bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sex on stamps

Four new stamps featuring pollination are being issued by the US Post Office tomorrow. Bees, birds, butterflies and bats are all featured pollinating four wildflowers. One look at the bat tells me that Disney must have been involved somewhere in the process. The bees? Maybe they are Apis stylizedus. The stamps were designed by artist Steve Buchanan of Winsted, Connecticut.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Feverish temperature fights disease

A high temperature can indicate a fever, but in the case of bees it seems it can be an evolved approach to fighting disease. Tufts University biology Professor Philip Starks and his graduate student researchers are uncovering the secret lives of honeybees and paper wasps:

“One of our discoveries has to do with the ability of a colony to mount a group level temperature response to disease,” says Starks. ”We introduced a particular infection that impacts young, developing larvae into some of our hives and used temperature probes to measure the temperature of the brood comb. We noticed that the temperature within the hive spiked in response to the infection ... so what honeybees do is elevate the temperature of a hive to the point that the fungal pathogen can't take root in the larvae. It's sort of a preventative fever.”
Thanks to Cat for the link.

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Beekeeping, food security and bee bargers

The UN sees beekeeping as one of the 170 projects to be encouraged in tackling food security for 20 million people in the Horn of Africa.
“We have identified what works best and where. The biggest challenge is to scale up successes to extinguish hunger in the Horn rather than just fighting fires each time one breaks out.”
Meantime, beekeeping has hit a problem from bee bargers in another poor area, Uganda:
However, because of the destruction of the natural vegetation in search of firewood, most families that rear wild bees have lately been frustrated by strange small dog-like animals called bee bargers, and drought. The animals which used to survive on wild bees in the natural forests have now turned to domestic hives as most of their habitat has been destroyed.

“We used to harvest honey three times a year and would get 60 kilos of honey per hive. We sell each kilo at Shs6,000. However, our hives have been invaded by the bee bargers that eat both the honey and the bees,” Ms Phoebe Awere of Aluyi sub-county in Nebbi district said. Awere who is an established bee keeper however, didn't have bees in most of her hives, something she attributes to lack of access to water.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who? Me?

I've received a mysterious email:
I do voluntary work two mornings a week at our local Hospice and this morning I found a copy print of an article about your and your bees' splendid work with Propolis. Iwas absolutely astounded. My wife and I are both rapidly approaching the magic figure 70 and are both getting afew twinges of the dreaded A (Alzheimers, I suppose). Is it possible for us to purchase some of your “magical cure” and try it for ourselves.
I had to reply that I don't do miracle cures, nor do I sell snake oil.


Propolis soap

A violin restorer has contacted me looking for raw propolis to use as a ground for violins. Apparently, the story goes something like this:

Back in the days of the old master violin makers, 1550–1730, people who kept bees didn't have the hives we have today. They kept their bees in skeps, baskets woven of straw. Each year, in preparation for the honey run, the beekeeper would clean the hive by leaching it in lye, the result of leaching wood ashes with water. (Today we scrape the propolis from the hive.) The lye would digest the propolis making the hive ready for the bees. This digesting process created a liquid soap from the propolis. It is my belief that this liquid soap was the source of the mysterious ground the violin makers used as an undercoat.
The author gives a recipe for propolis soap and its application here.


Dismal June

Wimbledon fortnight has begun, so the weather is grim. My bees are ready to go, with the main nectar flow expected to end about mid-July. But the weather is not good, so nothing is happening .... yet.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reliable CCD statistics?

It seems that we are getting closer to the truth about CCD losses in the USA over the past year.

A survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America estimates that between 651,000 and 875,000 of the nation's 2.4 million honeybee colonies were lost over last winter. While most losses were from known causes, over one fourth were attributed to CCD.
So it seems that the figure might be 8-10% of the total population.

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Jagger's dagger

If you are of a gentle or prudish disposition, you may wish to avoid this one:

Apparently Mick Jagger has tried lengthening a certain part of his anatomy (clue: not his tongue) by covering it with bees:
“It involved putting bamboo over the male member and filling it with stinger bees so the member attained the size of the bamboo,” said (Fitzcarraldo film director) Julien Temple. “Mick spent months in the jungle in Peru. He was going mad out there I think.”
I have no information as to whether he got no satisfaction.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Bee sniffer dog

A Southampton University (UK) postgraduate student is using a sniffer dog to find bumblebee nests. His supervisor says that finding nests has always been a very tricky part of the research, but he thought that perhaps foxes and badgers, bumblebee predators, found their prey by sniffing. It seems that he could be right as Quinn, a springer spaniel is doing a good job. (Report on BBC Countryfile.)


Friday, June 15, 2007

Vintage film

How would you deal with 700 prime swarms a year?

Here's a brilliant video from a heather skep apiary in Lower Saxony, Germany. It's a huge skep apiary and the date of the filming is unclear but may be 1979.

I've never seen their technique for catching swarms -- essentially a huge sock attached to the skep entrance. The most interesting part starts at about 3 mins 30 sec; the total video is just over 12 minutes long. Lots to marvel at, including the woody English tones of the narrator.

Via Bee_L.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Synchronised fanning

My bees were taking time out today to practise for that famous sport of lining up your stripes with the grain on the wood of the hive:

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spitting image

Queensland police are to wear beekeeper-like veils in the face of spit attacks from prisoners.


Piping the queen out

As most beekeepers know, the queen doesn't actually control her colony, though she appears to react to signals from her workers. Now Andrew Pierce and Stanley Schneider of the University of North Carolina have documented what actually happens -- or at least a later stage in the swarming process:

workers use the vibration signal to prepare the queen for swarming by making intrusions into her “court” and vibrating her hundreds of times an hour. She responds by changing her behavior -- reducing her food intake, slowing egg laying and becoming more active. At this point, the workers begin to send a second signal that researchers call “worker piping” at a fevered pitch. Piping, which consists of bees making contact and vibrating their wing muscles rapidly, appears to be a general instruction to fly.
Just what we always expected: big sisters always get their way.

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Preparations downunder

Australia is on high alert for the varroa mite. It's the only major area where honeybees are not yet affected by the mite and they are looking to improve their national sentinel hives program, a network of beehives near ports to ensure early detection of the mite and other pests:
... no more than two hives stood sentinel at each site. “At this stage we're the cleanest country in the world for bee diseases, so if there's any incursion, it's vital we stop it at the door,” he said. “There really should be a bait hive every 500 metres at these hot spots.”


Monday, June 11, 2007

Captions, please!

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well well....the cups are again half empty...somebody from the government or the tax department must have been here.....
from Slavik

What are you doing there?
Oh, everbody have to be somewhere!
courtesy of Bluebottle in The Goons


Riders of the swarm

After rather too long a blogging break, I'm back with a story about a cycle in Oxfordshire today.

As a friend and I pedalled around a corner a rather familiar sound hit my ears, followed by a few objects bouncing off my face. We'd run into a swarm of bees about to form in a hedge. This is the first time I've ever accidentally run into a swarm in the countryside. I did see one fly over my office window once, but I've certainly never ridden into one. As all beekeepers will know, no, we didn't get stung.

So, if any beekeeper in Lyford, South Oxfordshire is missing some bees, s/he could try the hedge on right-angle corner in the village.


And in a village a little later on the trip, a church with an hexagonal tower. Perhaps the swarm was headed there.

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