NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Oct 1996
District of Columbia
- Washington, D.C.; National Public Radio
- 38.90213 -77.02079
Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
2-way -Steve Buchman and Alex Chadwick
October 28, 1996
1:16 AC -...What do I actually know about bees...what do I actually know about pollination, and how does it work...what is pollination? What is going on there?
1:48 SB -basically, most of us in high school were taught about pollination, what the birds and the bees were doing. Why it was important for pollen grains, this little microscopic dust, to be transferred from flower to flower. But somehow, as we grew into adulthood we have forgotten those basic facts of life, that plants literally cannot get up and go on a date. They are totally dependent, quite literally and figuratively, rooted to one spot. SO they need these fuzzy go betweens, whether these are bees, bats, birds or butterflies to carry the pollen around from plant to plant, which is essential for producing the fruits and seeds that our very lives depend upon. 2:34
2:35 AC -This is actually plant reproduction -the sexual life of plants.
SB -Exactly, um hum.
AC -How does it work? How do the bees do it? And why do the bees do it? What is the bee getting out of this?
2:51 SB - Bees and other pollinators, but especially bees are attracted to the plants bc the plants are scented almost flashing neon signs or billboards. And bees are not in it to help out the plants. they are not the friendly pollinators thinking that well, gee I have to go around and pollinate 5 different kinds of plants today and set some seeds. I mean -far from it. Bees are simply out for very selfish motives trying to collect food. High energy food in the form of floral nectar which is usually 30 to 50% sugar, and then that fine microscopic dust -the pollen, which is very very rich in proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. So they are out to feed themselves and their progeny, their larvae which are usually back in a hive in the case of a honey bee, or below ground if you are a native solitary bee. But they are simply going from flower to flower to collect as rapidly and as effectively as they can -food. Again, the high energy food, nectar which is turned by them into honey and also the pollen.
4:10 AC -So, they are going after the nectar which they turn into honey, and as kind of an accidental byproduct of that they are flying along among these flowers, brushing the pollen from one up against another. What is going on with the plants here? What is happening in their... ?
VG 4:28 - SB -Exactly. The bees are as if you imagine them as living flying paint brushes, and very very fuzzy and able to pick up this pollen, this dust like substance, and carry it from flower to flower so that the flowers have played for millions of years ¬for at least one hundred million years -the plants for at least one hundred million years have played this game. It's almost an arm's -or maybe a legs, bc the bees have 6 legs -constantly trying to outwit the next so that the flowers in kind of an anthropomorphic sense don't want the bees to get all of the pollen. they don't want to satiate them all with one flower. The more flowers they visit out on a trip, out from their hive, or out from their nest, the better it .is for the flowers. So the flowers are actually metering out little dollops of nectar. Little parcels of pollen so that the bees will have to visit hundreds or thousands of flowers on a given trip. So that is part of the game. They want to entice them but get them to visit per unit time.
AC: Would it be correct to say that pollen is in human terms sperm?
5:52 SB -Yes, definitely. DNA containing. Yeah plant sperm basically, and the very fact -.... flowering plant reproduction 101, or the facts of life for flowering plants.
AC -We need flowering plant reproduction 101 bc people have forgotten it.
6:13 SB -that's right. So many people go into their supermarkets and find their shrink wrapped cucumbers and their waxed apples, and cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables, and they literally do not know how it has gotten there. Amazing as that seems a lot of farmers have forgotten the pollinators in the equation as well.. And sort of take it for granted that there are honey bees or native bees out there pollinating their crops. So that that is the beginning of the chain that is really really essential. I mean literally one third of the food we eat every third bite is coming to us by way of these often forgotten pollinator services of many different pollinators.
AC -But you were going to explain basic plant reproduction 101 ¬I am not quite sure that you have -or I -let me just ask you to try again.
