About Rachel Bozarth

I work for the University of Maryland as a research assistant analyzing honey bee alcohol samples from the Bee Informed Partnership and the APHIS National Honey bee Survey. I specialize in Nosema spore counts, but also enjoy field work in the USDA BRL bee yards. I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Wesley College and I wish to continue my education in Entomology and beekeeping. Before coming to BIP, I worked on a variety of projects at UMD including scouting corn fields for brown marmorated stink bug, testing the effectiveness of SHB traps and assisting with horticulture research at the UMD Wye Research Center. I love the learning environment my job provides and in the future I hope to start a bee yard of my own.

The Pygmy Shrew: A little mammal that is causing big problems in Canadian overwintering colonies

Typically when critter infestations come up into beekeeping conversation these common mammals come to mind: bears, skunks, mice, opossums and raccoons. Just like their size, pygmy shrews often fall under the radar. However, Fletcher Colpitts, Chief Apiary Inspector of New Brunswick, Canada, is working to make information about the pygmy shrew more available. He recently posted an info sheet about the pygmy shrew that every beekeeper should read: http://www.nbba.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/shrew_screen.pdf

Pygmy Shrew. Photo from the mammal society: http://www.mammal.org.uk/pygmyshrew

Pygmy Shrew. Photo from the mammal society: http://www.mammal.org.uk/pygmyshrew

The pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal native to North America. It can fit through a hole in a honey bee hive as little as 1 cm, and surprisingly only weighs an average of 3 grams. Although they are tiny, pygmy shrews are also extremely fast, and consequently have a high heart rate of 800 bpm. In order to support their high respiratory rate they must eat on a constant basis (at least every 15 or 30 minutes) during the day and night. If they go more than an hour without eating they are at risk of dying of starvation.

They are generalist insectivores, but in northern climates (eastern Canada) they have learned to seek out honey bees for nourishment. Shrews become a problem in the early spring when bees are still tightly clustered due to low temperatures. They feed on colonies by grabbing a bee from the outside of the cluster where it’s colder. Bees on the outside of the cluster are sluggish and unable to defend themselves against the shrew invader. The shrew will then carry its prize away from the cluster and move to the bottom of the frame or sometimes near the top under the inner cover. There it will remove the head and tunnel into the thorax using its pointed snout to consume the contents.

So, how do you identify if a shrew has invaded your colony?  And how do you tell shrew damage apart from mouse damage? To answer these questions I contacted Fletcher Colpitts, and I was fortunate enough to interview him over the phone. He told me that pygmy shrews can be identified by the mess they leave and their feces which differ from mice. The shrew will leave a “trash” pile as Fletcher called it (appropriately named) of heads, wings and legs. At first glance, shrew feces looks very similar to mouse feces, however it is much different if inspected more closely. Pygmy shrew feces are elongated with irregular diameters (rough looking).

Pygmy Shrew feces. Photo by NB Provincial Apiarist Chris Maund

Pygmy Shrew feces. Photo by NB Provincial Apiarist Chris Maund

It is also important to note that shrews will never nest in hive boxes and will never be found during the summer months as mice sometimes are. As temperatures rise honey bees begin to be able to defend themselves so shrews will leave. The primary food source in the hive for mice is pollen and honey; however shrews will only target the honey bees themselves. On occasion, shrews will die in the hive, which is the best evidence you will find.

Occasionally, shrews will become immediately apparent as Fletcher Colpitts discovered.  While watching his colonies very intently, he noticed a shrew (not so much a form, more like a gray flash).  These little creatures move so fast, much faster than a mouse, that it is very difficult to spot them, but definitely possible.  Further confirmation was observed in the form of a headless bee walking out of the entrance of the hive.

Last year was one of the worst years for shrew damage for a major blueberry producer in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Fletcher Colpitts inspected their colonies for a winter loss insurance claim last year. Over the winter of 2012-2013 this particular producer lost approximately 700 out of 1000 colonies (70%)! Shrew damage contributed to a large portion of this loss, although not entirely (there were some other management problems). Fletcher said that on average 2 hives out of every pallet of pollinators displayed evidence of shrew predation.

