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Bees in the News

There's a lot going on in the bee world, from rain and flooding in CA to a vaccine created to address American Foulbrood. Here's a look at the Bee side of the news:


U.S.D.A. Approves First Vaccine for Honeybees

Dalan Animal Health’s vaccine for American foulbrood, an aggressive bacterial disease, is the first for any insect in the United States.

Published Jan. 7, 2023Updated Jan. 9, 2023

A conditional license for a vaccine to protect honeybees against American foulbrood disease has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Steve Pfost/Newsday, via Getty Images

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A biotech company in Georgia has received conditional approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the first vaccine for honeybees, a move scientists say could help pave the way for controlling a range of viruses and pests that have decimated the global population. It is the first vaccine approved for any insect in the United States. The company, Dalan Animal Health, which is based in Athens, Ga., developed a prophylactic vaccine that protects honeybees from American foulbrood, an aggressive bacterium that can spread quickly from hive to hive. Previous treatments included burning infected colonies and all of the associated equipment, or using antibiotics. Diamond Animal Health, a manufacturer that is collaborating with Dalan, holds the conditional license.


‘Humble’ wax worm saliva rapidly breaks down plastic bags, scientists discover

Findings ‘change paradigm of plastic biodegradation’, reports Thomas Kingsley

New research shows that two enzymes in the saliva of these worms readily break down polyethylene, the world’s most widely used plastic and a major contributor to global plastic waste


One of the most environmentally damaging types of plastic can be broken by the saliva of a wax worm, scientists have discovered.

Two substances in the saliva of wax worms - moth larvae that eat wax made by bees to build honeycombs - readily break down polyethylene, the world’s most widely used plastic.

The researchers said the two enzymes identified in the caterpillar saliva were found to rapidly and at room temperature degrade polyethylene, a major contributor to an environmental crisis extending from ocean trenches to mountaintops.


Almond Update: Cold Storage for Bees Becoming More Popular

Using cold storage to house bee colonies in the winter is not a new practice but it is continuing to grow in popularity. Assistant Research Professor at Washington State University, Brandon Hopkins said that somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of bees deployed in California almond orchards are stored indoors in winter months. There is a cost saving for beekeepers, as well as other benefits to bee health and colony stability. “Indoor storage allows the beekeepers to have full control over the temperature and climate and that stable temperature, the stable environmental conditions, gives more predictability to the condition of the colonies when they come out,” said Hopkins. “So, as long as the bees are in good shape, they’re healthy, and the beekeepers have done their work, then they have very low losses in these containers and a very high level of predictability.” Keeping bees in a single area with a controlled environment also allows beekeepers to enhance the strength of individual colonies. Hopkins noted that beekeepers can experience significant losses of bees outside, which creates substantial challenges when it is time for almond pollination. Beekeepers can cull their indoor colonies in the fall to get a better understanding of what numbers will look like in January and February. That allows beekeepers and growers to make any potential adjustments when it comes time for pollination. Hopkins also said that colonies are generally healthier when they are stored indoors. “Overall viral loads are lower for bees that are stored indoors versus outdoors in California,” Hopkins explained. “Nosema levels and varroa mite levels are lower indoors compared to outdoors in California, where the bees have the ability to fly and spread diseases and things like that.”Several resources about cold storage of bee colonies are available from Project Apis m.