7:12 SB -Sure. Basically, most plants, most flowering plants have a flower. And the flowers are a combination of male and female parts. They often don't come together on their own, so that most flowers are incapable of self pollinating. So that there needs to be an agent, either gravity, or in the wind or in the best case of all, pollinators to move the pollen around. Many plants, even if you take the pollen, and take it from the male containing structures, the anthers, to the receptive female stigma on the same flower a lot for flo ers will not produce fruits or seeds from tha. You need to d what is called an outcrossed pollination. So you need to move -physically move ¬the pollen from a donor plant, a male if you will, to a female that is on some distant flowering plant And if that happens, that will produce the best fruit. For an example you can look at this in the supermarket. For example different grades of fruits. If you look at a small apple. An apple, if all of the ovules, the little baby seeds if you will, the progenerators of the apple fruit, if all of those are pollinated you will get an extra fancy -a huge apple -that you will pay a lot of money for. On the other hand, if the bees don't do a very good job, and only pollinate half of the seeds in that fruit, it won't fill out, it won't plump up. So if you only have 4 or 5 seeds pollinated w/in that apple you will get a mishapened apple or a smaller one, which is not as pleasing, the consumer is not going to go around typically picking out small apples in the supermarket." You are going to be going to for the biggest, best looking fruit you can. So that is just one common example that you can see of sort of imperfect or inadequate pollination. 9:18
9:20 AC -What is happening to the other crops? What about wheat, corn, barley? What's happen here?
SB -Those staples, those cereal and grain crops are pollinated basically at the whim of the wind. So that basically their pollen is very small, light, and dry. It is carried by the wind, and it is literally saturation broadcasting so that these plants are putting out billions and billions of pollen grains and one one thousandth of one percent arrives at the target, just by chance. So that no pollinators are required. That does happen with things like corn, wheat, barley, oats, and for all nuts except things like almonds. Almonds are one example of a high cash crop, especially ones grown in California, that requires insect pollination. In fact the almond acreage in California is about 400,000 acres and requires almost a million colonies of honeybees each year just to pollinate that one crop. One in about one hundred crops in this country that are dependent on bees for pollination. So if you take the cereals and the grains and that one exception of the almonds, other nuts like pecans and walnuts are also pollinated by the wind. So really if every honeybee colony or every native bee in the world disappeared we would still have things like wheat, flour from wheat, flour from oats and corn and oats, bc they are pollinated by the wind.
11:05 AC -What about tomatoes?
11:08 SB -Tomatoes are an interesting situation. They happen to be near and dear to me bc of something I started playing with and coined the term buzz pollination. Tomato flowers, if you sort of envision a salt shaker with little holes on the top. If you took a salt shaker and took all of those holes and just turned it into 2 holes and then but a bunch of those salt shakers together you would have basically a tomato flower. And so bees like bumble bees, but not honeybees, we don' really know why but honeybees are incapable of doing this kind of pollination, but things like bumble bees are experts at it. They will land on these flowers and literally turn themselves into living tuning forks. So basically to get the pollen out of the tomato flowers these bumble bees have to sonicate or buzz pollinate. so they take the muscles that are in the body that usually drive the wings and they set up vibrations inside the flower and that literally produces an instantaneous discharge so you get this pollen cloud that comes shooting out, millions of pollen grains that strike the bumble bees on their undersides basically, it gets caught in the hair, so that bumble bees and other bees which are using this form of floral sonication bc it sounds like somebody is giving you the raspberry or Bronx cheer, kind of a rude noise, but the vibration that accompanies this is forcing that pollen out and that bees that are using this are able to collect pollen as food for themselves and their young, hundreds of times faster than bees that don't know the trick of buzzing these flowers.
And in the case of tomatoes this represents about -well, flowers that have little tiny holes in the anthers, that is the only way the pollen can escape, and where they need to use the buzzing form of harvesting that trick if you will is used by about 8 to 12% of the world's flowering plants. And examples of commercial crops in this country which require buzz pollination would be things like blueberries, cranberries, eggplants, some chili peppers, tomatoes as you've mentioned, and things like kiwi fruits.¬
SB -Not pumpkins.
13:40 AC -ah, that is too bad. [laughter] What does pollinate pumpkins?
13:44 SB -yeah. pumpkins are interesting. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds are pollinated in the best of all worlds but some native, good american native bees which are called the squash and gourd bees. And these are bees that wake up very very early in the morning, in fact they are out working before most of us get up. Before dawn, so they can actually be flying around in the dark. They have very very large eyes which enable them to operate under very low light situations. They are specialists. Most of the 4 to 5 thousand bee that we have native in this country are specialists. And so that means that they make their living. they collect the food, the nectar and pollen from a very small array of flowering plants. Usually in one plant family or maybe even in a few related species. So that basically the squash and gourd bees are not too surprisingly are specialist in cucurbits, things like squashes, gourds, pumpkins, zucchinis, crook necked squash. And they have specialized hairs on their body which allows them to collect this -pumpkin pollen is huge. They are spiny and they are also oily. So this helps it stick onto the bee's body. Honeybees can also pollinate pumpkins and some other pumpkins and gourds, but they are less efficient at it. We think it is bc the pollen grains are too big for the honeybees to deal with.
