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Posts Tagged: Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility

Carpenter Bees Like Almond Blossoms, Too

We're accustomed to seeing honey bees pollinating the almonds.

But carpenter bees do, too.

We spotted a female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, foraging in an almond tree on Feb. 24 in a field adjacent to  the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.

Sounding like a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, this lone carpenter bee buzzed loudly as she visited one blossom after another.  She was on a mission: a do-not-linger,  do-not-stop-me, and get-out-of-my-way mission.

The Valley carpenter bees, about the size of bumble bees, are the largest carpenter bees in California. The girls are solid black, while the boys are blond with green eyes.  We can't count how many times people think the males are "golden bumble bees." 

It's rare to get an image of "a blond and a brunette" (male and female) in the same photo.  Gary Park, a contributor to BugGuide.net, did just that. Check out his amazing photos of a pair mating.

Carpenter bees derive their name from drilling holes in untreated, unfinished wood to make their nests. Only the females excavate the wood. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not eat the wood. To prevent these bees from nesting in your fence posts or deck, just paint or varnish the wood. We know some folks who like having them around and leave wood untreated and unfinished.

First and foremost, however, carpenter bees are pollinators. Excellent pollinators.

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor entomology at UC Davis, tries to convince people to live with these bees as “they are important pollinators in our environment and have potential as pollinators of some crops.”


A female Valley carpenter bee buzzes in the almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female Valley carpenter bee buzzes in the almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A female Valley carpenter bee buzzes in the almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Full speed ahead: carpenter bee sights an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Full speed ahead: carpenter bee sights an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Full speed ahead: carpenter bee sights an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Female Valley carpenter bee meets almonds blossom. She's shaking her  thoracic muscles to loosen the pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Female Valley carpenter bee meets almonds blossom. She's shaking her thoracic muscles to loosen the pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Female Valley carpenter bee meets almonds blossom. She's shaking her thoracic muscles to loosen the pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:16 PM

Can a Bee Unscrew the Sting?

When a honey bee stings you, she makes the supreme sacrifice and dies.  She's usually defending her colony. In the process, she leaves behind part of her abdomen. A beekeeper simply scrapes the sting with a fingernail or a hive tool to stop the pulsating venom and continues working.

But is it ever possible for a bee to "unscrew the sting?"

A beginning beekeeper asked Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, that very question last week.

She prefaced her question this way: "Richard Dawkins wrote in his biography that he observed a bee working her stinger out of his hand--unscrewing, so to speak--thereby not losing her stinger or her life.  Is this true?  I'm just a beginning beekeeper but have read many books on the subject and have never come across this interesting bit of information."

Mussen has been asked thousands of questions about bees since he joined the UC Davis faculty in 1976. Bee stings are just one of the topics. Like all beekeepers, he's been stung many times. It's no big deal.  However, one documented bee sting (below) turned out to be rather a big deal. It went viral. (It went from winning a feature photo contest sponsored by the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE),  an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists, to being named the Huffington Post's "Most Amazing Photos of 2012"; one of the Sacramento Bee'top 10 news stories of 2012; and My Science Academy's top photos of the year. Along the way,  scores of websites named it "Picture of the Day." It also will appear in a number of books.)

The photo (taken by yours truly) shows Mussen being stung by a bee in the apiary of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. At the time, we were walking through the apiary when he noticed a bee loudly buzzing around him. "Get your camera ready, Kathy," he said. "The bee's going to sting me."

That's exactly what the bee did.  If you look closely, you can see the abdominal tissue, aka "guts," as she's trying to pull away. Usually a bee sting is a clean break.

So, can a bee "unscrew the sting?"

"As you may know, the sting of an adult worker honey bee has backward-pointing barbs that tend to hold the bee sting in the victim's flesh," Mussen told the beekeeper. "However, how well the sting stays stuck depends upon how deeply it was pushed in.  Yes, some bees seem to make only a half-hearted effort to sting.  The point of the sting pierces the skin, but doesn't go in very deeply.  At that point, the sting can be pulled out if the bee begins to leave.  It goes back up, inside the bee, but I do not know if, or how much, damage was done to the bee."

"These half-hearted stings are more commonly encountered with quite young workers.  Sometimes the sting remains, but no venom is felt.  Sometimes, a slight tinge of venom is momentarily noticed, then it is gone.  So, while most stings are the full-blown, driven-pretty-deep-into-the-flesh type, there are less assertive attempts that result in intermediate sting results.  The sting cannot be 'unscrewed,' because the barbs on the sting are directly across from each other and not in a spiral.  However, the barbs are larger as the sting penetrates deeper."        

