700 Beehives Hang Off This Rocky Cliff to Boost Dwindling Bee Populations

beehives in china

700 Beehives hang off this rocky cliff to boost dwindling Bee populations

The Shennongjia Nature Reserve in central China has an unusual approach to boost the country’s dwindling bee population: a sky-high, vertical apiary.

Roughly 700 wooden beehives hang from a cliff 4,000 feet above sea level on a mountain in the conservation area. According to People’s Daily Online, this vertigo-inducing “wall of hives” is meant to attract the area’s wild bees into settling in the boxes, as it mimics their natural habitats. To get to the boxes, beekeepers have to climb to each one individually. The hives contain thousands upon thousands of bees. As you might know, global food production is dependent on pollination provided by honey bees and other pollinators.

But in some parts of China, bees have virtually disappeared, forcing some farmers to pollinate their crops by hand with feather dusters. The website Xinhua.net reported (via The Daily Mail), that in China’s north and north east, bees have become extinct. Other areas in China are also seeing bee populations decline, the publication said.

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It is suspected that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species, is a major factor in overall global bee population declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines.

As beekeepers and conservationists around the world try to solve the plight of colony collapse disorder, this extraordinary apiary in in the Far East seems to be seeing some success, The Daily Mail reported.

Why build an apiary on a mountain? According to the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO, the Shennongjia Nature Reserve is unique in that its location has several different climates zones in a single area—subtropical, warm temperate, temperate and cold temperate—which allows for a rich variety of fauna and flora (as well as ample pollen) to grow.

Along with the bees, approximately 1,131 species of plants grow in the reserve, along with 54 kinds of animals, 190 kinds of birds, 12 kinds of reptile and 8 kinds of amphibian. The commission said that the main cash income of the farmers living in the reserve is “mainly based on a diversified economy by raising cattle, pigs and beekeeping as well as collecting the Chinese herbal medicine etc.”

What we can learn from the ancient Egyptian practice of beekeeping

Egyptian-bees

“The god Re wept, and the tears from his eyes fell on the ground and turned into a bee. The bee made his honeycomb and busied himself with the flowers of every plant and so wax was made and also honey out of the tears of Re.”

What we can learn from the ancient Egyptian practice of beekeeping

This inscription from an ancient Egyptian papyrus inspired the title of a new book, The Tears of Re, a historical look at beekeeping in ancient Egyptian culture by Professor Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at Mount St Joseph’s University.

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“Bees were considered sacred because they were a gift from Re,” Kritsky says. “They were made from his tears, and that gave bees a valuable aspect, not just because of what they contributed and brought to Egyptian society, but also because they were theologically important.”

‘Re’ is the name modern scholars now use for the sun god that was once called ‘Ra.’

The oldest honeybee hieroglyph goes back to just before 3000 BCE, Kritsky says. “It was a very ancient symbol in the Egyptian writings. But even in the Old Kingdom (2600-2160 BCE), beekeeping was an important activity organized by the state.”

Beekeeping-Egypt

Egyptians used honey as a sweetener in their cuisine and it was also used as a medicine.

“They would use honey for cuts and burns,” Kritsky says. “Of the 900 or so prescriptions I found in the various medical papyri, close to 500 of them included honey as one of the ingredients. … They used honey as a way of making the medicine taste a little sweeter, but honey also has antibacterial properties, which probably added medicinal value to the concoctions.”

Scholars also confirm honey’s centrality to Egyptian society by measuring its worth relative to other objects and commodities. Only the higher classes and parts of the royal court would have enjoyed honey, Kritsky says, which clearly tells us something. Honey was also used as a kind of tribute from the various provinces to the Pharaoh.

“A number of papyri talk about the rations given to workers,” Kritsky explains. “We know that people who, for example, worked directly with the Pharaoh would receive an allotment of honey daily, but the laborers did not.”

Ancient Egyptian bee hives were different from the kind of hives used by beekeepers today.

“They certainly were quite amazing,” Kritsky says. “They were horizontal tube hives made out of mud that was dried into large cylinders, which were stacked on top of each other — very similar to the construction of the hives we still see used in Azerbaijan and Iran, for example.”

Wall-apiary-egypt

Tomb paintings show beekeepers removing round honeycomb from the horizontal hives. The honeycomb was crushed and then placed into containers.

“So, of course, I had to do this,” Kritsky says. “I took honeycomb and I crushed it, and I put it in a container in the hot sun and the beeswax floated to the top and the honey stayed below the beeswax.”