15:21 AC -When you say these are solitary bees, do you mean that they don't live in hives, they live by themselves? ¬
15:30 SB -That's right. Most of the public I think has this idea that the only bees in the world are honeybees when in fact there are 25,000 named kind of bees in the world perhaps as many as 40,000 kinds of species actually out there. And they don't all live in hives they are all 'not super organisms, highly social. Just because we see honeybees as winnie the pooh friend living in a hollow tree, or we see them in a cluster of white boxes, an apiary that is tended and managed by a bee keeper. You know a honeybee colony may have anywhere from 20 to perhaps 60,000 bees inside it. One queen and then all of her daughters. Female worker bees, and then a few hundred or a few thousand drones, the males. But that is not a typical thing. the normal thing most people would not even recognize a native bee nest bc it just looks like a simple hole in the ground with a little bit of excavated soil. So it might look like to some people a little bit like an earthworm casting in a lawn, or something. So that the native bees have gone down several feet usually, excavated this nest, created these little -a burrow with these little cells which often look like little grape like clusters. They start out hollow, the female bees will collect nectar and pollen, bring it back, blend it together, almost turn it into a little plato mixture of nectar and pollen, lay an egg on it, seal that thing off and then have no further contact with their offspring. Hence the term that we biologists like to throw around of solitary bees. So that each female bee is literally doing her own thing. she mates early in her life, usually on the first day of her life she goes out and collects nectar to sustain herself and then she starts digging these holes, digging these nests, and then immediately starts provisioning, looking for nectar and pollen to maintain this brood. So literally she turns into this extremely efficient worker, this mining engineer and foraging machine. 18:00
AC -How long would a bee -what is the life span of a bee?
18:07 SB -Typically a few weeks to a few months. [AC -really.] I mean even honeybees only live 50 days or so, 4 to 6 weeks. So they are literally burning themselves out. Wearing their wings down to nothing. Just flying many many miles in search of flowers.
18:35 AC -How long... I gather modern day bee wranglers are the ¬it has been a practice that has been around, what? since the time of the Egyptians? Did the Egyptians first domesticate bees?
SB -We think so. That is certainly, when you look at -there are hieroglyphics that date back to even the royal kingdom, showing a royal symbol of a honeybee and we have good records that the same sort of thing that is happening today literally clay hives being floated on barges up and down the Nile River, exploiting the crops. We don't think they knew about pollinating the crops. We think they were just interested in harvesting the honey. But still there is very good evidence that they were tending bees for the honey, perhaps for the bees wax. That yes, the Egyptians did practice a form of bee keeping.
19:47 AC -So that is maybe more than 4,000 years ago. [SB ¬yeah.] Do you know how they -I am just trying to imagine....! don't know you could possibly know this -how the first kind of concept of a hive emerged. Where do they come from? I was also interested to see in one of the pieces that you wrote that hive construction has not -that is for domesticated bees is basically unchanged since the civil War.
20:27 SB -Right, in this country that is certainly true. The white boxes which are boxes stacked on top of another that we see that are the hives, the place where the bee colony lives -the honeybee colony lives, has not changed since the time of the civil War , the 1860s. If we look at what happened in Europe, especially Eastern Europe we have very very good records of for example honey hunters in Russia and Asia who would literally go out into the forest find wild colonies of bees in the tree, and put a particular mark or a brand on the tree that labeled that as their tree -as their bee tree. ANd so it literally kept other honey hunters away, and they could come back and repeatedly harvest from that tree. Sometimes it would be a complete harvest of the colony that would kill it, but more often than not they would put a certain door, kind of a hinged door where they could wit a little bit of trouble and some stings, some smoking smothering torches, they could get at the honey and bees wax. The evolution of that that seems to have progressed to where it was inconvenient to walk out maybe 5 10, or 20 miles to your bee hive, grab a little bit of honey and then come in for the return trip. So that they started collecting these sections, chopping out sections of the tree and then bringing these tree bowls back to their villages, and then tending the bees that way. And then the ultimate thing was for this civil War technology actually administer the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth who was kind of like the Henry Ford of beekeeping. He discovered bee space, which is literally that if you don't violate the certain spacing within the combs and the hive then the bees won't gunk everything together. they won't plaster it with resins we call propolis we call bees wax, so you can pull things apart so it becomes less messy. You don't get stung, you can get more of the honey out, and he also made all of the -Langstroth, and we still use Langstroth hives today in this country and allover the world. Along with this Henry Ford analogy, he made interchangeable parts. SO now you could pullout a frame of brood or in the top of the hive you could have the honey. So that now when you harvest the honey you just take off the top box, what bee keepers call a super, and extract that honey very efficiently.
