Archive for the ‘Honey bees’Category

Cathedral Of St. John The Divine Welcomes–and blesses–New Honey Bee Hive

Good news from New York City:

Blessing of the Bees at NYC's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Photo © by Jan Mun

A new urban honey bee sanctuary has been installed in the gardens of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in partnership with The Cathedral gardens, which are already home to three peacocks and a family of red-tailed hawks, is now also home to a hive of Apis mellifera, a gentle and mild-tempered species of honey bee.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), honey bees pollinate nearly one-third of all the food we eat. Since 2006, more than three million honey bees in the U.S. have mysteriously died. The USDA states that this die-off threatens nearly $15 billion in agriculture – or 100 commercial crops – that rely on honey bee pollination. According to reports, the number of hives in the United States is at its lowest point in 50 years.

“Many people don’t understand how vital the sustainability of the pollinator population is to the environment and the food we eat every day,” said The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean of the Cathedral. “The Cathedral is well placed to support the ailing bee population and we are glad to be partnering with to help spread their messages and educate New Yorkers on the importance of urban beekeeping.”

“Urban areas like New York City are getting back in touch with nature,” said Nicole Toutounji of, the beekeeper who will maintain the hive. “The Cathedral’s urban bee sanctuary is part of a visionary plan to reclaim our relationship with nature, support honey bee populations and contribute to the city’s sustainability efforts.”

In honor of her new home, the queen bee of the hive has been named “The Divine Queen”. In the fall, an artisanal honey will be extracted from the hive, which will be known as “Divine Honey.” As bees only travel 3-5 miles to collect flower nectar and pollen, the Divine Honey will take on the unique characteristics of the Cathedral’s gardens and neighboring flora.

What do you think about this positive event?


06 2012

Remembering Karl von Frisch


Today we remember Karl von Frisch (11/20/1886–6/12/1982), the Austrian zoologist who discovered that the bees use dance as a language to communicate the location of food.  This theory was greeted with skepticism when first introduced.  In addition to studying their dance, Mr. von Frisch also studied their usage of pheromones and their vision.  In 1973, Karl von Frisch was one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.


11 2011

Remembering “The Life of the Bee,” Life Magazine 1952

LIFE Magazine Aug 11, 1952. The cover, a black-and-white closeup of Joan Rice, announced her as “Robin Hood’s New Girlfriend”.  Also on the cover, a headline  announcing, “Farewell to Eva Peron.”  But what is not alluded to on the cover is the edit piece that you and I probably would have gotten the most delight out of reading: an arresting full-color photo essay titled, The Life of the Bee. Paintings By Microscope Reveal the Busy World Inside The Hive.  Let’s have a look…

Read the rest of this entry →


03 2011

Trees, Bees and Global Warming

There are a number of important reasons why the Carmel Forest should mostly be allowed to rehabilitate itself.

According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies the temperatures across the planet between December 1, 2009, and November 30, 2010, show that 2010 ranks as the hottest year on record. And clearly after the worst-ever forest fire on Mount Carmel few Israelis would dispute the consequences of rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and intense heat waves.

European honeybee pollinating Prasium majus, Reches Etzba, Mount Carmel, Israel. CC image courtesy of Gideon Pisanty on Flickr.

It is heart-breaking for those of us who have spent many decades working in wild forests around the globe observing these magnificent and complex systems that were designed to be carbon dioxide sinks (that is to remove CO2 from the stratosphere), now becoming sources of CO2 – emitting the main rising greenhouse, temperature-trapping gas on Earth.

Read the rest of this entry →


01 2011

An Interview with Professor Jonathan Snow

Jonathan Snow, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology at Williams College, received his B.A. from Williams College in 1996, after which he completed his graduate studies at UCSF and his post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School on the effects of transcriptional regulation in immune system development.  He decided to come back to Williams to teach and to continue his research on immune development, using the honeybee as his model.

As one of his seminar students, I was given an opportunity to interview Professor Snow on his research interests and his thoughts on teaching at his alma mater.

October 26, 2010

Joshua: Tell me about the kind of research you did before honeybees.

Professor Snow: My career before honeybees involved understanding the mechanisms of blood cell development in mammalian models, primarily in mice.

J: Was this the focus of your research for doctoral and post-doctoral research?

PS: Yes.  I was a graduate student at UCSF, where I studied the role of specific transcription factors in blood development and autoimmunity.  I did my post-doctoral work at the Children’s Hospital in Boston on the molecular mechanisms by which genes are turned on and off in mammalian blood development.

J: What got you interested in honeybee research?

PS: I wanted a change of direction, which is common for scientists leaving their postdoctoral work to go to more permanent positions.  I had been interested in food production and sustainable agriculture, and I was looking for ways to tie that to the molecular level questions I had been asking.  I randomly enrolled in a beekeeping class with the Essex County Beekeepers’ Association and realized that honeybees might provide the perfect way to join my two interests.  Many of the molecules that I had previously studied in blood development are present in bees as well, specifically those involved in blood cell development and immune function.

It was exciting to me that the science I was working on could be applicable to help an organism in crisis that is really important for agricultural and natural ecosystems.  Switching to honeybee research was also a big opportunity, because it gave me a chance to change to work on something I was really enthusiastic about, and you don’t get many chances to do that.

J: What specific areas are you interested in/are you researching now?

PS: Right now I’m looking at the honeybee gut as an immune organ.  This actually goes back to some of my first research interests in immune cells involved in resisting pathogens in the gut.  In that work we were looking at damage to the gut caused by the immune system in the gut reacting inappropriately in autoimmunity. As the gut represents an important immune barrier, this destruction can have serious consequences for health.