It’s glaringly evident that pygmy shrews pose a large risk to beekeepers (at least in Canada), but there is still good news to be had. It’s very easy to build a modified entrance system to block them from entering your hives. The system has a screen with holes 3/8th’s of an inch. This allows bees to enter without losing pollen from their baskets while also being small enough that pygmy shrews cannot get in. Fletcher has had a 100% success rate with his system and has since kept shrews out of his hives for 30 years.

Shrew Entrance System by Fletcher Colpitts

Shrew Entrance System by Fletcher Colpitts

After researching this topic for nearly a week, there is one thought at the front of my mind: Is shrew damage possible in the northern United States? Some species of pygmy shrew are in the northern US (ME, NH, upper state NY and the Appalachian mountains). It’s just a matter if whether they have learned to seek out honey bees or if perhaps beekeepers have previously mistaken shrew damage for mouse damage. So I ask anyone who may be reading this: Have you seen evidence of shrews in your hives? If so, please share!

How dogs’ incredible sense of smell can help beekeepers

Dogs are truly amazing, not only for their loyalty and affection but also for their incredible sense of smell. It is common knowledge that their nose easily overpowers our own.  In fact, it’s approximately 10,000 times better according to researchers at FSU. James Walker describes it well: “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.” Say, I’m at home making beef stew on the stove and my two beagles are hovering around me salivating from the smell. All I smell is beef stew (although delicious) where my beagles smell the stew meat, potatoes, carrots, onion and spices individually. No wonder it drives them crazy!

My beagle mix Nellie I adopted from a local shelter. Beagles are scent hounds and were originally bred to hunt for rabbits.

My beagle mix Nellie I adopted from a local shelter. Beagles are scent hounds and were originally bred to hunt for rabbits.

For years now, professionals have been training dogs to use their sniffers for human purpose. Dogs have been known to accurately detect drugs, explosives and even firearms. They are used regularly by customs to find plants, animals and produce and have even been used to detect bumblebee nests. So why stop there? Some beekeepers have come up with an idea to get their dogs out into the apiary and have begun the process of training their faithful hounds to detect American Foulbrood disease.

American Foulbrood is a debilitating disease that plagues beekeepers across the US. It’s very difficult to treat (some strains are antibiotic resistant) and it’s extremely contagious. Because it is so difficult to clean up some beekeepers burn their equipment to be sure that it doesn’t spread in their apiary. Rob Snyder wrote an awesome blog about AFB. I highly recommend that you check it out here.

Grant Stiles of NJ is one of the few beekeepers who has successfully trained his dog to detect AFB. His Labrador Retriever Buck was trained alongside police drug K9s. In a similar style of drug-sniffing dogs Buck walks along the hives using his sensitive nose to examine each one. If he smells AFB, he will sit down next to the hive to alert his owner. As you can imagine Buck’s method is much faster than a beekeeper inspecting each colony separately. In fact, Buck can inspect 20 colonies in less than 10 minutes!

Time equals money, especially for commercial beekeepers. Having an AFB dog could potentially reduce costs in the long-run. There’s only one downfall, honeybees see dogs as a threat and won’t hesitate to sting. Its best to have the dog inspect hives while bees are dormant during the cooler months. However in areas of the world like Australia, this really isn’t an option.  Josh Kennett solved this problem by designing a bee suit for his dog Bazz. In Australia, high temps can make bees particularly aggressive, but this suit effectively protects Bazz from stings. And let’s face it, it’s kind of cute.

Bazz in a homemade bee suit, taken by Josh Kennett.

Bazz in a homemade bee suit, taken by Josh Kennett.

I’m not going to lie; I’m seriously considering pulling out the sewing machine and stitching up a beagle-sized version for my dogs. If I attempt it, I’ll be sure to let you know if I’m successful! What do you think about AFB sniffing dogs in bee suits? Wouldn’t it be great if state inspectors had a K9 unit? Something to think about…


Queens and Nosema ceranae

While I have only done it a few times, every once in a while a beekeeper will contact our lab and ask us to check a queen for Nosema spores. A couple weeks ago a beekeeper experienced unusual losses in his apiary. Since he wanted to cover all bases so to say, he also sent me a queen and a couple of workers from a dead out to examine for spores. Despite being sad about his losses, I was excited to do something out of the ordinary. For the most part, beekeepers and scientists alike are more interested in Nosema loads of worker bees. Nosema is one disease where I feel like queens are mostly forgotten about.

