Can There Be Murder Hornet Good News?

Hornets with radio trackers attached led entomologists to the nest. Washington State Department of Agriculture

If you noted the danger five months ago, and find this topic newsworthy, you know how important it was to find the nest. Finally, after an exhaustive search, they found it and it seems we should count this as good news, especially in a year like 2020:

Murder Hornet Nest, First in U.S., Is Found in Washington State

Officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and lay waste to bees.

Like detectives closing in on a fugitive hide-out deep in the woods, officials in Washington State announced on Friday that they had located the first murder hornet nest in the United States, tucked in a tree hollow near the Canadian border.

The officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and begin laying waste to bees that are vital to the survival of the region’s raspberries, blueberries and other crops. Continue reading

Think Twice About Whatever It Takes For Honeybees

A honey bee visits a blooming catmint plant in New Mexico. ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Since Milo’s 2011 post on this topic we have paid attention to the plight of honey bees and their human keepers, and might have had a “whatever it takes” perspective on letting those human keepers find solutions to keep their colonies alive. Jennifer Oldham’s article in Yale e360 has us thinking twice:

Will Putting Honey Bees on Public Lands Threaten Native Bees?

As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.

Beekeeper Dennis Cox checks his hives in Strawberry Valley, Utah in July. JENNIFER OLDHAM / YALE E360

Honey bees heavy with pollen and nectar foraged from wildflowers on Utah’s Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest collide with tall grass and tumble to the ground. They are attempting to land alongside a hive, and I watch as they struggle to stand, fly into the box, and disgorge nectar to be made into honey.

The pollinators belong to a 96-hive apiary, trucked here to Logan Canyon for the summer to rest and rebuild their population, replenishing bees lost to disease and pesticides after months pollinating California’s almond groves. By Labor Day, the yard could house 5 million domesticated pollinators. Continue reading

British Beekeeping Benefits

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Anne Rowberry, chair of the British Beekeepers Association, with some of her bees. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Thanks to the Guardian for this report:

British apiarists knew it all along: honey is the bee’s knees

As a study trumpets the food’s medicinal properties, there’s a buzz about beekeeping in the UK

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Carly Hooper: ‘Bees are my life’. Photograph: Anita Parry

When honey made headlines this week as a better treatment for coughs and colds than antibiotics, beekeepers sat smugly by. “I’ve been saying this for ages,” says Carly Hooper, who has 12 hives near her home in Fleet, Hampshire, and a honey-based business.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, found that honey was a more effective treatment for coughs, blocked noses and sore throats than many remedies more conventionally prescribed. Continue reading

Bees’ Precise Proboscis

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Jiangkun Wei

Bees, in all their surprising ways, are important to humanity, so we share science about them. Our thanks to one of science writing’s most deft explainers, James Gorman, for one more insight. If only for the video, showing the precision of the bee’s ability to drink nectar, this article is worth a look:

A Honeybee’s Tongue Is More Swiss Army Knife Than Ladle

Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.

For a century, scientists have known how honeybees drink nectar. They lap it up.

They don’t lap like cats or dogs, videos of whose mesmerizing drinking habits have been one of the great rewards of high speed video. But they do dip their hairy tongues rapidly in and out of syrupy nectar to draw it up into their mouth. For the last century or so, scientists have been convinced that this is the only way they drink nectar. Continue reading

Buzz Kill, The Yale e360 Video Contest Winner

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Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for at minimum illuminating important environmental questions and, on days like today, lifting our spirits in the process. Click the image above to go to the award winning video:

Backyard Battle: Helping Native Bees Thrive in a Honeybee World

Native bees are at risk across the United States. “Buzz Kill” — winner of the 2020 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — depicts the beauty and key ecological role played by these bees and shows how industrialized agriculture and its use of honeybee colonies threatens endemic bee species. Continue reading

Tending The Pitch

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In previous posts I have pointed my lens to this area, but from another angle and with limited scope. In the photo above, in the distant upper right you san see a small light object which is the top of the bee colony. With this view you can make out where the curvy berms lead and if you squint you can see the long quadrangle. A few months prior to our departure to live in Croatia in August, 2006 I decided that this stretch of relatively flat land would make a good football pitch for our boys and their friends. It was a mess of bramble and brush at the time so I cleared it and removed the big rocks and let it be. We would be gone for one year, and when we came back I would finish the pitch.