AC -Could you spell his name?
SB -Lorenzo Langstroth. He was a PA Lutheran minister I think.
23:39 AC -Let me ask you this: In the current circumstance, the great decline of honeybees in this country ....the great decline of pollinators in this country.....To what extent is their decline ....what portion of that would you assign to these mites, and what portion would you assign to pesticides and habitat destruction?
24:28 SB -That is a complicated question but one thing we do know is that since the records have been kept by the Dept. of Agriculture and the State Departments of Agriculture, we know very clearly that let's say in the mid '40s, 1947 we had essentially 6 million colonies of managed honeybees kept by bee keepers kept in this country, and I am not talking about the wild or feral Winnie the Pooh bees out there in the hollow trees, I am talking about bees in Langstroth hives. There were 6 million. Here we are a few decades later, although we don't have the statistical reporting branch of the Dept. of AG has not released the final stats for 1966 bc some of that still happens in December [AC -1996] -I am sorry, 1996 ......Although we don't have the most recent 1996 estimates from the statistical reporting branch from the Dept. of Agriculture bc that happens -they are still counting hives basically in December, we won't know that data until Jan of '97. We probably have 2 million, or maybe even slightly less than 2 million colonies of managed in this country and one point I like to make going back to the almonds of just one example of a hundred or perhaps a hundred and fifty commercial crops grown in this country the almonds are grown in about 400,000 acres of land in CA, and that requires at least 2 honeybees colonies per acre. SO you can see very quickly with some simple math that we need about 800,000 colonies of honeybees just to pollinate that one crop. 26:19
AC -Maybe that is bc there are far fewer people in agriculture then there were in 1947. I mean the decrease number of farmers in this country are enormous.
26:33 SB -Ah, that's true, but we haven't lost -I mean the farmers aren't typically raising the bees, it is the bee keepers, so it is very very unusual in this country to have a farmer who is also a bee keeper. Typically you get your bees brought in for free or most recently you pay a bee keeper -you sign a contract, a pollination contract, which is a legal document, and you pay anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars per hive to the bee keepers for them to move bees into your almonds or your apples or your orange grove for a period of a few weeks to a few months to pollinate that crop.
27:16 AC -Ok. Let's go back to this basic question on -what would you...how would you break down the decline of these of the honeybees ...are the mites mostly to blame, or pesticides mostly to blame or habitat destruction?
27:38 SB "';/Basically we have a lot of things that are impinging on the honeybee industry that have brought let's say that mid '40s number of 6 million down to 2 million or less right now. certainly what we have heard about in the popular press, and I go around talking to lots and lots of bee keepers, certainly these 2 introduced species of parasitic mites, the internal tracheal mites which literally plug up the breathing tubes, and then these -well for a mite, giant sized, although they are still the size of a pin head -veroa mite, which are external mites which literally suck the blood out of the larval bees, and then the adult bees. they have caused drastic losses, I mean in some cases in the midwest and some of the northeastern states we are hearing about 60, 70 maybe even 80 percent or more kills of wild colonies as well as 50 or 60 percent of the managed colonies. So these are really serious predators of the honeybees, and they are really specific to honeybees. These mites do not jump off onto bumble bees or onto to carpenter bees. They are strictly an accidental parasite that was introduced in the '80s and has spread to 30 or 40 of the states.
29 -AC-These mites originated in Asia, I think.
SB -Ah, yes.
AC -What has happened to honeybees there? Are there any honeybees left there?
