Ocelli or “Simple eye”

The word ocelli is derived from the Latin word ocellus and means little eye. The ocelli are simple eyes that bees use to orientate themselves towards the sun. Located in a triangular shape are two dorsal ocelli and one central ocelli. They are located dorsally on the bees head (see images above for location). The ocelli are simple eyes, meaning they collect and focus light through a single lens. These simple eyes assist bees with sun orientation so they can navigate well during the day. Some bee species are crepuscular meaning they are active from dusk until dawn. These species have enlarged ocelli which detect…

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Propolis and Bee Health

I talked a little about propolis, human health, how bees collect it here, but now I want to talk about propolis and bee health. If the bees can’t eat propolis, then why would they collect it? It is costly to bring back to the hive since it takes time and energy away from bees that could be foraging for nectar or pollen, so it must have some benefits. And it does! Mike Simone-Finstrom did his PhD work on looking at how propolis affects bee health. Bees living in a tree cavity coat the tree walls with what Tom Seeley dubbed a “propolis envelope.” The walls…

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Propolis and human health

Poor Mike isn’t feeling so well this week. He likely has a cold. But on the positive side he can turn to our beloved bees for a bit of help. People all over the world use a substance bees collect to help treat colds, coughs, and general icky-ness: propolis. Some trees and plants excrete resins to protect their growing buds and wounds from getting infected with bacteria, fungi, and viruses and from insect invaders. Bees visit these plants, collect the resins on their back legs like pollen, and bring it back to the hive. Resins are really sticky, so other bees need to help the…

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Differentiated Females

Two weeks ago while inspecting some hives just outside of Willows, CA I shot the video of this queen. She caught my attention because of the distinct striping on her abdomen. Rob Snyder and I were in Willows to inspect and sample hives that were in sunflowers for pollination service. Tomorrow I have a presentation to give for the Marin County Beekeepers. As I put the finishing touches on my presentation I came across a passage in Snodgrass’s, “The Anatomy Of The Honey Bee” that made me rethink what I thought it meant to be a queen and a worker. The passage is below… “…young…

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Grafting

Thousands of queens are raised and sold around the country. But how does one get their bees to raise all these extra queens? The secret lies within manipulating the bees own biology (as does most of beekeeping). There are two types of eggs in the colony: unfertilized and fertilized. The unfertilized eggs will become drones and the fertilized eggs will become female bees, either workers or queens. A bee must be born a queen, but there is no difference in genetics. She becomes either a worker or queen depending on how she is raised and what she is fed. Bees destined to become workers develop…

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Tarsal claws hard at work

Ever wonder how bees can hold on so well? For starters, honey bees are insects that have 3 pairs of segmented legs. The legs can do more than just hold on, the tibia of the hind legs have adapted hair to hold pollen. When the hairs are filled with pollen,it is termed “pollen basket “or corbicula. The corbicula is found on bees in the family Apidae; other bees have similar branched hair structures called scopa. The forelegs contain antennae cleaners. The leg segments include coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsomeres (tarsal segments), and the tarsal claws. The tarsal claws are at the end of the leg…

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Drone Fishing

Last week, Jody Gerdts and Maggie Shanahan went fishing for drones. Drones and queens mate generally over 60 feet up in the air. Drones gather in specific spots, queens fly by, and the drones chase her. The ones that catch-up get to mate. These drone congregation areas are sometimes even in the same from year-to-year. Some of the books say drones and queens fly different distances away from the hive to prevent inbreeding. However, after talking to beekeepers that have seen the drone congregation areas I am unsure if the distances are true. I have talked to beekeepers that have seen congregation areas much close…

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Hygienic Behavior

Hygienic behavior is a trait that correlates with resistance to chalkbrood, American Foulbrood, and Varroa. Bees with the trait are able to detect, uncap, and remove infected pupae before they become infectious, slowing the spread of disease and the population growth of the mite. It is a trait with multiple genes involved influencing the uncapping and removal behaviors and olfaction. The olfaction genes indicate that the bees need to be able to smell the diseased or dead pupa (or absence of a healthy smell) in order to remove it. To test for the trait, I remove a frame with capped brood, twist a 3” PVC…

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Laying Worker

When you dissect thousands of bees, it is important to remember that exploration is the process and discovery is the goal. Pictured below is the stimulated ovaries of a worker that I discovered while performing an autopsy on a honey bee.   In beekeeping terms we would call this a “laying worker”. During the period of time from queenlessness to colony death workers may sometimes begin to lay eggs.    A laying worker occurs when the ovaries of worker bees are stimulated. The ovaries develop allowing her to lay eggs. Normally ovary development in workers is suppressed by the presence of uncapped brood. Sampling and assessing honey…

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