Plans change. We did not return to live in Costa Rica for another dozen years. This week, as we move to Plan B I took a snapshot of how that pitch looks right now. I am one quarter of the way through removing all the grasses that invaded the land while we were away. Under their blanket is all the rich soil that earthworms produce when left alone for awhile. That pitch, which now has 30 banana and plantain trees, and hundreds of bean plants as well as beets, will next get watermelon where the land is already cleared. These all will help the soil, and prepare the shade needed, in advance of coffee planting next year.

Bee Surprises

HiveOur bee obsession on this platform has many explanations, but my personal motivation for following the science of bees goes back to a summer in the late 1970s when I worked for a beekeeper. I cleared brush and vines from the forest edge to make way for more bee-friendly plantings. I worked within sight of a dozen active bee colonies in boxes where I could see buzzing swarms constantly. I learned to be calm around them from the man who tended them. He used a poncho, a mask, and a smoker when opening the boxes to remove honey, but other times walked among them with no protective gear. To my surprise the resins from Toxicodendron radicans–poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac–did more harm to me than the bees I worked around. In fact, I was never stung by those bees. Not once.

Which explains why when we finally had the chance to start our own bee colony I was all in. Above is a bee box, with found objects inside, above and below it. The bees inside had nested at the top of our house so we had a beekeeper extract them. He gave them this new home in a location where we have been clearing brush to make way for coffee planting. The old table had been in the chicken coop and the mysterious disk was on the roadside headed for recycling. One month later now, very happy bees.

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Above is a small sampling of the vines and brush I have been clearing from the land near that hive. History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. As it happens, on my arm I have some of the same toxins from vines like those 40 years ago. The clearing work started in March and is nearing completion to make way for several hundred shade trees and several thousand coffee plants.

Bananas

One section of this clearing has already received twenty banana plants, based on the practice of our friends at Hacienda la Amistad. These make excellent companions to the coffee and are pollinated by bats, so provide another kind of ecological service too complex to discuss in a post primarily about bee surprises.

So, with all that in mind I was very happy to come across the story below by Cara Giaimo. Her work first appeared in our pages last October, then again a few months ago–both times related to birds. Somehow I missed this short article on bees from earlier this year, and I thank her for it now for making me laugh when there is not enough other news to laugh about:

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Frank Bienewald/imageBROKER, via Alamy

Bumblebee Vomit: Scientists Are No Longer Ignoring It

Regurgitation is an important consideration when it comes to the process of pollination.

The bumblebee is a discerning nectar shopper. When choosing which flowers to gather the sticky substance from, it might consider a plant’s distance, the shape of the petals and how sugar-rich the nectar is. Continue reading

Bees@Church

 

We are happy to learn their fate, but did not even know they had a fate to consider. Bees at church? Come to think of it, churches are normally considered a safe haven. Thanks to Kim Willsher (again, at long last) and the Guardian (as always) for this coverage:

They survived fire and toxic fumes. So what happened next to Notre Dame’s bees?

Hives that survived catastrophic Paris cathedral blaze are healthier than ever, says beekeeper

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Sibyle Moulin tending the hives on the roof of Notre Dame in 2018. Photograph: Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times/eyevine

It is a crisp winter morning and the area around Notre Dame is sealed off as it has been since the fire last April that devastated the cathedral.

Those in the know, however, especially those with the keenest of eyes, might spot some small movement high up to the south of the stricken and blackened structure.

The bees of Notre Dame, whose escape from the inferno seemed almost miraculous, are thriving and conserving their energy ready to produce honey this summer, just as they have every year since they took up residence on the sacristy roof in 2013. Continue reading

Re-Opening, Regeneration & Restoration

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Friday, one of the hotels where we operate Authentica re-opened. With not much exaggeration I can say that for hotel staff, for Amie and me, and for the Costa Rican guests we interacted with, seeing tourism start up again after three months felt emotionally kind of like this, only with serious social distancing.

Yesterday, day 2 of this experiment in moving forward, before going to greet guests at the shops we began on the land. Above is the first of what we expect to be a larger set of honey bee colonies that will pollinate our coffee and fruit trees. Amie is in beekeeping tutorial mode and after a few weeks in place it seems to my untrained eye that the bees are happy with her progress. The land surrounding the hive, and other parts of the property, have been planted with beans common to the Costa Rica diet–mostly black and red–and some special varieties that we favor, such as white and butter varieties. Those we planted first, as you can see below, are already sprouting.

