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28 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The “Dog Bee” (Tirgona spinipes) is a species of “stingless” bee and a member of the Trigona bee genus – one of two – composed completely of stingless bees. The “Trigona” genus includes about 150 different species.

Dog Bee

Dog Bee

Although many “stingless” bees are being studied for potential domestication and use in commercial beekeeping, the “dog bee” isn’t one of them. Why? Well, every family has a few relatives that are . . . unusual. And Brazil’s dog bee may be one of the oddest species of bees on earth.

The “dog bee” not only builds its nest on “human structures,” but builds its nest out of mud, resin, wax and . . . dung. Needless to say, no one really wants to eat this bee’s honey.

The “dog bee” may be stingless, but it has developed street-fighting techniques that allow it to more than defend itself. It doesn’t exactly find its own sources of food. Instead, this stingless bee terrorizes other bee species by picking-up their odor trails. What does it do when it finds the other bees’ trails? The dog bee kills or drives other bees away and steals their food sources.

Oh, and as a human being, you never want to make these “stingless” bees mad. But if you do, these bees won’t sting you. And, by the way, these bees don’t bite either. The first mode of attack will be to land on your head and crawl into you hair. Once “caught” or slightly “tangled” in you hair, they will begin to buzz as loudly as they can. Then, they get really serious.

When dog bees swarm a human being or animal, these bees intentionally fly into the potential victim’s mouth, nose and ears. It works too. People who live around these bees make “a wide circle” around their nests.

The dog bee stays in character when it comes to pollination. While most all species of bees are valued as pollinators, the dog bee is a notorious agricultural pest. Not only do dog bees not pollinate crops, but the dog bee actually goes out of its way to stop pollination by other varieties of bees. The bee does this by boring holes in the side of flowers and draining the nectar. This assures that the particular flower receives no pollen from the dog bee. Then, left without nectar, the drained blossom will be neglected by other pollinating insects.

After sabotaging the pollination of fruit crops, however, the dog bee does its one positive job. It pollinates onions. (Gee, thanks!)

Somehow, I get the feeling that if you mentioned the dog bee to other members of the bee family, they’d lie and try to tell you that the dog bee was a “wasp” or the member of “some other insect family.”

 

 

 

On the good side, if you can call it that, these bees do pollinate one crop: onions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Defensive” is the word used to describe the “touchiness” or “nervousness” of a group of bees with the close approach of humans or animals. Beekeeper are experienced with honeybees and experts at avoiding provocative behavior. But even beekeepers wear protective gear because a society or colony of the honeybees is not so different from a society of human beings. Occasionally, though rarely, a colony can get riled-up over just about anything.

So, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a variety of bee that could produce honey and pollinate crops, but couldn’t sting? The “stingless” bees of the Melipona genus are being studied right now as a potential “stingless” candidate for commercial bee keeping. Unfortunately, Melipona’s are not good honey-producers in terms of volume. Melipona’s also pollinate a relatively small number of cash crops. Logically, the low honey production gave Melipona’s little to defend from potential honey robbers. So, these bees never developed the ability to sting because they didn’t need to.

But every family has some members that, well, are a bit on the odd side. The family of stingless bees is no exception. The trigona bee genus contains some of the strangest species of stingless bee.

What’s so important about “stingless bees?” Nothing . . . unless you are a beekeeper or the neighbor of a beekeeper. You may have seen one of those photos showing a beekeeper wearing a kind of screened suit and covered with thousands of bees. Well, together, those bees have enough venom to permanently “take out” a large group of people, not just the guy or gal wearing the screened suit.

Beekeeping is dangerous because bees sting.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to raise bees that don’t sting?

The many species of the genus Melipona don’t. You’ll find large populations of these stingless bees in the wild in Mexico and South America, most often Brazil and Argentina. These bees are, also, domesticated and “kept” in by commercial beekeepers.   Since the bee’s tendency to sting is such a problem, why not import these stingless bees into the United States, Canada, and Europe?

Because . . . there are some other problems.

None of the Melipona species pollinate with the efficiency of the honey bees commonly kept in the North America and Northern Europe. Also, none of the Melipona species produce enough honey to be commercially valuable.

Bees can be quite sensitive to climate, and the colder winters of the Northern part of North America and Northern Europe have eliminated many otherwise extremely productive species from gaining any popularity among American and European commercial beekeepers.

Also, bees sting for a reason — defense. More dangerous and aggressive varieties of bees tend to produce more honey. Why? Because tough bees can defend their honey stores against tough honey robbers. Honey is quite popular and not just with human beings. Honey bears are quite real consumers of honey. So, how do these stingless bees defend themselves? They probably don’t have much defending to do. Stingless bees survived in their habitat just because they don’t produce enough honey to make their hives worth raiding.

Still a lot of work is being done to make commercial honey production with Melipona species more efficient and, so, more profitable. Also, bee breeders are studying the individual species of Meliponas with an eye to breed more efficient and specialized strains that, again, may be more commercially profitable as pollinators and honey producers.