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen getting stung on the wrist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen getting stung on the wrist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen getting stung on the wrist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, February 24, 2014 at 10:04 PM

The Lovely Ladies at the Laidlaw

Close-up of one of the bumble bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So far, so good.

The three queen bumble bees (Bombus melanopygus) we found buzzing around our porch light the night of Jan. 9 are still very much alive.

Who would have "thunk?"

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, is caring for them at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road. 

"Your three ladies are alive and active," he reported Jan. 14. "I put a pollen ball in the holding box on Friday.  They showed a bit of interest in it then, but not much since.  All three have quite distended abdomens, so they look 'broody.'  I will swap out the pollen ball soon to see if I can stimulate one of them to start laying eggs. "
 
Thorp called the bumble bee-keeping project a "a fun diversion for me to check on them periodically."

Thorp, who officially retired in 1994, maintains an active research and bee monitoring/identification program based as the Laidlaw facility. He recently co-authored a book on Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press), to be released in March.

So yesterday photographer/artist Allan Jones of Davis and I checked out "The Lovely Ladies at the Laidlaw."  Yes, they're very much alive.

But it sure was strange on Jan. 9 to see them as as night fliers, or porch-light bumble bees. I figured they were parasitized. I figured that a florid fly, Apocephalus borealis, which lays its eggs in such insects as bumble bees, wasps and honey bees, had nailed them. I figured they'd be goners within a few days.

I hope I'm wrong.

It's long been known that Apocephalus borealis infests bumble bees.  However, Professor John Hafernik of San Francisco State University and his colleagues caused quite a media stir when they discovered that this fly infests honey bees as well. They published their work, "A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly, Apocephalus borealis,"  in PLOS ONE back in January 2012. They revealed that the parasitized, disoriented honey bees  (which they nicknamed "Zombies" or "ZomBees") leave their hives at night and head for the lights.

"After being parasitized by the fly, the bees abandon their hives in what is literally a flight of the living dead to congregate near lights," said Andrew Core of the Hafernik lab.  'When we observed the bees for some time—the ones that were alive—we found that they walked around in circles, often with no sense of direction."

What's next?

Fingers crossed that the three queen bumble bees aren't parasitized. Fingers crossed that they will survive. Fingers crossed that they will continue to be "The Lovely Ladies at the Laidlaw." 

The three queen bumble bees (Bombus melanopygus). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The three queen bumble bees (Bombus melanopygus). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The three queen bumble bees (Bombus melanopygus). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bumble bee expert and UC Davis emeritus professor Robbin Thorp checks the trio. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bumble bee expert and UC Davis emeritus professor Robbin Thorp checks the trio. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bumble bee expert and UC Davis emeritus professor Robbin Thorp checks the trio. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Why Keep Bees?

Brian Fishback's bee beard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Why become a beekeeper? Why keep bees?

Beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton is quick to answer that.

“Bees,” he says, “teach us core family values. Bees have to take care of each other and work together for the success of the colony, just as people do for the success of their families.”

Fishback, a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association, a member of the California State Beekeepers' Association, and a former volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, instills his love of bees and beekeeping to everyone around him.

He and his wife, Darla, are teaching those bee-driven core family values to their two daughters Emily, 3, and Jane, 18 months (a third daughter is due this month). The girls have been around bees since birth. The Fishbacks keep 89 hives on their Wilton ranch, the BD Ranch and Apiary.  So committed are they to bees that their website is www.beesarelife.com.

Through community outreach programs, Brian Fishback eagerly takes every opportunity to educate the public about honey bees. He displays his bee observation hives at the California State Fair and Dixon May Fair; engages in classroom, farm and other educational presentations; and annually hosts the American Honey Bee Queen, sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation.

In his spare time, Fishback teaches introductory and advanced beekeeping classes at the Soil Born Farms, located at 2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova. His next class begins March 8 and will be a two-part class, covering both beginning beekeeping and a more advanced session (See registration information. Sign-ups are now underway.)

Newly emerged bee on Brian Fishback's finger. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Fishback introduces the class to the basics of beekeeping, life in the honey bee colony, equipment and tools, swarming, pests and diseases “and what it takes to get started.” He offers both classroom and field instruction, and provides an 'Introduction to Beekeeping' booklet.  