Another relief shows beekeepers holding a vessel with a spout coming from the middle or towards the bottom, Kritsky says — much like a fat separator used for making gravy. “That may be one way they could have decanted a lot of the honey without getting a lot of the wax mixed in with it,” he explains.

In one of the oldest tomb paintings, from 2450 BCE, a beekeeper is holding something to his face, right up against the opening of the hive.

“The hieroglyph above it means “to weaken” or “to slacken” or “to emit a sound,” Kritsky says. “That’s been interpreted as smoking bees, which is a way of quieting bees, or maybe calling to the bees.”

In fact, scholars believe a traditional Egyptian beekeeper practice involved ‘calling’ the queen — making a sound to see if the queen bee would respond. “That would tell them if there was a queen ready to emerge or the status inside the hive,” Kritsky explains. “If that was the case, then their beekeeping was much more sophisticated than we can appreciate.”

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Egyptians had various uses for beeswax, too. Beeswax was used in cosmetics, as well as in paintings, and even in some embalming practices.

Beeswax was also important as a “wonderful, magical substance,” Kritsky says. “Beeswax burns with a very bright light and doesn’t leave any ash. Moreover, if you put beeswax in the hot Egyptian sun, it will start to change. It will get a little molten, a little liquid-y. All of this tied in with their solar theology and would have been important to the Egyptians.”

As a beekeeper himself, Kritsky feels a strong kinship with these ancient Egyptian beekeepers. “It’s a very ancient occupation, because it goes back to ancient Egypt obviously,” he says, “but there’s a kinship between us — humans and bees — that I find very alluring.”

Honeybees’ buzzing can shed light on Queen’s fertility, study finds

Honeybees' buzzing can shed light on Queen's fertility, study finds

The buzzing of bees can provide beekeepers with crucial information about the fertility of the queen in the hive, according to a new study which could play a key role in helping to preserve honeybee colonies.

Research led by scientists at Nottingham Trent University focused on developing a way to remotely monitor the ‘brood’, or reproductive, activity in the hive – something which is essential to the overall health and survival of a colony.

By detecting and translating vibrations caused by the buzzing of bees, the researchers were able to indirectly determine the absence or presence of a laying queen, specifically whether a brood cycle was occurring, and what stage it was at.

Monitoring the brood would enable beekeepers to get a good indication of the health of the queen, as well as how ‘dynamic’ she is.

The work, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved embedding tiny accelerometers – devices sensitive to minute vibrations – in the honeycomb of a series of hives. This enabled the team to monitor vibrational amplitude and frequency information to identify honeycomb load changes and patterns of buzzing which shed light on the brood cycle status.

The researchers have also developed a prototype device which, based on the vibrational signal from the hive, would enable beekeepers to receive wireless, instant, alerts – via email or SMS – relating to the health of their colonies.

The work – which comes as honeybee populations continue to decline – would make it possible for beekeepers to take swift remedial action to protect their hives, before a colony perishes.

It could also pave the way for beekeepers to reduce the amount of visits and inspections they have to carry out, regardless of hive conditions.

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Unnecessary visual inspections can place substantial stress on a hive. The daily activities of the hive are disrupted for some time after the inspection, the queen can be inadvertently killed, leading to the overall failure of the colony, or the colony can be disrupted by cooling down the brood, which needs to remain at 34-35 degrees Celsius.

As well as the occupational hazard of getting stung, it can also take up a huge amount of the beekeeper’s time, as every hive must be inspected every eight days during the swarming season, and commercial bee farms can have many thousands of hives.

In the case of a queen in poor health – or absence of a fertile queen – beekeepers might need to check that the colony isn’t diseased, consider introducing a new queen, or unite the remaining bees with another colony.

The brood cycle only stops during winter – it should be visible in a healthy hive from late February to late November – and is the means by which a colony sustains its numbers and continues to thrive.

The cycle starts with an empty honeycomb, which the worker bees clean before the queen fills the cells with eggs. These then ‘hatch’ to become grubs and the cells are capped with beeswax when they pupate, before emerging as adult bees. When one frame is filled, the queen moves to the next frame and the process is repeated. Each cycle takes about 21-24 days.

Dr Martin Bencsik, a physicist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said: “It is essential that we find new affordable ways which can accurately – and less invasively – assess honeybee colony status. This could help the beekeeping industry which is presently facing difficult times.

“Queen bee health is central to the health of an overall hive; we believe our work will soon help the beekeeping practice, particularly by reducing the need to unnecessarily visually inspect some healthy colonies.”