SB -Well, actually the problem is compounded by the fact that we have perhaps 10 or 11 species of true honeybees in the genus Apis, and those are from Asia. European honeybees, Apis mellifera, are a friendly domesticated honeybee, the European honeybee. That's not the most popular species in Asia. The native species of honeybees in Asia are resistant to these mites, and so there Asian mites which are not really a problem in Asia. They are in Europe, but they have become really severe problems here. And the only ways for beekeepers to get rid of these mites really effects the bottom line, and so we can only use very potent -at least up until this time -we have only been able to use very potent chemicals, acaracides (?) that will kill the mites and have a subtle but significant sublethal effect so that they essentially weaken the honeybee colony so that it is as if you are giving a person chemo-radiation. It is really hurting the colonies. It is killing the mites, but it is very expensive per hive to treat, and it is affecting the bees as well. 30:27
AC -I have read about something called menthol crystals?
SB -Those have been investigated by the US Dept. of Agriculture, a number of our laboratories as well as some university researchers, and menthol and some essential oils and these things are effective at controlling some of the mites, and they are less expensive. 30:52
AC -Are they bad for the bees?
SB -They can be at high concentrations.
AC -How costly are they?
SB -Um, the menthol treatments aren't as expensive as the
apistan strips, the veroa treatment strips.
30:10 AC -Aren't you really talking about -It sounds to me that you are really talking about a biodiversity problem in this bee population. That is a great concentration of a monoculture, which is then vulnerable to some agent of opportunity.
31:31 SB -That is very true. It is unfortunate that our entire agra-business industries in this country are totally dependent on 100 perhaps as many as 150 crops for bee pollination for essentially one kind of bee. We have put all of our pollination eggs in one basket, as it were. SO that now when we are hit with parasitic mites from foreign countries or harsh winters or the constant pressure of herbicides or pesticides, habitat fragmentation that are hurting honeybees and native bees, it really exacerbates the problem. It really makes it much, much more severe. Fortunately in this country we have this other perhaps 5000 species of native bees which we are seeing can in fact take up the slack often times are more efficient pollinators of the plants than are honeybees. This is certainly true with tomatoes. The buzz pollination stuff, blueberries and cranberries, honeybees are inefficient pollinators of those crops. Those crops are normally set by free bees if you will, bumble bees living out in the forest and meadows that come into the cranberry bogs and blueberry plantations. So that we do find that the native North American species of bees living in the ground or in twigs, are coming in and they are taking up the slack -as long as we give them some slack and provide with safe places to live and pesticide free havens. 33:11
33:12 AC -When we talk about great threats to the wild bee populations from these mites are you talking about a wild honeybee population that escaped from domesticated hives brought in by Europeans? You are not talking about then Native American wild bees.
SB -That's right. And the terminology is confusing, bc when bee keepers talk about wild bees they are talking about ones that got away that sent out reproductive swarms into the forest, so it is again the Winnie the Pooh bees, the honeybees that are hanging out in the hollow trees. However there are these other thousands species of native what I guess we could call wild bees, the non¬-honeybee species. So it is often confusing. As scientists we talk about these things, and I am sure the public can become confused when we mention wild honeybees versus well hey -there are these other bees out there that are not honey bees that are also wild. 34:14
AC -Let me just hear you make the case if I could for why it is that American industry, agricultural industry has relied on the European honeybee. what is so great abut this bee? Why is this a very appealing bee?
34:31 SB -Well, first and foremostly it is a manageable bee. We know about it. People have kept, as we talked about earlier, since Egyptian times kept this bee, and they are very very easy to move around. You can haul them around. Basically it has been likened to following the bloom, You have migratory bee keepers who let's say start out in Florida and go up and down the east coast. Or let's say they are coming in from North Dakota bringing semi loads of bees over to pollinate the almond crop in California in February. So they are literally using the interstates to truck their bees all around the country. 25:14
And so what we have is a bee who is an extreme generalists it' will go and take nectar and pollen from the vast majority of crop plants and native plants, with a few exceptions that we've talked about like the pumpkins and the tomatoes which they are not especially good at pollinating, but they are sort of jills-of-all-trades, if you will. So these females worker honeybees are able to -they know how to visit most flowers and move the pollen around. And the fact that we know how to manage them, they are out there available by the millions, they have been our allies in commercial pollination in the past. However, I would also like to add that honeybee often get the credit for pollinating certain things that the other bees, the wild North American bees, are taking care of, and this happens for example with blueberries and cranberries where you normally have the vast majority of the crop set by wild bumble bees colonies living out in the forest.
36:28 AC -So, if these bees, if the bees that pollinate cranberries, blueberries, squashes -if these bees are not threatened by these mites, they resist these mites, why is it you see a decline in their numbers as well?
