libya is getting serious about honey -- it has just hosted a two-day scientific conference about apiculture attended by North African and Middle Eastern delegates. It looked like we were going to get some hot news when an unidentified source “close to the meeting's organising committee” was quoted as saying ... something completely and utterly bland.

Bad season looming

I've been expecting stories like this warning about the honey (and pollination) prospects for British bees this year.

Fred Willis, of Lowestoft, Suffolk, said: “I used to have 55 bee colonies. Now it's down to 35 and I'm losing more every day. All across East Anglia populations are down by as much as 50 per cent. Unless the bees can catch up in the summer you can expect to see a shortage of British fruit in six months time.”
Me? I'm trying to find a break in the showers to go and look at my bees that must be itching to swarm.

Germany soon to be unbearable again

A wild brown bear (generic picture) has been spotted in Germany for the first time since 1835, but the Bavarian environment minister said hunters were free to shoot it! Why? Because the bear needs to eat: so far its ravaged a few sheep and was last seen destroying a beehive.

They're worried that humans might be next even though experts say that the bear is unlikely to approach people.

“There are nearly 30 brown bears in Austria and a few in Switzerland; it was only a matter of time before one came across,” a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Christian Engel, said yesterday. “The bear is indigenous to Germany, so in a way it has come home.“

Germany's leading tabloid, Bild, gave readers tips on what to do if they bumped into the bear - including playing dead if attacked. But Austrian experts who have been tracking the animal said it was unlikely to approach humans. They were trying to capture it alive, they added.

Outside Russia, there are about 14,000 bears in Europe, mostly in Romania and the Balkans. But the brown bear has been making a comeback elsewhere in central Europe too, aided by resettlement projects in Austria, Italy and France.
Thanks, Rufus.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What comes around goes around -- that special relationship

It's well known that the British Isles gets its weather from the west and south west and it's being really well emphasised this week in Britain.

We seem to be getting a replay of last week's ghastly weather in the North East USA that saturated their pumpkin fields -- and the weather system doesn't seem to have changed a bit in transit over the Atlantic. So a week of rain is expected in Britain which is bad news for beekeepers waiting for their new queens to mate.

At last inspection, my bees weren't preparing to swarm, so they'd better hang on until this filthy weather has passed!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Honeybee terrorists

If you thought Michael Moore was exaggerating in Bowling for Columbine about the way the US authorities set out to strike fear into citizens' hearts, read this :

First responders in Kansas soon could be adding bee veils to the emergency gear they wear.

EMS workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers are about to learn how to respond to a possible influx of Africanized honeybees into the state, according to Kansas Department of Agriculture Program Manager Bill Scott.

Recently discovered about 80 miles south of the Kansas border in Dewey County, Okla., the bees possibly could cross into the state, said Sharon Dobesh, a pest management coordinator at Kansas State University.

To the undiscerning eye, the insects look like common honeybees, but they don't have the docile honeybee personality, Dobesh said.
and so it goes on and on ... ending with:
Scott suggested calling 911 to report a bee swarm ...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Presidential apiary

Tass (the former Soviet newspaper) claims that President Yuschenko of the Ukraine still personally looks after his 80 beehives on his dacha near Kiev. He has also become the head of the Brotherhood of the Ukrainian Bee-Keepers -- sounds rather dodgy ;-)


HydroxyMethylFurfuraldehyde, apart from being a spectacular headline, is also known as HMF and strikes terror into the hearts of some honey sellers. HMF isn't harmful, but it is an indicator of the heat honey has been exposed to or how long it has been stored. The European Union uses it as a quality indicator with limits above which the honey must be classed as "bakers' honey".

There's an interesting debate on Bee-L at the moment if HMF is actually a trade-protection tool used by the EU. If you are in a hot country, it can be pretty damn difficult to keep HMF levels down even if you don't heat your honey.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Help Rufus's friend

Fellow beekeeper, Rufus has a friend, OG, who is struggling to find 15 facts about the number 15 for a design project. At the risk of being a bee bore, I have suggested:

  • As soon as 15 or more honeybees indicate the same new nest site for a swarm, the colony prepares to move.
  • A queen bee has a retinue of about 15 (alternating) honeybees.
  • Honeybees cruise at about 15mph.
  • 15 stings in one day is enough to make me burst into floods of tears.
I'm sure you can do better.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The farmers who don't want bee pollination

In another right-to-farm case (see earlier), this time in California, beekeepers are being asked to move colonies at least two miles from Paramount Citrus's seedless mandarin orchards because they don't want them to be cross-pollinated by bees. In response, some beekeepers claim that state law protects their right to continue their long-standing agricultural activity.

Two quotes sum up the problem:
“The close proximity of these bees to the property threatens to devastate Paramount's Clementine mandarin crop and cause substantial monetary damage,” Asch stated in the letter. “Clementine mandarins produce a large amount of seeds when bees are present and, in today's market, seedy Clementine mandarins yield only a small fraction of the price of seedless Clementine mandarins. Even a small number of seedy fruit can cause tremendous damage by not only damaging the affected fruit, but also making the remaining fruit suspect since it is impossible to tell which fruit have seeds and which do not.”

“We can't believe this is actually happening. At a time when bees are in such critical demand for almonds, we need to keep them healthy on a year-round basis so we can have them for almond pollination,” Brandi said. “We finally have a chance to get some good natural feed and we are being told we can't get it in some areas. So, it is really frustrating.”