Because we now know that Nosema ceranae is more prevalent in the United States as opposed to Nosema apis, we can assume that any spores I find in the lab are of the N. ceranae species. I should also note that it is nearly impossible to distinguish the two species under the microscope because they are very similar in size. The only accurate method is to do a PCR assay of live bees.

Performing a spore count on only one bee is much simpler than doing so on 100. I placed the queen in a micro centrifuge tube, added 0.5 ml of deionized H20 and proceeded to grind her with a disposable tissue grinder. After grinding, I then added another 0.5 ml of deionized H20 (to make 1 ml total per bee). After a quick vortex to homogenize the spores in the sample, I pipetted a small amount of the solution onto a hemocytometer and looked at it under the microscope.

Fortunately for the beekeeper, this particular queen tested negative for Nosema. However, this brings up an important question. Most beekeepers know how Nosema impacts their entire hive, but how does it affect a queen? Farrar (1947) observed that Nosema-infected queens are more likely to be superseded. To further research this topic, Alaux et al. (2011) infected newly emerged queens with Nosema ceranae to study the effects on queen physiology. They found that infected queens had increased mandibular pheromone production, which may explain why infected queens have a higher rate of supersedure. To learn more about their research please check out their article published in Journal of Invertebrate Pathology here: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022201110002685)

Farrar, 1947 C.L. Farrar
Nosema losses in package bees as related to queen supersedure and honey yields
J. Econ. Entomol., 40 (1947), pp. 333-338

Alaux et al., 2011 Cédric Alaux, Morgane Folschweiller, Cynthia McDonnell, Dominique Beslay, Marianne Cousin, Claudia Dussaubat, Jean-Luc Brunet, Yves Le Conte
Pathological effects of the microsporidium Nosema ceranae on honey bee queen physiology (Apis mellifera)
J. Invert. Pathol. 106 (2011), pp. 380-385


Building a Humidity Chamber

Right now we’re experiencing an extreme heat wave in Maryland. The rising temperatures combined with high humidity would make beekeeping pretty miserable in this weather. So for all of the folks tending their hives this week, be careful! Andrew and I are taking advantage of being trapped inside (thank you, AC!) and are using this opportunity to get the GigaPan up and running again. After numerous phone calls to tech support in CA and playing with wires the rig is now ready for action.

The GigaPan is a camera mounted on a robotic rig that is designed to take multiple pictures of a frame and combine them to make one, extremely detailed high-resolution image. Here’s an example of the type of images it can capture. If you would like to learn more about the GigaPan and what it does, check out Jennie Stitzinger’s blog.

Gigapan Our project this fall is to capture bee development from egg to emergence. Our goal is to find a frame with a majority of newly laid eggs, remove it from the hive and take images with the GigaPan. We will then repeat this every day until emergence. Doing so will allow us to create a time-lapse video of brood development. As you can imagine this type of video would be very educational to beekeepers and entomologists alike—a chance to see into the hive.

One major problem that we’re trying to fix is brood death. In the past, we’ve had issues with keeping brood alive. We believe that this may be due to the frame being removed from the hive too long and the daily change from a humid environment in the hive to a dry environment in the lab. To amend this, we’re shortening the capture time from close to an hour to around 20 minutes and Andrew and I are building our own humidity chamber around the GigaPan rig.

We took a trip to the local Home Depot and bought all of the supplies we thought we might need: sheets of ¾” thick styrofoam, duct tape, and a utility knife. Instead of having to buy a humidifier we actually found one on the free table (a table at the end of the hall where everyone puts junk they don’t want and magically it disappears) in our department. Yay for free stuff!