 

 

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28 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The Melipona Bee is a genus – one of two — of stingless bees. What’s a genus? Well, it’s the general division just above “species.” Honeybees are part of the genus “Apis.” Bumblebees are members of the genus, “Bombus.” The “Melipona” genus includes about 40 different species and all are “stingless bees.” But, let’s not get buried in classification names.

MELIPONA STINGLESS BEE

MELIPONA STINGLESS BEE

What’s so important about “stingless bees?” Nothing . . . unless you are a beekeeper or the neighbor of a beekeeper. You may have seen one of those photos showing a beekeeper wearing a kind of screened suit and covered with thousands of bees. Well, together, those bees have enough venom to permanently “take out” a large group of people, not just the guy or gal wearing the screened suit.

Beekeeping is dangerous because bees sting.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to raise bees that don’t sting?

The many species of the genus Melipona don’t. You’ll find large populations of these stingless bees in the wild in Mexico and South America, most often Brazil and Argentina. These bees are, also, domesticated and “kept” by commercial beekeepers.   Since the bee’s tendency to sting is such a problem, why not import these stingless bees into the United States, Canada, and Europe?

Because . . . there are some other problems.

None of the Melipona species pollinate with the efficiency of the honeybees commonly kept in North America and Northern Europe. Also, none of the Melipona species produce enough honey to be commercially valuable.

Bees can be quite sensitive to climate, and the colder winters of the Northern part of North America and Northern Europe have eliminated many otherwise extremely productive varieties from gaining any popularity among American and European commercial beekeepers.

Also, bees sting for a reason — defense. More dangerous and aggressive varieties of bees tend to produce more honey. Why? Because tough bees can defend their honey stores against tough honey robbers. Honey is quite popular and not just with human beings. Honey bears are quite real consumers of honey. So, how do these stingless bees defend themselves? They probably don’t have much defending to do. Stingless bees survived in their habitat just because they don’t produce enough honey to make their hives worth raiding.

Still a lot of work is being done to make commercial honey production with the Melipona species more efficient and, so, more profitable. Also, bee breeders are studying the individual species of Meliponas with an eye to breed more efficient and specialized strains that, again, may be more commercially profitable as pollinators and honey producers.

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24 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

Bee Bread

Bee Bread

Bee Bread, produced by worker honeybees, is a “ball of pollen.” But pollen is only one of the ingredients of the honeybee’s “pollen ball.” To make bee bread, the worker bees mix powdery flower pollen with honey/nectar and their own saliva. The result is pellets or small balls of one of the most nutritious foods on earth. Bee bread contains every known nutrient required by bees and human beings as well as most of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Bee Bread -- Pollen Balls

Bee Bread — Pollen Balls

Bee bread is actually a good name for the honeybee’s pollen balls. Historically, in the human diet, bread was the most basic and necessary “food.” So, the honeybee’s pollen balls are their “bread” – the basic food that sustains the bees of the colony.

Bee Bread

Bee Bread

But, if “bee bread” is a good name, “pollen ball” isn’t quite so good. Why? Because the bees’ pollen ball contains a lot more than just pollen. In the past, when “bee pollen” was sold as a nutritional supplement for human beings.  “Bee pollen” meant “bee bread” – not just pollen but, also, the other ingredients added by worker bees.

The problem?

Today, plain old pollen, the dust right off the plants and flowers, is often sold as a nutritional dietary supplement.  This, alone, isn’t a problem because pollen is quite nutritious.   But pollen, alone, has nothing like the nutritional value of those pellets of bee bread.

Unfortunately, that plain old pollen is often labeled “bee pollen” even though its never been near a bee.  Pollen that’s never been touched by a bee isn’t properly “bee pollen” or “bee bread.” So, read the ingredients on those supplement containers very carefully before buying “bee pollen” as a nutritional supplement. There is a huge difference, in terms of basic nutrients, between “bee bread” and just plain “pollen.”

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21 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            Some of you made have heard of the proverbial “horse of a different color.” Well, the “Cordovan” honey bee is the bee of a different color. Cordovan actually refers to the color, rather than, any other characteristic of the bee. Every cordovan bee that has been observed is, in fact, what is called an Italian bee – formally know as “Apis mellifera ligustica” or ”A. m. ligustica” for short.

How common is the Italian bee? Well, it’s the most common breed of honeybee found in the western world — Europe and the Americas. If you live in the west, when you think of a honeybee, you’re thinking of an Italian bee.

So, what’s so special about Cordovan (Italian) bees?

The same thing that’s special about cordovan leather – the color.

Cordovan Bee

Cordovan Bee

The cordovan bee is of a noticeably different color than both its sister Italians and all other breeds of honey bees. Sometimes, cordovan bees are called blonde honey bees because of their golden color. If you look at a picture of one of these bees, you might wonder why cordovan honey bees weren’t named golden bees. But this brings up another question.

For those of you who are up on your leathers, you might be scratching your head because blonde and gold have nothing to do with cordovan leather. Cordovan leather has an attractive color — a shade close to burgundy.  So, where’s the cordovan on the cordovan bee?