Beehive spiked

The Golden Spike “appears” to have been chosen for the Utah Quarter design, beating the beehive and the snow boarder.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Right to farm?

Neighbours of a bee holding yard in the state of Washington, USA have claimed that the bees cause a nuisance. And a judge has ruled that the bee farmers cannot claim a “right to farm” defence.

The Walls had filed suit against the Olsons claiming the bees are a nuisance by stinging them, drowning in their pool and depositing excrement on their house, cars and clothes. ...

Nuisance lawsuits against farms typically involve odors, dust and four-legged livestock, but the nature of bees makes this case unique.

“You can't strap a feed bag on the nose of every bee, nor can you give each bee a little canteen to get its water from,” Skala wrote in a pleading last month. “You can't lock them up in a cage, and you can't put them behind a fence.”
The judge has sent both sides to mediation to try to settle the dispute. Otherwise, it's back to court.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Marie Celeste syndrome

In the UK there are an increasing number of reports of what is becoming known as "Marie Celeste syndrome" -- hives being left bereft of bees with no obvious reason for their disappearance.

I know a beekeeper who has lost 40 of 50 colonies over the course of the winter. The reason is as yet unknown. I had one mysterious winter loss.

A number of possible reasons are circulating for the syndrome: simply varroa, pesticide poisoning, a new unknown virus, and queen failure.

The last notion is rather interesting. The scenario, as I understand it, goes something like this: varroa was first found in the UK in 1992, and by 1995 there were huge colony losses in the south of England. Since then, feral colonies have been few and far between -- and destined to die within three or four years. Beekeepers lost many colonies too. So, suddenly the genetic pool diminished. And lately, some beekeepers have been drone-trapping to try to restrict varroa population growth. By reducing drone populations, queen-mating may be impaired.

Lots of people (me included) have been saying that queens aren't what they used to be -- and that mating is poor. Some people have blamed varroa treatments, claiming that they may have affected queen and/or drone fertility.

So, inbreeding is the word. Queens may lay lots of unfertilised eggs and the colony cannot sustain itself, absconding as a response. Spotty brood is a key symptom when the colony is still viable -- the workers remove or eat the unfertilised eggs.

Could that be the cause? More of this again, no doubt. I can't find much on the web about this (but search for Celeste here) , but the March edition of the Beekeepers' Quarterly has some interesting letters.

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Scouts about

I've been predicting a late swarming season following the very late spring here in southern England. Famous last words! We have our second decent day of spring and already the swarm scouts are nosing around my empty hives in the garden ... Since some people are short of bees, I might just put out a bait hive.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Norfolk honey fraudsters sentenced at last

Long after the predicted sentencing date, the Norfolk honey who fraudulently labelled foreign honey as Norfolk honey have been fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £90,000 costs.

They were found guilty of 12 counts of obtaining property by deception following a three-week trial at King's Lynn Crown Court in December last year.

A further 12 charges of making a false description of food were ordered to lie on the file.

Sentencing the couple yesterday at Norwich Crown Court, Judge Alasdair Darroch said: “This was a lengthy and persistent deception involving a number of wholly innocent traders who were selling honey which was not of the quality demanded.

“I have no doubt that this was an entirely dishonest activity, although there was some legitimate honey production.

“I have already indicated it is not necessary to send you to prison and I am not going to do so.”

He added: “I consider you were dishonest. You consider yourselves the victims, which you most decidedly were not.”

Dry as a pommie's towel

It's so torrid in parts of Australia that one commercial beekeeping association is closing down and a beekeeper has had to move 650 colonies into another state to ensure they have enough pollen.

John Ferguson says just 82 millimetres fell at Thargomindah (SW Queensland) last year - one of the four lowest rainfall years since 1879.

“We moved our bees away last July down into NSW into the Parkes area,” he said.

“They're still down there, they'll be stopping down there until it rains and we can bring them home and it makes it pretty hard.”
Meanwhile the Northern Territory Beekeeper's Association says it cannot continue “After the poorest season in memory involving floods, termites, cane toads and a depressed honey market”.

My blog title -- Dry as a pommie's towel -- for those who don't know refers to Brits' reluctance to shower when in Australia.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Do honeybees feel pain?

I have no intuition as to whether honeybees feel pain or not -- though what we would call “stress” can be quite obvious from their behaviour patterns.

Norwegian scientists have been studying pain in animals. They don't think lobsters feel pain when boiled alive (they have 100,000 neurons as opposed to 100 billion neurons in humans and other invertebrates. Peter Fraser of the University of Aberdeen says: ”while this allows them to react to threatening stimuli, there is no evidence they feel pain”

So what about honeybees?
Honeybees deserve special care, Prof Farstad said, because they display social behaviour and a capacity to learn and cooperate.
That sounds just a tad anthropomorphic to me. Why should social behaviour and learning necessarily be linked to pain?

Monday, May 01, 2006

"The quintessence of Britishness"

An interesting round-up of problems facing British beekeepers and a swipe at insufficient government support in yesterday's Sunday Observer (UK national newspaper).

But two curious assertions caught my eye: queens, claims the journalist usually fetch £20, but good pedigrees can fetch £500! (That 500 figure is new to me.) And the other:
When in the new hive, the bees start to collect pollen which they then turn into honey. 'Essentially honey is just concentrated pollen with some added bee enzymes,' said Howat.
Methinks poor Mr Howat has been misquoted!

The journalist, Robin McKie, also describes the honeybee as “the quintessence of Britishness”.