The study also involved the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in France and the Beekeeping Centre of Research and Information (CARI) in Belgium.

It is the latest in a series of studies involving the ‘Swarmonitor’ consortium – initiated by Nottingham Trent University and the Bee Farmers Association of the United Kingdom (BFA) – which shows how buzzing may indicate specific health disorders, or deterioration in the hive.

Veterans in Beekeeping – In Honor of All Our War Veterans.

 

vets beekeeping
Image: 1919 Pamphlet; Bee
Keeping to the Disabled Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines to Aid Them in Choosing a
Vocation

During WW1 the Federal Government was concerned about disabled
veterans finding work when they returned from the war. Because of advancements
in warfare, veterans were coming home with severe war injuries, and the
Government was concerned about the disabled veterans ability to integrate back
into society and earn a living. The Government developed vocational training for
veterans in various fields of work to help advance them in the direction of the
occupation of which he or she choose. One of the programs developed to help
wounded veterans adapt to their injuries was Beekeeping. Beekeeping was
considered a viable alternative career because a veteran could work alone, and a
slower pace, and still contribute to society. 
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A group of seven extension
workers was hired to teach better beekeeping methods to the veterans. -George
Demuth, Dr, E.F. Phillips, Frank Pellett, Jay Smith, E. R, Root, and M. I.
Mendelson. Walter Quick wrote the pamphlet pictured above in 1919, titled: “Bee
Keeping to the Disabled Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines to Aid Them in Choosing a
Vocation” (Ref. Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation. By Tammy
Horn)

Waggle Dance Detectives

It isn’t often that we have the pleasure of meeting and hearing a real expert.

I attended a talk recently by Professor Ratniek of Sussex University. It was organised by local beekeepers. They all knew a thing or two. But you know a real expert when they open up complex ideas and then put them across in a simple, understandable way.

Professor Ratniek is such a person.

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He heads up LASI at Sussex University – not the dog but the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects.

Prof Ratniek and his trusty researchers have been putting on their Sherlock Holmes deer stalker hats and getting out their magnifying glasses to view thousands of bee waggle dances. Bees use the waggle dance to tell their fellow bees where they have found a promising food source.`

By decoding the dances, LASI built up a picture of where the bees were telling their bee mates to go to forage, thus deducing where the bees actually went to collect nectar and pollen. A nifty bit of detective work by our academics – using the bees to do their own leg work.

The surprising thing was the results. Bees were travelling huge distances but also travelling much more in the summer than in the spring to find food .

Waggle-dance-forage-heat-map

The picture above shows a plot of where the dancing bees were telling their nest mates to go. On the right, the plot shows that in spring in 2010 and 2011 the bees were flying about a kilometre on average to forage.

That is amazing itself. These tiny creatures were flying 1km there, collecting a basketful of pollen and then flying 1km back.

In the summer in those same years – shown on the left, the bees were flying three kilometres on average to their food destination and as far as 10 kilometres to bring home the bacon (so to speak). That is, to be quite clear, 10kms there and 10km back! I think that is a marvel.

In the autumn, it is somewhere in-between.

The distances flown by the bees are astounding but why do the bees have to fly so much further in the summer than the spring or even the autumn?

The answer is thought to be that in the spring we have a huge abundance of flowers from dandelions to crocuses to fruit trees and other trees. In the autumn, we have ivy flowering. It is a very discrete flower, most people don’t even know that it flowers but it is plentiful and the bees love it.

Comb-packed-fuill-of-pollen

In the summer though there are fewer flowers about. The hay meadows of the past have largely gone and the way we farm to feed our prosperous mouths means a monoculture with not a flower to be seen, acre after acre. There is also a lot of competition about as well, with many more insects such as bumble bees at their maximum population in the summer.

So, our wonderful academics have shown that the bees fly astonishing distances to provide for their hive but also that habitat loss has a real impact on the bees. And they have demonstrated it so beautifully and simply.

Bee Friendly, say Charlton Manor pupils as they march to raise awareness

Charlton Manor Pupils

Up to 60 children from Charlton Manor primary school have marched to save the bees.

The year six Bee Friendly march – organised by the school’s new campaigns group and supported by Friends of the Earth – took place on Friday, October 16 in Charlton Village, Charlton Park and the streets around the Indus Road school.

Campaigns group member Daisy Thackrah, 11, said: “We’re doing it to make people more aware of the threats to bees and what can be done to save them.

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“We interviewed Sion Williams, from Friends of the Earth, on Charlton Manor News and he made it clear how serious the situation is.”