BeansSprouting

While we look forward to their eventual edible state, the primary purpose of these legumes is to fix nitrogen in the soil in advance of planting when our coffee seedlings are ready. Regeneration of the nutrients will allow the soil to host the coffee we are preparing for the microlot restoration project, planned long before current crises and to bear fruit some time after we have figured out how to move on with life. For now, seeing guests again, having beans sprout and bees buzzing is good enough.

Fixing Farms In Ireland

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Michael Davoren with his cattle in the Burren, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward/Burrenbeo Trust

Thanks to Ella McSweeney for this story about a young academic’s hands on, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems caused by Ireland’s farmers, who had followed incentives to their economically logical but environmentally disastrous conclusions:

‘Life attracts life’: the Irish farmers filling their fields with bees and butterflies

Rewarding positive environmental impact has revitalised an area of west Ireland. Is this a solution to the country’s ‘acute’ nature crisis?

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In late spring, the Burren is transformed into an explosion of colour. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Michael Davoren shudders when he thinks of the 1990s. He’d been in charge of his 80-hectare farm in the Burren, Co Clare, since the 1970s, and the place was in his blood. The Davorens had worked these hills for 400 years.

But growing intensification fuelled by European subsidies meant that most farmers in this part of Ireland were having to decide between getting big or getting out. Hundreds were choosing the latter.

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Hundreds of farmers have signed up to a scheme that pays them to create healthier fields and clean waterways. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Davoren followed the advice to specialise and chase the beef markets. “The more animals I kept, the more money I got,” he says. “I put more cattle out, bought fertiliser, made silage. Slurry run-off was killing fish. But if I kept fewer animals I’d be penalised 10% of my subsidy.”

The austere appearance of the Burren landscape belies its rich diversity. The thick rocks were laid down 300 million years ago when warm tropical seas covered the area, and the bodies of billions of marine creatures cascaded to the sea floor to form the Burren limestone. Continue reading

Keep Calm and Keep Bees

Credit: Jimmy Simpson

We tend to be bird and bee centric on this site, but somehow we missed this lovely opinion piece–What the Honeybees Showed Me–by Helen Jukes in the NYTimes.

While many people look back to the basics of gardening and baking during the current crisis, beekeeping may be next on some wish lists.

When I first became keeper of a colony of honeybees, I was thinking more than anything of escape. I’d just turned 30 and had recently moved from Brighton to Oxford, having taken a job on a whim, again, moving out of one rented house in one city and into another as I had done throughout my 20s. But the new job was stressful. I spent long hours at the office in front of a screen. I was under pressure from company targets and deadlines, thrown into frenetic communications with colleagues who sounded as stretched as I felt, and disconnected from the world — the world! — I glimpsed as I cycled to and from work each day.

Our garden was little more than a slim patch of weeds within spitting distance of a busy road, but it was secluded enough that I could go there and remain hidden, and so I began imagining a hive out there; imagined myself finding some respite among the bees, away from the hecticness of the city.

Of course, things rarely turn out as we imagine them, and when later that year I was given a honeybee colony as a gift by a group of friends, it was not respite, and not quiet that I found at first. Quite suddenly I was made accountable to another creature, many of them, really — responsible for ensuring the bees were healthy, free from predators and disease. If all went well, I might take a little honey at the end of the season; but for the first few weeks, eyeing the hive at the end of the garden, I was more concerned that they’d either die or fly away.

The thing is that honeybees are so strange.

Continue reading

How Sweet Is Your City?

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A bee hotel, part of Curridabat’s drive to welcome and protect pollinators. Photograph: Courtesy of Curridabat Municipality

Costa Rica is full of inspirational stories, some big picture and some more granular. Bee hotels are an example of the latter, and first came to my attention only this year. On a farm north of San Jose growing edible flowers, and then again on a cacao plantation in the Central Pacific zone where we source our line of Macaw Kakau chocolates–in both cases the “hotels” were specifically for melipona bees.  Thanks to the Guardian for putting some due attention on this forward-thinking municipality across the city from where I live and work, and especially for the reminder that I have not posted yet on the apicultural wonders I learned about at those two melipona bee hotels:

‘Sweet City’: the Costa Rica suburb that gave citizenship to bees, plants and trees

A suburb of the country’s capital is showing how urban planning can be harnessed to benefit both humans and wildlife

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 ‘Biocorridors improve air quality, water quality and give people spaces to relax, have fun and improve their health,’ says Magalli Castro Álvarez. Photograph: Melissa Alvarez/Courtesy of GIZ/Biodiver_City Project

“Pollinators were the key,” says Edgar Mora, reflecting on the decision to recognise every bee, bat, hummingbird and butterfly as a citizen of Curridabat during his 12-year spell as mayor.