We have to build the Styrofoam box big enough so the GigaPan rig can fit inside with the humidifier which is a little tricky considering the location of the rig. So far, we have figured out that 1) duct tape doesn’t stick to regular styrofoam, 2) using styrofoam is extremely messy, as the lab floor is now covered in little styrofoam balls and 3) that we need to start over.


Attempt #1







We were very disappointed it didn’t work out on the first try, but we now have a new plan. Instead of using regular styrofoam we obtained styrofoam board which has a smooth surface and is easier to handle. We’ve started building the walls of the chamber with the new material and already I can tell that we’re going to succeed this time. The new board looks much better, duct tape sticks to it, and well…it’s pink! What’s not to love?


Stay tuned for Part 2 to see the completed humidity chamber and an update on the brood progression project. Until then, stay cool everyone!




You may remember hearing in the news a while back about the appearance of zombie bees along the west coast of the United States. No, the zombie bees aren’t a result from a bio experiment gone wrong, but are honey bees being parasitized by Apocephalus borealis aka the zombie fly.

Female Apocephalus borealis. Copyright © Jessica Van Den Berg.

Female Apocephalus borealis. Copyright © Jessica Van Den Berg.

The female fly finds a honey bee (most likely a worker), attaches, and then injects eggs into her abdomen. The eggs hatch into larvae which use the bee as a food source, consuming her organs and other tissues as they mature. During this process the honey bee displays unusual behaviors including flying at night and attraction to nearby lighting. Eventually the honey bee does not return from her nightly flight and dies. Honey bees parasitized by Apocephalus borealis are usually found at the base of a lamppost, porch light, or other outdoor lighting. The larvae emerge from her abdomen after they have finished consuming her and then form into pupae which eventually hatch into adult zombie flies. If this hasn’t disturbed you yet, this fact will: as many as 15 larvae can emerge from a single honey bee!

Zombie fly life cycle. Images Copyrighted © Christopher Quock, John Hafernik, and Jessica Van Den Berg.

Zombie fly life cycle. Images Copyrighted © Christopher Quock, John Hafernik, and Jessica Van Den Berg.

 I’ve recently discovered a citizen science project called the Zombee Watch which is striving to determine where in North America the zombie fly is parasitizing honey bees. Check out the website at https://www.zombeewatch.org/ San Francisco State researchers are urging beekeepers to become zombee hunters and then submit their findings. It includes a detailed tutorial explaining how to create a variety of zombie honey bee traps including a fairly inexpensive one made out of a juice bottle and a safety light holder. Rob Snyder of the CA Tech Team actually blogged about this subject and how he built a trap last year (click here to go to his blog).

Map showing locations where infected honey bees have been identified. Copyright © https://www.google.com/ and https://www.zombeewatch.org/

Map showing locations where infected honey bees have been identified. Copyright © https://www.google.com/ and https://www.zombeewatch.org/

On the front page there is a map showing the locations of confirmed honey bee parasitism by Apocephalus borealis to date. So far it seems like the majority of zombee outbreaks are along the pacific coast, particularly Washington State and California. This is especially interesting because Apocephalus borealis has been identified in several locations across the country yet there are no confirmed cases of infected bees outside the pacific coast except for South Dakota.

I had the pleasure of speaking with John Hafernik about the state of Zombee Watch. He was first to discover that the zombie fly was parasitizing honey bees and started the website in order to track the outbreak. One of the many goals of the project is to determine if the parasitism is isolated to the west coast or if it occurs across the country. However, in order to achieve this, the Zombee Watch needs more participants especially from the central and eastern U.S. and from Canada.

They are interested in observations of honey bees being attracted to lights at night even if they are not found to be parasitized by the zombie fly. The Zombee Watch has received several reports from beekeepers that have observed honey bees being attracted to outdoor lighting at night without displaying any symptoms of being parasitized by Apocephalus borealis. It is very unusual for honey bees to leave their hive at night, so an additional goal of the project is to discover if any environmental effects, pathogens, or even another parasite could be causing this behavior.

Since I know most of the nation will have a few days off for Independence Day, I’ll throw this idea out there. Check out the Zombee Watch website and consider building a zombie fly trap. You may find out that your hives contain zombees!