36:50 SB -Yeah. Those crops are the sort of exceptional crops that we have talked about are pretty much safe in the decline in honey bees because there are these other wild specialist bees that can take up the slack and do the job of pollinating those plants. But in other cases we have ..... 37:21 You have the fact that these tracheal and veroa mites are hitting honey bees. They are not jumping over on to the other native bees. However these native bees are at peril if you will bc of pesticides which effect all bees indiscriminately, in fact most insects indiscriminately. And the fact that we have taken as David Quamen in his recent book, The Song of the Dodo, has talked about taking this incredible fabric of the planet, taking the biosphere and broken it up into little quilts, a patch work quilt. He also has the analogy that I like of pulling threads out of this fabric of life until pretty soon you have pulled out enough threads that it doesn't hold together. And we are doing similar things with pollinators. Even though honeybees can fly several miles, a lot of these small native bees may only fly a few hundred yards and so literally if we urbanize everything, and with commercial agriculture put in fields that are 20 acres, 50 acres, sometimes in Arizona a 100 square acres of cotton we are pushing the pollinators back. These native bees that are living in the ground or in little broken off twigs so far back that they can't fly these great distances or perhaps some of them are nesting so shallowly that when we disk and plow them up we are destroying their nests. So literally you have them pushed back to the fringes, there is no toleration of "weeds" -weedy plants -which provide nectar and pollen for these native bees.
39:15 AC -I am interested to hear you say that pesticides effect all insects pretty much the same. Wouldn't it be possible to spray a cranberry bog with something that would kill the insects that are eating the plants and not kill the bees? [SB -yeah, that happens} I mean, how does one handle pest?
B -Sure. I mean obviously I am not advocating the elimination of all pesticides -I just, in the "Forgotten Pollinators" campaign we do talk about things that can be down in terms of the safe, judicious use of pesticides when they are necessary. Fortunately we have integrated pest management and biological control tools at our disposal. As we also mention in the appendix in the back of the Forgotten Pollinators book we point out for backyard gardeners and farmers what are the bad guys. What are the chemicals that are the worst for honey bees and other bees, and which are the least toxic. there are always label requirements, instructions on the pesticide labels which tell the applicators and the farmers when and how the dosage requirements, how much to apply per acre. They are not always followed. But if they are they always result in no or lessened, for example, honey bee kills.
41:23 AC -I am sitting at my Thanksgiving dinner table. typical American family. What are the things on that table that are important to what we have been talking about -or to which the things we are talking about are important... just go down the table and say.
41:44 SB -well, sitting in front of this bountiful feast, this harvest provided to us from the pollinators at Thanksgiving time, is a good time to give thanks to pollination and to the pollinators bc they have brought us an incredible array of tasty stuff at this holiday table which would obviously include the pumpkin pie, the cranberry relish squashes and gourds, blueberries, lots of things on this holiday table were pollinated by bees. Those flowers were turned into the fruits and seeds that we eat. So that we do have a large selection of native plants that were domesticated by indigenous people here that have turned into large scaled commercial successes for crops. And this would include things like blueberries or cranberries or pumpkins for pumpkin pies, carving jack-o-lanterns to scare little boys and gauls around Halloween, these things are pollinated by honey bees and native bees. If you took that table, and if you take away the bees let's say for that season, as we discussed earlier, you'd be left with things like corn, wheat flour, oats, barley, only the cereal crops and nuts. So we would have a few cereal crops and nuts on that table. But we would have no juicy apples, crisp cold juicy apples to bite into, no grapes. So basically, all of the fruits and vegetables are pollinated by the bees. 43:37
43:38 AC -So, if you took away the bees you would have no grapes, no tomatoes, no apples ..
SB - no apples no pumpkins, no blueberriesI no cranberries, all of these things right down the line. No oranges, no melons It would be a ~very unappetizing holiday table to sit down to - basically with some corn bread and tortillas -that's It.
AC -Let me ask you this: What should or can we do? What can American do? I mean people listening to this program say, well, I am not going to be a bee keeper, what can I do?