J: Why is the gut such an important barrier?

PS: Bees are social insects that are in constant contact, sharing and passing food among other things, and in this way they are very much like humans.  A lot of pathogens can be quickly shared in a social group through this behavior and gut exposure.

J: There are many hypotheses that explain Colony Collapse Disorder.  What is your take?

PS: Yes, there are lots of hypotheses, and I think jury is still out on the cause or causes.  However, I think it is likely a combination of habitat loss, changes in beekeeping practices, chemical exposure to environmental toxins, and emerging pathogens.   Once bee hives are weakened through some combination of environmental stresses, pathogens can cause hive collapse.  An understanding of how bees fight pathogens will be crucial to our response to Colony Collapse.

Even winter weather puts stress on hives.  Overwintering is difficult for honeybees in colder climates, as it closes bees inside the hive for longer periods of time and there are few nectar sources during this part of the year.  If the hive cannot quickly gather food and produce larvae in the spring, there can be major consequences. This nutritional stress coupled with a long incubation time stuck in the hive can lead to pathogen buildup further eroding hive health and potentially leading to its destruction.

J: What is the honeybee’s food source during the winter?

PS: It’s the honey they make!  Honeybees take nectar back to the hive, regurgitate it and put the nectar into wax combs.  They then manually evaporate the nectar until it is about 17% water, the rest being sugar from flower nectar.  It’s a very good storage method for sugar: it’s so dry that microorganisms can’t live in it.  It’s analogous to salting meat in order to preserve it.  The nectar is essentially dried out.  In addition to honey, pollen is also stored in the combs as a protein and fat source.  I actually think pollen tastes good!  A very strong taste.

J: Anything else about bees that captures your imagination?

PS: Honeybees together create what is called a superorganism: the hive shares traits that we would normally associate with organisms.  Honeybees work together and the level of organization and efficiency within the superorganism is amazing.  It reminds me of the complex feedback mechanisms in mammalian bodies.  The hive is carefully controlled, but there is no one bee that makes decisions.  They all reach a rough consensus, even though all have genetically diverse ’opinions’.  For example, the majority of bees must agree when the hive will stop rearing larvae for the winter.

J: Any thoughts as to why bees are so social and hierarchical?  Is there an evolutionary answer to this?

PS: I’ve read that superorganisms like bees and ants only represent about 2% of all insect species but about 70% of insect biomass on Earth.  Bees are very good at what they do.  The benefits of social organization are easier survival and perhaps the monopolization of food sources.  A whole hive of bees can outcompete other insects for food sources.

J: You’ve switched gears a little to teach at Williams.  What inspired you to come back?

PS: I had a really good experience in the Williams College Biology Department – seeing good teachers in action at the front of the class made me think that it would be really fun to stand up there and teach as well.  Being able to come back to teach for the alma mater for a few years seemed like a great opportunity.  It’s been a lot of fun!

A better place for us all

There is something palpable about these new MacArthur Fellows, about their character as explorers and pioneers at the cutting edge. These are women and men improving, protecting, and making our world a better place for us all. “   ~~ Daniel J. Socolow, Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program

Big news for the honeybee.

Earlier today, Marla Spivak, an entomologist from the University of Minnesota who is studying the impacts of nutrition, pesticides, and bee diseases on bee health, was named a 2010 MacArthur Fellow.  These so-called Genius Grants provide $500,000 to each fellow, with no strings attached.

Go Marla!

It’s nice to see people who are working to solve the mystery of colony collapse get a little recognition … and support!

Finding the answer will definitely make the world a better place for us all.

That buzzing-noise means something …

“That buzzing-noise means something. If there’s a buzzing noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee … and the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey … and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.” ~~ Winnie the Pooh

I love Pooh.  Really, I do.  But as Piglet says, “Pooh hasn’t much Brain.”  So, as National Honey Month comes to a close, I’d like to point out a few other amazing things that honeybees do that give us humans more reasons to love them.  As if making honey (the only food produced by an insect that is eaten by man, by the way) and doing the lionshare of pollinating food crops wasn’t enough! Read the rest of this entry →

Thank you Häagen Daz for the Honeybee Haven!

Thank you Häagen-Dazs for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, which is scheduled to open on September 11th.  The Haven will not only serve as a research and pollinating facility but as a tool to raise awareness about the plight of honey bees.  As the Sacramento Bee has reported, “America is losing its honey bees at an alarming rate for unknown reasons. Last winter, an estimated 33.8 percent of commercial hives died out.”

A map of the Haven.

In addition to honey bees, other bee species are benefiting.  It’s been reported that over 55 types of bees are already calling the Haven home including fuzzy bumble bees, metallic sweat bees, wood-dwelling carpenter bees and solitary mason bees. Read the rest of this entry →

Honeybees Need You to Eat Organics

Honeybees are crucial pollinators responsible for every third bite on our dinner plate. A recent survey revealed that our humble honeybees are sicker than ever.

Honeybee deaths this year were much higher than last year.

And last year marked record-low honey production. Honey production dropped 12 percent, to 144 million pounds.

More than 50 billion honeybees have perished within the last year in the United States. Scientists call it Colony Collapse Disorder. When honeybees get sick, they will not return to the colony. Nature designed these social creatures not to infect one another when they get ill. The queen bee is the only insect left in the hive; helpless, she, too, dies quickly. Read the rest of this entry →

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It’s Natl Honeybee Day! Share this video to raise awareness:

Since 2006, more than three million honeybees in the U.S. and billions worldwide have mysteriously died, which affects one in three mouthfuls of food we eat.

Help raise awareness – share this new public service announcement.

Link to share:

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08 2010