bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Apologies for the recent lack of posts, but it is summer after all. There will be even fewer posts over the next three weeks -- ie none -- since I will be elsewhere. But normal posting will be resumed in early September. Meanwhile here's a quick roundup of news over the past few weeks:

New York Times (subscription needed) reports that
An unapproved type of genetically engineered grass has been found growing in the wild in what scientists say could be the first instance in the United States in which a biotechnology plant has established itself outside a farm.

Indian biologists claim that some males bees and wasps can be made to do some work like feeding larvae instead of just living for sex.

Why do queens, raised from any egg, live far longer than workers? An Australian researcher is on the case. And he wonders if the principles, when discovered, will apply to humans.

A piece about Slovakian beekeeping.

German medical researchers have announced that honey is more effective in healing problem wounds, ulcers and skin conditions than standard antibiotics.

The UK Bumblebee Conservation Trust have set up a £100,000 appeal to create a reserve on the west coast of the Uists (islands off the west coast of Scotland).

Bears reduced Bhutan's developing honey industry by destroying 60 colonies. Apparently, Apis mellifera was first introduced to Bhutan by a private beekeeper as late as 1987. The association has 28 beekeepers, 370 hives producing 8,400 to 10,300 kilos of honey annually.

One of me bees got inside my pants and wrought revenge (no links, no pix!).

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nelson wants to see no varroa

Kiwi beekeepers in Nelson are planning their own attempt at eradication of varroa following the decision of government to manage rather than eradicate the pest.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Joyless riding

An Indiana teenager crashed into a tree and upset some bees. In fact the bees were so upset, they took exception to rescuer Volunteer Fire Chief Kent Gilbert whom, it is reported, was stung at least 50 times. His parting words to the teenage driver went unreported.

Thanks to Toni for an alert to this story.


Bumbles like it hot

The idea that insects seek out flowers with the most pollen or nectar or pollen might not be quite correct.

Researchers at Cambridge University and Queen Mary College, London have discovered that bumblebees prefer to visit warm flowers and can use colour to predict the bloom's temperature. Why they should want warm flowers is unclear, but they might be using warmer blooms to help maintain their body temperatures and save energy.

The finding may also throw light on the evolutionary link between plants and pollinators:

“About 80% of flower species have a peculiar structure in their flowers; the skin is made up of little cells that are cone-shaped. It has never been fully understood what function they served,” Professor Chittka said.

“But one effect it does have is that the cones act as little lenses to focus light directly into the parts of the cells that contain the floral pigment; because more light is absorbed it warms the flowers -- that's a clever trick.

“We think the fact that 80% of floral species have this, it could be a broad evolutionary innovation in order to generate warmth and thus lure pollinators to collaborate with them,” he suggested.

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Management not eradication

It seems that plans to eradicate varroa in South Island, New Zealand have at last been abandoned.

Government opposition parties are grumbling, the Federated Farmers' Bee Industry Group chairman, Lin McKenzie, says the government's decision is a betrayal, but bee farmers in Nelson, the infected area, have welcomed the end to the uncertainty and are now planning for spring orchard pollination.

The government says it will spend NZ$3.2 million over the next four years to try to slow the spread of varroa. Eradication costs were estimated to be NZ$9.5 million.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Newest honey factory

The honey business seems to be booming downunder despite varroa. In North Island, New Zealand Steens Honey is building a $500,000 factory to service about 7000 Wairarapa hives and employ up to 20 people. At full capacity, they will be processing 250 tonnes of manuka honey annually for Comvita and other outlets.

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Out of the zone

Not surprisingly, varroa has already been found to have leaked from the New Zealand South Island exclusion zone. I would expect that this would put a nail in the coffin of any eradication policy -- but who knows?

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