Solitary Bee Observation Hives

Copyright © 2013 Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback http://www.diamondbackonline.com/news/campus/article_cf168956-ab05-11e2-91f3-001a4bcf6878.html?mode=image

Jordan Arata, left, along with Jason Rubin and Pranett Puppla at the apiary on top of the North Campus Diner, UMD.
Copyright © 2013 Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback

Jordan Arata is a mechanical engineering major at University of Maryland who worked on the native pollinator project in our lab. He is also a member of the beekeeping club on campus and started the UMD apiary on the North Campus Diner. This is his blog entry…

As a PollinaTerp, I was tasked with building solitary bee observation hives (shown in the picture) and learning more about native bee nesting in general. Mason bees and leafcutter bees are some of the easiest bees to provide a home for. They live in pre-existing tunnels around 6 inches deep and 5/16” in diameter on average. Mason bees start at the back of a tunnel (or build a back wall using mud if the tunnel is too long), create a dough ball of pollen and nectar, lay an egg on top of the dough ball, and seal the chamber off with mud. They make several consecutive chambers in this manner until they reach the entrance to the tunnel. Leafcutter bees do the same thing, only they line their tunnels and build their chamber walls with leaves. The solitary bees lay females in the back chambers and males in the front, since males develop faster. This also makes sure that there are males ready and waiting to mate once the females emerge. If a young solitary bee decides it’s time to emerge and the bee in front of it hasn’t, it nips at the other to prompt its emergence (the bees are all fully developed before spring). Males live outside while females live in the tunnels and work to fill them with baby bee chambers. Adult bees die after they have made one or a few nests. Their eggs will develop into adult bees and hibernate through the cold season.

Nesting for solitary bees is easily provided by drilling holes in wood. Just make sure to drill very well! Otherwise, wood fibers pushed against the tunnel wall by the drill bit will protrude with changes in heat and moisture, forming porcupine-like tunnel walls – not a great place to live! Drilled wood can also be hard to clean out if any of the solitary bees do not make it through the winter. Both of these problems are easily solved by using parchment paper to line the tunnel walls. Just take some parchment paper and roll it using a pencil. Make sure to fold the back end so that the back most young come out with the paper roll rather than sliding out and remaining in the hive. If you notice in the spring that none of the bees emerge from a certain tunnel, just throw it out. Also, try to change out the paper rolls once the bees have emerged and before they start making new chambers in them. Lastly, protect the wood from water, otherwise, dampness and the accompanying flora will kill the young bees. There is no need to start with bees; if you provide a good home, they will come!

Solitary bee observation hive. Copyright © 2013 Jordan Arata.

Solitary bee observation hive. Copyright © 2013 Jordan Arata.

Solitary bee observation hive. Copyright © 2013 Jordan Arata.

Solitary bee observation hive. Copyright © 2013 Jordan Arata.











I made the solitary bee observation hives for the PollinaTerps by cutting 5/16 channels into pine  1X8 boards that I cut to be 12” tall and 6” wide (=6” deep tunnels). I screwed these back to back and added a back and sides that would hold plexiglass over the channels and doors over the plexiglass. Then I added the top, bottom, and doors. These hives provide 5/16” by 5/16” by 6” square prism tunnels for the bees and allow the innards of the bees’ tunnels to be seen.



Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich. From left: Meghan McConnell and Dana Rushovich

Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich.
From left: Meghan McConnell and Dana Rushovich

Dana Rushovich is an environmental science & policy major at University of Maryland. Her interest in honey bees led her to our lab this semester. This is her blog.

Stepping on a bees nest and getting stung 8 times would likely turn any 6 year old off of bees. I was no exception.  I was always a kid that enjoyed digging in the dirt looking for worms and salamanders and was fascinated when we got to watch slugs make their slime trails for an experiment in science class. But when a bee would fly by I would freeze up waiting for it to leave me alone.

I wasn’t introduced to the wonders of bees until a friend of mine recommended the book Honeybee Democracy and began to tell me about the intricate workings of the honeybee hive. The more I began to learn about these fascinating creatures, the more I became hooked and my childhood fears started to become a distant memory. While studying abroad in New Zealand last year I had the opportunity to spend time with a beekeeper and have my first hands on experience inside of a hive. Then, last fall, I was able to take the beekeeping class offered at Maryland and was probably one of the few students taking the class out of an interest in bees rather than for an easy A.