“Pollinators are the consultants of the natural world, supreme reproducers and they don’t charge for it. The plan to convert every street into a biocorridor and every neighbourhood into an ecosystem required a relationship with them.”

The move to extend citizenship to pollinators, trees and native plants in Curridabat has been crucial to the municipality’s transformation from an unremarkable suburb of the Costa Rican capital, San José, into a pioneering haven for urban wildlife. Continue reading

Please Let Your Dandelions Bolt

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Each dandelion head has up to 100 individual flowers. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

So many challenges, so many unanswered questions about why bee colonies are collapsing. In the realm of how to help, the UK has a new notion:

Help bees by not mowing dandelions, gardeners told

Plants provide key food source for pollinators as they come out of hibernation

Gardeners should avoid mowing over dandelions on their lawn if they want to help bees, according to the new president of the British Ecological Society.

Dandelions – which will start flowering in the UK this month – provide a valuable food source for early pollinators coming out of hibernation, including solitary bees, honey bees and hoverflies.

Each dandelion head contains up to 100 individual flowers, known as florets, which contain nectar and pollen. There are 240 species of dandelion in the UK. Continue reading

Bees, Almonds & Futures

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Dennis Arp stands for a portrait near a colony of honeybees outside Rye, Arizona. Photograph: Caitlin O’Hara/The Guardian

Bees are not finding the near future any brighter than the recent past. Thanks, as always, to the Guardian for keeping us apprised on this topic:

‘Like sending bees to war’: the deadly truth behind your almond-milk obsession

Bees are essential to the functioning of America’s titanic almond industry – and billions are dying in the process

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Adam Arp, Dennis’s son, works outside Rye on 8 May 2019. Photograph: Caitlin O’Hara/The Guardian

Dennis Arp was feeling optimistic last summer, which is unusual for a beekeeper these days.

Thanks to a record wet spring, his hundreds of hives, scattered across the central Arizona desert, produced a bounty of honey. Arp would have plenty to sell in stores, but more importantly, the bumper harvest would strengthen his bees for their biggest task of the coming year.

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Beehives stand stacked along a blooming almond orchard near Shafter, California. The bees pollinate many crops, including almond trees in February, and are essential to the food chain. Photograph: Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images

Like most commercial beekeepers in the US, at least half of Arp’s revenue now comes from pollinating almonds. Selling honey is far less lucrative then renting out his colonies to mega-farms in California’s fertile Central Valley, home to 80% of the world’s almond supply. Continue reading

Smart Bees

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Thanks to Discover Magazine’s Sarah White for bringing our attention to Three Studies Are Showing Bees’ Amazing Math Abilities, a story we had missed earlier:

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(Credit: Gemma Tarlach/DISCOVER)

Honeybees caused quite a buzz this year when three separate studies showed they possess some of the same mathematical abilities as humans, despite much tinier brains.

In February, research in Science Advances indicated honeybees could learn to add and subtract. To teach the bees arithmetic, cognitive scientists set up a Y-shaped box for the bees to fly through. When a bee entered the box at the bottom of the Y, it saw blue or yellow shapes. If the shapes were blue, the bees were trained to fly down an arm of the Y toward a picture with one additional shape to receive a sucrose reward; the other arm had a bitter drink instead. If the shapes were yellow, bees were rewarded for choosing the picture with one fewer shape…

Honeyland, Reviewed

Bees, Conservation & Otherworldy Honey

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In the well-kept hives tended by beekeeper Fred Merriam in Georgia, every bee has a job to do. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

Kim Severson last caught my attention about a year ago. She covers food culture for the New York Times, and this is the fifth time we have found a story of hers a perfect fit for our platform’s themes. Food intersecting with conservation is always welcome, and honey specifically is on my mind these days. Honey bees? Always of interest. During our transition from India back to Costa Rica over the last two years we spent much of our time in Atlanta. The honey in this story was available in the farmer’s market we shopped at, and we occasionally indulged. I am gratified to learn more about it here:

On the Trail of Tupelo Honey, Liquid Gold From the Swamps

Hurricanes, blights and encroaching development have cut into the harvest in Florida and Georgia, but a small cadre of beekeepers still fiercely pursues this lucrative prize.