44:27 SB Yeah, I certainly don't want to put out the message of the forgotten pollinators as being all doom and gloom. they are forgotten, but we have seen - I like to think about honey bees as the miners canary in the coal mine. they are indicative of a wider problem in this country and world wide. Many pollinators
have gone extinct. Many, many more are threatened, and this includes lots of bees. However we have seen the warning signs, and we have enough time that we can do something about it. So that each of us if we are not a bee keeper or a pesticide applicator or a grower there are some small but significant positive steps that each of us can take in our own lives, to help bring these pollinators back into our lives. 45:23 From one perspective, even re-establish these cultural connections, and connections that people have had in the past with nature that we have lost as we ha e go en into our cities, living inside our giant ant colonies of concrete, steel and glass. We can do things like pollinator gardening, and this doesn't have to be elaborate at all. You can put in a pot of flowering plants or create a small vegetable garden, and give yourself some nice healthy nutritious pesticide free food. Maybe practice a little bit of organic gardening. Provide a safe haven for pollinators. A place where they can pollinate, hang out, feed, mate, rear their young. So we can take small positive steps like that. planting a flower garden or a vegetable garden by being aware that you can grow things by using minimal amounts of pesticides. Maybe going to your local nursery and ordering lady bird beetles, or green lace wings, as biological control agents. Letting the good bugs fight the bad bugs, as it were. One of the simples things you can do to provide safe habitats and places to lure native bees, wild bees, bee that you don't have to worry about being stung from. Little twig-nesting bees. Bees like the lovely blue orchard bee, the alfalfa leaf cutting bee, that sort of thing. You can lure these bees back into your backyards we can become backyard bug watchers, or perhaps we should say backyard bee watchers and get the whole family involved in watching these incredible bees as they go about their pollination activity. 47:14
47:15 AC -How do you avoid getting stung by a bee? There's a big question for anyone who is thinking about bringing them into the yard, especially if you got kids.
SB -Sure. You obviously don't often want a colony of 60,000 honeybees in your backyard unless you are absolutely certain that they are European bees, they are not Africanized bees. So that is why we advocate taking -ok. As a small step that we can each take to use bees that really you don't have to worry about sting, the blue orchard bee -is that you can take scrap lumber and drill little 3/8 inch diameter holes about 3 inches deep into scrap lumber and just keep drilling these holes in old blocks of wood. And you can hang these up on an outside shed, or an the outside of your house under the eaves where they ar protected in the shade from the water, and literally you will be providing this holey bee real estate, these little bee condos that you can create to attract these native bees. And if you do that you'll be responsible for attracting these pollinators in your own backyard, and assuring that yo continue to have a bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables -especially if you have fruit trees these blue orchard bees and other native mason bees are excellent at pollinating apples and other fruit crops.
48:42 AC -But how do I avoid getting stung?
48:45 SB -Well, they don't sting unless you step on them barefoot or you pinch them. They are not like honey bees, where if you get too close to a honey bee colony you are likely to meet the guard bees, and they will come out, and if you are in the right mood, you might get stung. But these -the vast majority of other bees are not out to sting you, they are not defensive.
49:07 Let me ask you about in the macro question what do you do about the throat mite and the veroa... ?
SB -Hopefully these problems will gradually lessen as they have in Europe. they have these 2 species of mites in Europe now, much longer then we have, and they have come to deal with them with some cultural methods of control or lessening the effect, and they have also some of these chemical treatments longer than we have had. So hopefully, over the next 5 to 10 years our bee keeping industry will be less effected by these mites, bc clearly these mites have been essentially the main factor in decimating the honey bee industry. It's been in a slide down hill since the mid 40s, since we talk about going from 6 million to perhaps 2 million of managed colonies of honey bees right now. But certainly w/in the last 8 to 10 years the tracheal mites, the little mites inside the bees plugging up the breathing tubes and the giant external blood suckers, the veroa mites, have hastened this process. SO now we are finding 50 to 60% of the managed bee colonies in some areas of this country killed by them, and in some cases some local areas, some regional areas as many as 80% or 90% of the wild colonies killed off.
50:53 AC -But when you say, you just said clearly the mites are the main problem with the bees.
SB -Right now. they are sort of the final blow to the an industry that was already weakened by other problems, and for example pesticides have always been a problem for bee keepers and a very misunderstood problem for the general public. In other words people not realizing how sensitive bees are to pesticides.
51:37 AC -What are Africanized bees?