Copyright © 2013 Rachel Bozarth. From left: Dana Rushovich and Meghan McConnell.

Copyright © 2013 Rachel Bozarth.
From left: Dana Rushovich and Meghan McConnell.

When I received information about a research position promoting native pollinators I knew I had to apply. It wasn’t until the first meeting of the soon to be Pollinaterps that I fully learned what I would be doing: helping develop a native pollinators booth for Maryland Day.

I have worked at countless booths during my time here at Maryland but this was the first time I would be working behind the scenes throughout the whole planning, design and implementation of the booth. So, with little more guidance than a few brochure topics I set to work, along with fellow student Norris Vassel.

When I sent out the first draft of my brochures I was expecting a few comments, but was instead returned a draft that was majority red. Feeling slightly discouraged that I was in over my head I slowly started to pick through the edits and create an even better second draft. After several back and forths and many hours editing and formatting we eventually created hand out ready brochures to be given out at MD Day.


Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich.
The Pollinaterps booth at Maryland Day.

After the brochures, was the creation of the nesting box activity, invention of a pollinator simulation game, design of a banner, and several small handouts to go along with all of the activities. Before I began this process I never really understood what it took to put together a display. I always took for granted the people behind the scenes who had everything ready when I showed up for my allotted time slot. This process was an invaluable experience, which showed me what it takes to follow a project from start to finish.


Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich.
Kids creating native bee nests.

This experience not only taught me about what it takes to put together a project but I also learned a huge amount about native pollinators, including what is causing their decline and how everyone can help. I also really enjoyed getting to work with all the other members of Pollinaterps. Everyone in the group brought different perspectives to the table, which resulted in a much better result than I could have ever hoped for on my own.

The week leading up to Maryland Day was a mad dash to get everything together. But everything was there, albeit a few kinks, and the curious people began to arrive. It took a little coaxing to get kids to play our pollinator game and not everyone was into the idea of learning about bees but in the end I would definitely consider our first ever Pollinaterps booth a great success. I can only hope that it will continue to get bigger and better in years to come.

Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich. A little girl playing the pollinator game.

Copyright © 2013 Dana Rushovich.
A little girl playing the pollinator game. The kids used static electricity to attract pollen (balloons) to their felt bee costumes.

To Bee Or Not To Bee

Ghonva GhauriGhonva Ghauri is a pre-med physiology and neurobiology major at University of Maryland. She is part of our ongoing Nosema project which is focused on the examination of individual bees for Nosema spores. Aside from microscopy, Ghonva has shown an interest in how honey bees have become a part of human cultures across the world. This is her blog…

Earlier this semester, I was explaining to a group of friends what I did at my research lab in the Department of Entomology. The moment after I mentioned the words “the importance of bees” to them, the first response I got (which I’m sure most of them were thinking) was, “Oh yeah, of course! We wouldn’t have honey without bees.” I guess that’s when it really hit me really how uninformed most of our society is about bees, which is so unfortunate! They were shocked to hear about the amount of colorful food we would lose from our plates if bees disappeared, as I quoted Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp from his TED Talk, and everyone was especially devastated when they heard about the large impact that would affect the widely beloved almonds. From blueberries and apples to broccoli and onions, without the pollination of bees, we would be majorly impacted from the decreased production and availability of all these goods. We don’t seem to understand how important bees are and how much these little creatures contribute to our society.

It’s amazing if you go back in history too and see the implications of bees across the world throughout different eras! In fact, the famous poet, Khalil Gibran, wrote:


Photographer unknown.

Give and Take…

For to the bee a flower is a foundation of life

And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love

And to both, bee and flower,

The giving and receiving is a need and an ecstasy.




Copyright © 1995 Kenneth J. Stein.