What’s different about his classes? For one: The students (who are primarily young adults) don’t just stand back and observe him opening a hive. “They’re going to work a hive that day,” he says.

Fishback remembers the joy he felt when he first opened a hive. “From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia. Everything came together. In my hand I held the essence of core family values.”

That was in 2008.

It was also the year he and Darla purchased the Wilton ranch to pursue a self-sustaining life. “I catapulted into this way of life, knowing that honey bees would provide us with pollination as well as a natural sweetener,” Fishback recalled.

In  the fall of 2010, he began volunteering at the Laidlaw facility. One of his goals was to gain more knowledge to share in his community outreach programs. He worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, beekeeper/research associate Elizabeth Frost, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, among others. He assisted Cobey with her classes on queen-rearing and instrumental insemination and her class field trips to Butte County to visit commercial queen bee breeders. Fishback also took on tasks that needed to be done around the Laidlaw facility, such as mowing the lawn around the apiary.

Another highlight: Fishback participated in a bee beard activity that Cobey coordinated for a small group of Laidlaw beekeeping staff and volunteers. (See top photo).

Fishback continues his outreach programs “to encourage interest in honey bees and to share the importance of the honey bee to our environment and our food supply.” When he visits school classrooms, he delights in asking students to single out the queen bee, workers and drones in his bee observation hive.

That's not all.

“I allow anyone or any group with an interest agriculture, small-scale farming and of course, beekeeping, to take a day tour of my ranch, get in a bee suit, and feel the joy that life has to offer."

Brian Fishback shows his daughter, Emily, a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Brian Fishback shows his daughter, Emily, a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Brian Fishback shows his daughter, Emily, a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Fishbacks at the 2013 Dixon May Fair where they had just dropped off a bee observation hive: Brian, daughter Emily, now 3; daughter Jane, now 18 months, and wife Darla. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Fishbacks at the 2013 Dixon May Fair where they had just dropped off a bee observation hive: Brian, daughter Emily, now 3; daughter Jane, now 18 months, and wife Darla. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Fishbacks at the 2013 Dixon May Fair where they had just dropped off a bee observation hive: Brian, daughter Emily, now 3; daughter Jane, now 18 months, and wife Darla. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 11:13 PM

The Opening of the Hives

Thursday, Oct. 17 is Pest Management Day at UC Davis.

That's when the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) partners with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources for the 21st Century Invasive Pest Management Symposium Series: "Globalization, Climate Change and Other 21st Century Challenges" at the UC Davis Conference Center.

It's actually the fourth in a series of symposia on invasive pest management. This one deals with "Invasion Biology (Part 2): Invasive Insects, Disease and Nematodes."  Daniel Simberloff, professor of environmental science ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, will keynote the symposium.

Who will be there? According to organizer David Pegos, CDFA special assistant for plant health, the attendees represent non-governmental organizations, industry, academia and other interested parties.  "In addition to the CDFA leadership team, represented will be the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, the County Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association, UC Cooperative Extension, and the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program," Pegos said.

The goals of the symposium are two-fold: (1) to explore 21st century invasive pest management challenges and possible improvements to CDFA policies and procedures, and (2) to foster communication and understanding among the diverse people involved in California's food and agricultural systems.

But today, a group of conference attendees met at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road to look not at pests, but at beneficial insects—honey bees.

Billy Synk, who wears three hats (beekeeper, staff research associate and manager of the Laidlaw facility), talked about bees and their health, answered questions, and then the group donned protective gear to take a close look at a colony.

Synk pointed out the queen bee, the workers and the immature brood, much to the fascination of the group. Many had never been that close to bees before. "I stepped on one once," said one woman. 

That was about as close as she could get--until now.

Billy Synk, manager of the Ladilaw facility, shows comb to the crowd in the Laidlaw conference room. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Billy Synk, manager of the Ladilaw facility, shows comb to the crowd in the Laidlaw conference room. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Billy Synk, manager of the Ladilaw facility, shows comb to the crowd in the Laidlaw conference room. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Visitors donned bee veils to examine the hives. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Visitors donned bee veils to examine the hives. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Visitors donned bee veils to examine the hives. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Billy Synk shows a frame to the visitors. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Billy Synk shows a frame to the visitors. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Billy Synk shows a frame to the visitors. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of bees at work. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of bees at work. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of bees at work. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 10:12 PM

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