“It’s really great to see children getting together to show how much they care for the bees and it’s a great example of people power, which is what Friends of the Earth is really all about.”

Charlton Manor School keeps bees, and many children and staff are trained as bee keepers to extract honey and sell it from the school’s tuck shop.

In cooking lessons, they use honey in their recipes, and in geography, they learn how different parts of the world make use of bees.

Bees found farming fungus for first time to feed larvae

Brazilian stingless bee

Flowers are not enough, it seems. For the first time, bees have been discovered farming fungus to provide extra food for their larvae.

Though farming is well known in many social insects, such as ants and termites, bees have always been thought to depend solely on pollen and nectar for sustenance.

But for the Brazilian stingless bee, Scaptotrigona depilis, fungus may mean the difference between life and death.

What’s more, if other bees also depend on fungus for survival, the discovery has serious implications for the use of fungicides in agriculture.

Cristiano Menezes of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, was studying the bees in the lab and originally mistook the white Monascus fungus growing in their hive for contamination.

Integral to the hive

But when he found it in all 30 hives he looked at, he began to suspect it was there for a reason, especially since it was growing inside brood cells – the structures that social bees build to house their growing larvae.

He and his team discovered that the fungus is a key part of the hive. It permeates the cerumen, a material made of wax and resin that the bees use as building material. After the bees have deposited regurgitated food for the larvae inside the cells, and laid an egg, the fungus starts growing.

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Once the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the fungus, and it turns out this food is absolutely crucial. When the team tried to grow the bees in the lab without the fungus, the survival rate of the larvae dropped dramatically – from 72 per cent to just 8 per cent.

The survival difference may be either due to some nutrients provided by the fungus, or due to the fungus protecting the regurgitated food from spoiling, they say.

Portable farm

When bees leave to start a new colony, they take some of the cerumen with them to build the new hive structures, so their fungal farm comes too.

“It is clear that the fungus profits from dispersal with the bees, both to new colonies and within the nest, and is offered a protected environment,” says Duur Aanen of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Menezes calls it “proto-farming”, as the bees don’t seem to actively tend to the fungus. But they do “plant” it, provide stable growing conditions and food, harvest the crop and depend on it – all features of farming seen in other social insects, such as ants and termites. One ant species even farms animals for meat. And some fungi are farmers themselves, of bacteria.

Fungicide concern

“It is an exciting example of the complex connections between insects and microscopic life,” says Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin. “And it illustrates the important roles for beneficial symbionts in insects.”

Both Menezes and Currie think there are more farming bees to be found. “Given the substantial diversity of bees, many of which are poorly studied, it is likely that other bees engage in similar associations,” Currie says.

This raises concern about the use of fungicides, which while not directly harmful to bees, may be affecting them by killing off their symbiotic fungi, Menezes’s team concludes.

Argentine Ants Carry Virus Deadly to Honeybees

The Argentine ant, already known as one of the world’s most widespread and damaging pests, may be infecting honeybees with a deadly virus, a new study finds.

Alexandra Sebastien, a biologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, Argentine antsanalyzed Argentine ant populations in New Zealand, Australia and Argentina as part of her doctoral research.

She and her colleagues found that ants from all three locations can carry the deformed wing virus, a pathogen linked to colony collapse in honeybees. The new study appears in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters.

Argentine ants have flexible diets that allow them to thrive in many climates and on multiple continents. They eat other ants and insects, but also prey on larger animals like skinks and geckos.

“These ants, when they establish in an area, they become very widespread and they forage in the same places as bees,” said Phil Lester, a biologist at Victoria University of Wellington and a co-author of the new study.

The researchers also discovered that some Argentine ants carry a second virus that could be useful in controlling the ants. “It could save us from utilizing large amounts of pesticides,” Dr. Lester said.

Adopt modern techniques, local bee farmers urged

Ugandan bee farmers have been urged to seek advice from entomology officers in their districts to help them in the bee-keeping projects.

HONEYbee

Entomology involves the studying insects scientifically.

The call was made by an agriculture ministry official during the launch of the directorate of agricultural extension services at the ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries in Entebbe.

Vincent Rubarema, who is the permanent secretary at the institution, also said that ministry, through the new directorate, was partnering with organizations like The Hive to help in doubling honey production.

In the modern bee-keeping, various equipment like the CAB hive, bee-keepers protective suit, beeswax, hive brand smoker, bee brush, uncapping forks, honey extractor and many others are used to help harvest honey – without killing bees or destroying combs.

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And for that reason, local bee farmers are being encouraged to shift away from the traditional way and adopt more modern techniques of the practice.