With the exception of Antarctica, bees have been found pollinating in every habitat of the world that contains insect-pollinating flower plants. Cave paintings in Spain have been found from 8000 years ago depicting scenes of individuals collecting honey. In Christian tradition, the image of the bee has been a reoccurring funerary theme to symbolize the resurrected soul. There have also been several references to bees and honey throughout the Bible as well, for instance the Promised Land is referred to as a, “land flowing with milk and honey”. Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love, has been seen to hold a bow that has a string made of honeybees. The ancient Egyptians learned from the cooperation of beehive organization, such as the many different assignments of worker bees in the transportation of nectar and pollen, the way they guarded and protected the hive, and the way they built and cleaned their hive as well. If the ancient civilizations knew the importance of keeping bees alive and healthy, then why are so many of us forgetting this long-known fact?  In Islam as well, Muslims have always held importance for the honey that bees produce; it says in a chapter that in fact is called An-Nahl, or “The Bee”, “And your Lord inspired the bee: build homes in mountains and trees, and in (the hives) they build for you. Then eat from all the fruits, following the design of your Lord, precisely. From their bellies comes a drink of different colors, wherein there is healing for the people”. Growing up in a Muslim household, I remember my mother giving me honey as a remedy for when I had a cold or indigestion. In fact, studies have shown that honey has actually proven to have many health benefits.


Copyright © Kenneth J. Stein.

Raw honey has been observed to have many medical benefits due to its minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and carbohydrates. Honey is used in remedies to cure the common cold, for nausea/vomiting, and to even clear your sinuses. The well-known Dr. Oz has even encouraged the use of honey to heal scrapes and cuts due to its antibacterial properties by simply applying a dab on your wound before you place a bandage on it. He also has promoted that honey helps to decrease allergies if you take a spoonful for two months before allergy season.

Not only do bees help keep our ecosystem together, but they benefit most of us in ways we probably didn’t even know about. So the next time you’re facing the dilemma: to bee informed or not to bee informed?—choose to bee informed!


Communications major works on improving survey and reports

Karen Baik

Karen Baik is a communications major studying at the University of Maryland. In the fall she took the course Pollinators in Crisis by Dr. Hawthorne. Coincidentally, her TA was Nathalie Steinhauer, who is a member of the Beeinformed team. Once she had a taste of pollinators she became hooked on honey bees and will be continuing to aid Beeimformed this summer. This is her blog!

My name is Karen Baik and I am currently a junior and a communications major. I completed my communications internship with 2 credits in BSCI389. As a communications intern, I spent many hours completing and satisfying a few important objectives. The Beeinformed team’s major objective was to facilitate the understanding of the results sheets as well as improving the quality of the protocols. One example is the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey.

A quick breakdown of completing a task would be as follows: I receive a protocol from the team with the necessary tools. I read over the protocol and try to follow along with the experiment. If I come across any confusion or anything that could be improved, I take note and make sure to report it at the weekly meetings. In other words, I would go through all of the reports and protocols and make sure that they are clear. If not clear, I would edit and clarify them; further improving the quality of the reports.

In addition to the main objectives, I helped fill out the online National Management Surveys as well as aiding in improvement of the survey for the future. One example of this is the idea of creating a scantron type survey to eliminate any ambiguity in the answers. It will force the participants to choose among a certain set of answers rather than them answering the question incorrectly. Also, I received insight by other beekeepers and incorporated their advice into the improvements. These are just a few projects that I worked on with the internship.

This experience benefitted me in numerous ways as well. I developed my skill sets, improved my team working skills, and overall I demonstrated the importance of communications in all aspects of the professional world whether it was communicating within the team, outside of the team, or the participants. Lastly, I am very thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to working with the Beeinformed team this summer.

Know Your Local Pollinators!

Today I am posting on behalf of one of our undergrads, Tyler Connine. He is a pre-med biochemistry major at University of Maryland with a unique awareness of the natural world. Tyler is part of our ongoing Nosema project which is focused on the examination of individual bees for Nosema spores. Aside from his growing interest in honeybees, Tyler has also shown some curiosity towards native bee species. This is his blog entry.

Know Your Local Pollinators!

Most people are aware of the importance of pollinators in plant reproduction. But do you know about your native pollinators?