From books to bees, young beekeepers' go-it-alone

When brother/sister duo Cecil and Cora Mae Gregg became entranced by beekeeping over the course of an idle summer, their parents encouraged them to get involved. With one caveat: they had to figure it out themselves. For the eager Baton Rouge kids, that was no deterrent. The pair — Cecil, 14, and Cora Mae, 10 — have navigated the world of beekeeping on their own, armed with little more than a beekeeping book and curiosity. The pair's interest was sparked in 2019 when, in the words of Cecil, they "observed lots of bees in the yard and near the pool … and speculated about their life cycle and their habitats." Cecil Gregg and a helper work one of Cecil's hives.PROVIDED PHOTO A neighbor who was well-versed in beekeeping passed on his knowledge, while also helping steer the young duo toward a wealth of resources. Their interest in beekeeping put them in rare company, and not just because of their youth. Though bees play a crucial role in agricultural production through crop pollination, according to Louisiana Agriculture in the Classroom, the number of beekeepers in Louisiana is surprisingly low: 343 beekeepers out of a total of 115,000-125,000 nationwide. On a broader level the number of hives in the United States has also dropped drastically since the 1940s, from 6 million to about 2.5 million, making the efforts of people like Cecil and Cora Mae even more important. With the pair deciding to make a go of it, they began working their way through all the resources they could. They soon turned to literature, starting with Howland Blackiston's "Beekeeping for Dummies" which, Cecil said, they read "out loud, cover to cover". They then joined both the local Capital Area and Louisiana Beekeepers Associations, and also took an online beekeeping course. After inevitable growing pains, Cecil and Coe Mae Gregg's beehives are flourishing.PROVIDED PHOTO The timing was right. "We were in COVID lockdown. So, we had a lot of disposable time," Cecil said. In the spring of 2020 they decided they'd done enough studying and planning, and also raised enough money. It was time to go out on their own. They purchased the necessary equipment to get things off the ground: the initial outlay consisted of a 10-frame hive, frames and a stand, smoker, hive tool, bee suits, bucket strainer, glass jars and — perhaps most importantly — a queen with some bees. It cost the pair about $450 to get everything set up. From the get-go their parents were supportive but, as mother Christen Losey-Gregg recalled, determined to take a hands-off approach. Some of Cecil and Cora Mae Gregg's honey. Though they're hoping to sell it someday in the future, for now they're content to give it away to family and friends. "When Cecil and Cora decided to do this, we decided that they were just going to do it completely on their own," she said. "It’s been a lot of trial and error for them, because we completely left it to them to figure out. When there's a problem we say, 'Well, take a look in your book. Figure out what you're going to do next.'" Given the go-it-alone approach, there were, indeed, plenty of mistakes. But, as their parents intended, it also led to a lot of learning. "Being inexperienced and just getting into this by reading books, we had lot of problems," Cecil admitted. "Books really help, but only to a point. But I’m getting a lot better. Experience is really helping — I'm not running into the same mistakes." Their first set of hives failed. But their persistence and enthusiasm remained undimmed and, after about a year, their hives produced honey for the first time. Cecil says his favorite part of the process is the sense of achievement when everything comes together. "At the end of the day when we finally harvest the honey, once you taste it, you realize 'I was a part of making this honey,'" he said. "When you’ve spent so much time and effort on something, spent all that time practicing … when you're finally at the end it's just amazing." In the immediate future, the pair's next step is to keep the hives alive over winter. If that pans out, Cecil says they're keen to 'split the hives' — a beekeeping term for shifting the queen and a few frames of bees to a new hive, thus creating a new one (the original hive can either be left to create its own queen or have one introduced by beekeepers). And what about being stung? Though he said it hurt "very much" at first, Cecil now handles it with all the stoicism of a hardened beekeeper. "It's now starting to feel like mosquito bites," he said. "You pinch it, pull out the stinger so the venom stops going into you, and you keep on going. You get used to it." Someday they'd like to sell their own honey, but, Cecil acknowledges, that's likely quite some time away. "I'd love to get to that point, but I'm starting small and probably need to build up a bit more." For now they're giving their product away — gifting it to friends and family in neatly wrapped bottles — and refining the process. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the honey. "I'm making sure it tastes as good to others as it tastes to me," Cecil said.


Hurricanes and other natural disasters take a toll on the nation's population of bees

CBS 8 visits the Bee Leaf Bee Sanctuary to discuss the impacts to the nation's been population.