Well, it’s nearly in the same place you’d find it on people – the feet and head. Italian bees have plain old black legs and heads – sort of like people who stick to black shoes and hats. Your cordovan bee, on the other hand, flies out and about town sporting a burgundy colored head and legs.

I’ll stop here. “Style” must speak for itself . . . .

Cordovan Bee

Cordovan Bee

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17 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

Honey bees use beeswax to build brood combs in their hives.  Bees build these combs both in their natural hives in the wild and in commercial hives maintained by beekeepers.  The brood comb looks a lot like the well known honeycomb.

Brood Comb

Brood Comb

The brood comb is made up of six sided cells. But, just as the honeycomb is used only to store honey, so the brood comb is used only for raising the colony’s young bees. “Brood” is the name given to young honey bees of all types and at all stages of development from egg through larva.

A honey bee colony has a single queen bee who lays all the eggs. The queen is the mother all the hive’s bees.  The queen lays 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day during the summer season.  She lays all these eggs in the six-sided cells of the brood comb.

The worker bees protect and nurture the queen’s eggs and larvae.  When the eggs hatch, the worker bees feed the young bees. The workers select a few from among the larvae to be queens.  Queen bees “are made and not born” in the sense that whether a larva grows to be a worker bee or a reproductive queen bee depends on diet.

The future queens selected by the worker bees are fed a diet of royal jelly – an extremely nutrient rich food produced by the worker bees.  The rest of the larvae are also fed royal jelly, but only for the first three days of life outside the egg.  Then, these future worker bees are switched to diet of pollen and honey.

A short time after the bee larvae hatch from the queen’s eggs, the brood comb’s cells become almost a “second egg” to the developing bees.  The larvae are sealed (“capped”) in the brood comb cells with an abundant supply of food. At maturity, they will emerge from the cells as full grown bees.

New Brood Comb

New Brood Comb

Brood combs are double-sided with cells on both sides. The brood combs are reused year after year.  The combs start out as a white wax color.  But, as years pass, the older brood combs develop a yellow, then, amber and, finally, an almost black color.

Brood Comb Blackened with Age

Brood Comb Blackened with Age

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12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The “Eastern honey bee” is also called the “Asiatic honey bee,” but is formally named “Apis cerana.”  The Eastern honey bee is to Asia what the Western honey bee, “Apis mellifera,” is to Europe and America.

The Eastern honey bee is found throughout Asia including China, Pakistan, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, and Bangladesh. This bee flourishes in the wild, but is also kept commercially for honey production. The Eastern Honey bee lives in smaller colonies than its Western cousin and produces slightly less honey per colony.

Of the eight breeds of Eastern honey bees, two, A. c. cerana and A. c. indica are commercially kept by bee keepers for the production of honey. Both types differ a bit in appearance from the Western honey bee.

A. c. cerana has yellow stripes on its abdomen.

A. c. cerana (Apis cerana cerana)

A. c. cerana (Apis cerana cerana)

A. c. indica has black stripes on its abdomen.

A. c. indica (Apis cerana indica)

A. c. indica (Apis cerana indica)

 

HIVE: What is a “Buckfast bee”?

12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The Buckfast Bee

The Buckfast Bee

Born in Germany, Karl Kehrle became a monk and took the name “Brother Adam.”  He was in charge beekeeping at the Buckfast Abbey in 1916.  The Abbey’s few remaining colonies of “Italian” honey bees were endangered by what was, then, called Isle of Wight disease.  The spread of the disease produced a major crisis because, then and now, the “Italian” strain of honey bee was the most favored and productive among commercial bee keepers in Europe and North America.  The “disease” was actually the work of the acarine parasitic mite which inhibits the ability of a bee to breathe and eventually results in the bee’s death.

Brother Adam

Brother Adam

By 1916, Isle of Wight “disease” had wiped out most of the honey bee colonies in the British Isles.  Brother Adam, used his few remaining colonies of Italian bees as part of a crossbreeding project that he hoped would produce a honey bee resistant to the disease.   He knew that his Italian bees had been crossbred with what were, then, called “English” bees.  (Now, also, known by the names “Black bees” and “German bees”).   He, also, knew that his Italian bees had proved to be unusually resistant to the disease.

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

Brother Adam believed that more crossbreeding with different strains of honey bees might produce a hearty bee that would be resistant to Isle of Wight disease.  He traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa gathering different types of bees including French, Turkish, Greek and even “docile” strains of African bees.  Each type of bee was, then, crossbred with his Buckfast bee.

Buckfast Bee

Buckfast Bee

The Abbey was located in an area near a large relatively bee-free valley.  Just the location needed for controlled crossbreeding of different strains of bees.  A single crossbreed could take almost a decade to develop, so Brother Adam’s project spanned 70 years.  The Italian bee survived Isle of Wight disease and continues to be the most popular honeybee with commercial beekeepers in both Europe and North America.

Brother Adam with Hives

Brother Adam with Hives

But the Buckfast bee has its own “slice of the market” remaining consistently popular with a significant number of beekeepers.  The Buckfast is a strong, healthy and productive pollinator, but tends to produce fewer offspring and less honey than its Italian competitor.

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Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

12 June 2014