51:43 SB - Africanized bees are just a different sub species or race of honeybees. Apis mellifera. In this country we have so called Italian honey bees, Apis mellifera ligustica, which were brought in many many years ago. they are very gentle, hard working, make lots of honey. There are also German bees. There are other bees from different parts from Europe. Affricanized bees evolved in central and South Africa in response to human honey hunters, and in response to honey badgers. Basically things that would come in, predators that would come in and kill the colony, or at the very least steal the honey, maybe eat some brood. So that over millions of years of evolution the Africanized bees, the Africanized races of the honeybee in Africa haye developed these defensive strategies as a means of surviving. So they fine tuned, and cultivated his art of¬ defense so that your attacked by, if you provoke one of these colonies instead of one or two European honey bees maybe coming out and getting stung once or twice, potentially this could be a life threatening situation where hundreds of literally thousands of bees come out en masse. They boil out of the colony and are likely to attack. It's not I. that they have more venom or that they are more dangerous on a bee to bee basis. They are not. In fact, actually they are not. they are actually -the Africanized bees are 10 to 15% smaller than our regular European honey bees. But it is bc of this unpredictable, explosive defensive nature you never really know when it is going to happen. Although, might add in response to your question earlier. It is always best to give honey bee colonies a wide berth bc you don't know whether they are gentile European races or whether they are Africanized bees. So that don't go close to them. Don't disturb them. It's good for kids not to throw rocks at them or hit at them with sticks bc the vibrations will set them off. The carbon dioxide in our breath will set them off and will be a cue stimulus to come out and sting. So all honey bees respond to rapid motion, dark colors. So this is why bee keepers are kind of anti-bears. They are wearing white bee suits, the veil is to protect the neck and the face bc honey bees during an attack will come after the areas of the body that are most likely to get your attention and to get you the heck out of there. So if you are stung around the eyes [54:50] or on the nose, or lips or ear lobes that really really hurts, and it will get you out of their fast. This is why bee keepers wear white, they move very slowly and deliberately. And they also use special tricks like a smoker. So they use a smoker to calm the bees down. 54:47
55:17 AC -tell me about this tape you have brought. what is this?
55:24 SB - I set up about 24 virgin queen honey bees in our sound proof room, and they go through this very interesting behavior called queen piping. It is sort of a communication btwn queens and worker to queens in the hive. We think it is way for them to figure out how many other queens are in the hive. Each honeybee hive can typically have one queen. And so the first queen out of their natal cell will try to figure out if any other queens are in her cells, and if they are then she will sting through the wax walls killing them. or, if they come out at the same time perhaps Walt Disney of Hollywood fashion, the queens will fight it out and go into this kind of tumbling ball trying to sting each other to death. But there is a lot of sub straight born communication, vibration, or sound communication that happens bee to bee, and with this queen piping this produces a very unique sound, a very sorrowful, almost mournful sound between these queens. But it is just a communication basically as I said for the queens trying to assess who else may be around.
56:49 AC When you say sorrowful ... ?
SB -Well, that is very anthropomorphic, but when you hear these queen piping sounds some of them are almost like a quacking of a tooting sort of thing, but they are very drawn out lower frequency kind of sounds
AC -And one queen is making this sound and it should illicit the sound from the others?
57:11 SB -Yeah. right. Or sometimes you might have 2, 3 or 4 of these queens at the same time sort of chorusing, but again kind of figuring out who is in the neighborhood.
AC -If you put 24 queens together in a room why don't they kill each other?
57:28 SB -They would actually. These were actually doing a little trick so they could see and hear each other but they couldn't get at each other to sting each other to death.
SB -Stephen Buchmann, a research etymologist with the us Dept. of Agriculture Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona.
AC -How will the pollination crisis effect the entire food web?
58:42 SB - Pollinators are really the missing link. I mean we are asking ourselves what if the birds and the bees didn't do it. They are the little go betweens that are carrying this pollen around. If we didn't have that all of these flowers would not be turned into the fruits and seeds that we eat and we wear. People forget about this. cotton cloth coming from the lint around cotton seeds. Many of our medicines and beverages are derived from fruits and seeds that started out as flowers that were pollinated by birds and bats. So literally they are the glue that holds this fabric of life together. It would happen very very quickly if we eliminated all of the pollinators on this planet. It wouldn't take very long before we would quite literally starve, and the world would be so entirely different that we would not recognize it bc all of these native and agricultural ecosystems are created and held together by these little go-btwns. the pollinating animals of the world. Literally several hundred thousand species of birds, bats, humming birds, flies, butterflies, beetles. 1:00:00