During the launch of the new directorate in Entebbe, the above mentioned items were on display.

The new director, Beatrice Byarugaba, said bee farming should cover the whole country if Uganda is to meet the required amount of production.

She said that currently, bee-keeping is booming in areas like West Nile region, Pader, Apac, Lira Mubende and Bushenyi.

Go modern

A while back, news that honey from Uganda had finally been certified for European markets was received with great optimism by local bee farmers.

This would mean doubling the country’s current production of about 500,000 tonnes a year.

Also in many homes across the country, due to health reasons, honey has replaced sugar when it comes to tea time.

Unfortunately, with all such market opportunities, reports from the ministry indicate that the production for honey is still very low. One of the chief factors for this is farmers sticking to tradition ways of bee-keeping instead of using modern bee farming equipment.

HONEYbee1

Christopher Nzuki, the chief executive of The Hive explains that a single CAB hive produces around nine to 13kg of honey per harvest compared to the tradition one which gives very little while at the same time destroys the colonies.

He adds that with the modern equipment, harvest can be done six times in a year.

“Traditional bee-keeping is wasteful and injures bees while  the modern harvesting  leaves enough honey for bees, and comb frames are put back for refill after honey is extracted,” explains Nzuki.

He advises bee-keepers to increase their production, citing the high demand for not only honey but also its byproducts – which he reveals are even more expensive than honey. They include pollen used in the improvement of malnutrition, wax required in many industries for making soap, candles and many other things.

Others are royal jerry which improves fertility and boosts immunity while also delaying the ageing of cells, while honey is sought by many for various health reasons.

The Hive, an organization promoting bee-keeping, so far has branches in 12 countries around Africa including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and more.

Meanwhile, Kelvin Odoobo, the managing director for The Hive, believes bee farming can also help farmers in bringing more life to their farms.

“For some time in my area around Busia, farmers were complaining of their Mango (commonly known as Doodo) not producing fruits. When I started a bee-keeping project recently, the harvest was overwhelming because of the bees and Mango farmers got cash in their pockets!”

He pointed out that bees are responsible for the pollination of about 80% of the crops that give us food.

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Eco projects that don’t cost the earth

Syngenta Operation Pollinator Environmental Award Winner, Anthony Darker, hasn’t been resting on his laurels at Elsham Golf Club in Lincolnshire.

He has continued to develop a whole range of eco projects that has served to further enhance the environmental value of the golf course in the area.

In addition to the wonderful wildflower areas that have been created for the benefit of players and pollinating insects, importantly Anthony has also been busy providing vital winter refuges – or hibernaculum – for the bees and bug life that has been attracted.

But with only a limited budget he’s been trying to come up with ways to create them by recycling materials laying around the yard: bricks; roof tiles; old wood and logs; even old hole cups and more have been cleverly utilised.

bee nester

“Not only is it more cost effective, but reusing existing materials and supplies reduces waste and is a more ecological approach,” reported Anthony.

“I have the theory if every time you want to build a birdhouse you cut down a tree, eventually we won’t have any trees to put the house in!”

Anthony pointed out that though the year they end up with pallets from deliveries of turf, fertilisers and machine parts, which typically end up just getting in the way in a pile in the corner of the work shop, or used as fire wood.

“We have started to dismantle these pallets and reusing them for bee hibernaculum; be it a pallet stack filled with other recycled goods, or wall mounted hibernaculum on sides of sheds and out buildings.

“Log and brash piles in open south facing glades are incredibly attractive to a whole range of insects and other wildlife. And leaving standing dead wood is an excellent habitat too, since it blends into the surroundings and gives that more natural look.”

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Syngenta Operation Pollinator Manager, Caroline Carroll, highlighted that there was still time to work on establishing valuable new ecological habitats around the golf course this autumn. “Warm soil conditions and adequate moisture in September is ideal for sowing wildflower areas, either as stand-alone areas or as part of rough enhancement.

“Thick rough can be sprayed off now with Rescue, to remove coarse grasses and make space for finer fescues, as well as giving the wildflowers the room to establish,” she said. “The work at Elsham has ably demonstrated the immense benefit from enhancing the essential combination of food resources and nesting sites for pollinating insects.”

Anthony Darker added: “Syngenta Operation Pollinator workshops have demonstrated ways to manage and improve our out of play areas and make the golf course more wildlife friendly. I would urge all greenkeepers to take a look around their own work shop and club house, and see what they can come up with to get creative; the possibilities are endless to get involved and to do your bit.”

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