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Tupelo trees, which produce small, nectar-filled light green and white flowers for two weeks each spring, rise out of swamps in the Altamaha River Basin in southeastern Georgia. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

ODUM, Ga. — The most expensive honey in America starts in these mucky Southern swamps, where white Ogeechee tupelo trees twist up out of water so dark you can’t tell if that was an alligator or a snake that just broke the surface.

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Tupelo honey fresh from the comb has a distinctive light green tint. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

For two precious weeks each spring in this slice of southeastern Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, tupelo trees bloom with pale, fragile flowers that look like pompoms for tiny cheerleaders. Beekeepers tuck their hives along the banks, or occasionally float them out into the water on rafts. Then the bees get to work, making honey that looks and tastes like no other.

Good tupelo will glow with a light green tint, especially when it’s fresh from the comb and bathed in sunlight. The first taste is of cinnamon with a tingle of anise. That gives way to a whisper of jasmine and something citrusy — tangerine rind, maybe? The honey is so soft, light and buttery that the only logical move is to chase it with another spoonful. Continue reading

Rwandan Charismatic Megafauna (& Honey)

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Seth sent a few more messages, in the form of images, from Rwanda. One day soon I will describe what he is doing there, but for now the images say more than enough.

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While elephants are a childhood favorite animal for Seth, he had seen Asian elephants in the wild, so that probably made seeing giraffe the charismatic topper so far.

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Once zebra is added to the list of species seen, it might start feeling like all is well in the wild (even if we know it is not).

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Waterbuck with African Fish-Eagle

One of the few photos that had any words to explain was this one, which is to be expected of a birder in the realm of charismatic megafauna.

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But of all the photos, the one that caught my eye was the one above, which I do not yet have an explanation for but it is in surrounded by the following photos which put it in some context.

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That gives a hint.

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This answers the question.

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And this makes it crystal clear. Seth had already sent an image from an earlier field visit that he knew would catch my attention.

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The origins of Organikos can be traced to a project I led in 2005 in Paraguay, where I had the idea that wild-hunted honey from the Pantanal region could share the taste of place with the world while at the same time providing much-needed cash infusion to the honey hunters and the protection of their wilderness areas. Seth knows that story and knows to send me photos of honey from wild places as a polite indication that the idea was a good one, if not original.

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Community, Collaboration & Bees

Members of the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective inspect one of their apiaries. The collective trains displaced coal miners in West Virginia on how to keep bees as a way to supplement their income. Courtesy of Kevin Johnson

We never tire of highlighting good news about bees. Thanks to NPR, Jody Helmer, and the Salt for bringing us this to our attention.

Out-Of-Work Appalachian Coal Miners Train As Beekeepers To Earn Extra Cash

Just like his grandfather and father before him, James Scyphers spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia.

“These were the best jobs in the area; we depended on ’em,” he recalls.

But mining jobs started disappearing, declining from 132,000 in 1990 to 53,000 in 2018, devastating the area’s economy. In a state that now has the lowest labor-force participation rate in the nation, the long-term decline of coal mining has left West Virginia residents without new options to make a living.

Scyphers was fortunate to find a construction job, but it paid 2/3 less than what he earned underground. He often took odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those odd jobs included building hives and tending bees for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.

“I wish this group had been here 30 years ago,” he says. “Our region needs it.” Continue reading

Floral Communication Better Understood

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A bee collects pollen from a flower. DARREN STAPLES / REUTERS

 Thanks to Ed Yong, 6+ years in our pages, whose work we always appreciate:

Plants Can Hear Animals Using Their Flowers

And they react to the buzzing of pollinators by sweetening their nectar.

When people pose the old question about whether a tree falling in an empty forest makes a sound, they presuppose that none of the other plants in the forest are listening in. Plants, supposedly, are silent and unhearing. They don’t make noises, unless rustled or bitten. When Rachel Carson described a spring bereft of birds, she called it silent.

But these stereotypes may not be true. According to a blossoming batch of studies, it’s not that plants have no acoustic lives. It’s more that, until now, we’ve been blissfully unaware of them. Continue reading