Author: Shawn Styles

Updated: 3:15 PM PST January 9, 2023

SAN DIEGO — I went out to Bee Leaf Bee Sanctuary where they had over 100 colonies, these are essential to our survival as well as to agriculture. Recent hurricanes that swept through Florida wiped out tens of thousands of hives as well as took away the food that colonies need to survive. By late September, beekeepers on the East Coast had moved their hives to the mild weather in Florida to take advantage of the Brazilian pepper tree bloom... that's when Hurricane Ian hit. Travis Wolfe is the owner of Bee Leaf and says Florida bees got hit with a one-two punch. "Most of the northern states had already delivered their bees to the southern states in order to take advantage of the longer beekeeping season and plants that were still blooming. Not only did the bees get beat up, but then their food got beat up at the same time. So, it was a double-edged problem for the upcoming pollination season." Jeremy Ham is one of those Florida beekeepers trying to save his bees with supplemental nectar. "Some of these bees have gotten three shots of feed. So, you're talking 36 pounds of supplemental feed already. You go back after they suck the feed down and it looks like were never fed at all." Supplying beekeepers were Maan Lake Bee and Ag Supply and they were producing sugar water nectar as fast as they could. To offset the costs Federal aid was available. Other non-profits were also chipping in. "We have donated food pantries for humans, supplies to animal shelters, and now we're donating this bee pollen substitute to help these farmers," said Casey Paholski with Greater Good Charities. For the bees that did survive, the next move for pollen and nectar is here to California for the almond crop which has been shrinking because of the Mega Drought. "If the drought takes out the almond crop in California, beekeeping is going to be in trouble." Andrew Wagner is from Mann Lake Bee and Ag Supply. Wagner says bees have become dependent on humans for survival. "If every beekeeper released their bees into the wild, we estimate that it would be two-to-three years before the bees would just collapse." The use of uncontrolled pesticides, encroachment through development and invasive pests are the reason... and here in San Diego Travis Wolfe. "We've created a mutual dependency on bees and their dependence on us. That said, I'm a firm believer that if we were to neglect all the Honeybees in the world, the bees will find a way to survive." By making the right choices, even small ones each of us can help. Adds Wolfe, "The biggest way we can do that is by planting a tree. You don't have to get a big, huge tree." The other thing you can do to help is to stop spraying pesticides on flowering plants. "They are very effective, the problem is that the bees will intercept that and take it back to the colony and ultimately poison themselves." So by doing a few small things around our homes we can help the Bees so they can help us.


Swarms of bees can electrify the atmosphere, researchers find Flying bugs can generate an itsy bitsy electrical charge. But what happens when thousands of insects get together and start to swarm? What do bees and thunderclouds have in common? More than you'd think If you’re anything like me, the sight of a single bee has tremendous power, providing a limitless supply of energy to flail and sprint in the other direction. While a single bee is powerful, researchers recently found that a swarm of honeybees can be downright stimulating—generating its own electrical field in the atmosphere as it bumbles along. Electrical charges are measured in coulombs (C). The average bolt of cloud-to-ground lightning carries about 5 C of charge, while the static electricity you produce by running your socks across the carpet is measurable in microcoulombs, or 0.000001 C. Individual insects are known to generate a minuscule amount of electrical charge as they buzz about. These charges, the researchers said, can be as small as picocoulombs, or one-trillionth (0.000000000001) of one coulomb. It’s very small. Despite the imperceptibly tiny scale involved, the group was still curious—if one bee produces an electrical charge, how about hundreds or even thousands of bees swarming around in a fury? A team from the United Kingdom’s University of Bristol forged ahead with their study old-school style, plunking an electric field monitor and a video camera near some honeybee hives on the school’s property. As expected, several swarms of honeybees flew directly over the electrical monitor and camera, providing researchers a golden opportunity to measure the density and electrical field of the swarm as it buzzed along. Data collected by the instruments showed an unmistakable uptick in the electrical field in the atmosphere directly generated by the swarm of honeybees. Just like the bees themselves, it was a relatively small electrical field that’s not close to comparable to a thunderstorm or even a really good zap on a cold winter day.

The most interesting results from the study weren’t just that honeybee swarms can generate small amounts of electricity, but what the researchers found when they extrapolated that data out to other types of insects.

Anyone caught near a swarm of bees may feel the weight of the universe bearing down on them in that very moment, but these essential pollinators have nothing on the unfathomable scale of other bugs like desert locusts.

Locust swarms are so large and destructive that humans have written about them for almost as long as humans could write. One swarm of locusts can destroy an entire harvest covering hundreds and even thousands of square kilometres of farmland.

“Our calculations show that desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarms are capable of exceeding charge densities reported for electrical storms and clouds,” the team of scientists reported in their results.

What are the practical effects of the findings? You won’t see a blue spark if a dense swarm of insects gets too close to a pole, but the researchers say that the results could have implications down the line on future studies and models.

These small electrical fields could affect how fine particulate matter moves through the atmosphere, for example, which could have implications on climate change and other factors such as dust and pollution.

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