The temperate climate of Maryland makes spring and summer times of explosive growth for the local plant population, and most of these (about 90%) require pollinators to reproduce. The ecology of Maryland is extremely diverse, with Maryland being home to about 400 species of bees alone. These insects are from 5 common families, reviewed below.

Maryland Bee Families


The Apidae family is the largest family of bees and includes honeybees, which are not native to the United States. Some of the native bees from this family include bumble bees, carpenter bees, and a group of bees called cuckoo bees


Copyright © 2007 Donna K Race.

Pictured above is a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), a fuzzy, ground nesting species of bee. This Maryland native bee forms small, seasonal colonies and normally feeds on a consistent patch of flowers each day.

Photo Credit: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/images/carpenterbees/carpenter_bee_penstemon_lg.jpg

Copyright © 2010 Julian Cowles.

Carpenter bees (Xylocopinae virginica), pictured above, are a species of bee very similar to the bumble bee. The main physiological difference is their relatively hairless black abdomen. They also differ in their nesting habits and, as the name suggests, these bees nest by tunneling into wooden structures. They do not ingest the wood, but instead discard the extra wood pulp or use it to form partitions inside the nest.


This family contains some very colorful bee species, some with metallic-colored bodies. These species tend to nest in the ground and feed on plant pollen.

Photo Credit: http://bugguide.net/node/view/275576/bgimage

Copyright © 2009 Jessica Lawrence. http://bugguide.net/node/view/275576/

Above is a picture of one of a female Agapostemon sericeus, a native member of the Halictidae family.


Species from this family of bees are known as miner bees and nest underground. They can be generally identified by a velvety patch of hair between their eyes and antennae. These bees are usually the earliest to emerge in spring and are known for pollinating azaleas and apples. Many of these bees are solitary, although some species form colonies. Below is a picture of a typical mining bee.

Photo Credit: http://bugguide.net/node/view/18059

Copyright © 2005 Erik Blosser. http://bugguide.net/node/view/18059

Pictured above is Andrena obscuripennis, a mining bee native to Maryland.


This family includes mason bees and leaf-cutter bees. These bees tend to carry pollen on their bellies as opposed to pollen sacs on their legs or abdomen. Most species nest in holes in wood.

Photo Credit: http://people.virginia.edu/~thr8z/Bee_Diversity/LinkPhotos2/Osmia_collinsiae.jpg


Blue orchard bees (Osmia lignaria), pictured above, are a species of mason bees, which reside in natural holes in wood, as they are not capable of drilling their own holes. These bees are quite docile and are recommended for urban bee keeping. When building nests mud is used to create partitions inside of the wooden hole, and each level of the partition is filled in by pollen and nectar. The females are known to collect this nectar and pollen from the nearest flowers, unlike honey bees that are known to fly miles away to collect supplies. These bees are used quite often for pollination of apple orchards.


These are a family of solitary bees which nest in the pithy stems of plants. They are generally nearly hairless and can be mistaken easily for wasps.


Copyright © 2009 Beatriz Moisset. http://bugguide.net/node/view/347417

While most species belonging to this family are hairless, pictured above is a species that does have hair, Colletes americanus, a Maryland native species of Colletidae.

Who cares?

In the modern agriculture industry it may seem that the local pollinators are of little significance. Honeybees can be rented from local beekeepers to pollinate crops, and many farms have begun keeping a honey bee hive as a standard practice. However, a recent study shows that local pollinators may be much more effective at the pollination of crops. Crop systems worldwide were studied, and in all cases of pollination by wild insects fruit set was increased.1 This was not so in the systems pollinated by honey bees, in which only 14% of the systems pollinated by honey bees showed significantly increased fruit set.1 This suggests that usage of imported or cultured honey bee populations is best supplemented by native pollinators. Therefore better management of wild insects through preservation of natural forage area could increase crop yield!

The take home message from this posting should be that your native pollinators are important. Knowing the major pollinators in your area and engaging in practices to maintain these populations could incur a significant benefit on your local plants. Bee informed!



1. Garibaldi, Lucas A., et al. “Wild Pollinators Enhance Fruit Set of Crops Regardless of Honey Bee Abundance.” Science (2013).