An Update on All Things Bees This Summer

honeybee

Story at-a-glance -

  • Tests on city and rural bees show bees living in urbanized areas are not consuming copious amounts of processed sugar
  • City bees still consume the majority of their food in the form of flower nectar
  • In other bee news, orchid bees were found to create signature “perfumes” while a swarm of “killer bees” attacked two dogs in California

By Dr. Becker

Like many creatures around the globe, bees are increasingly finding themselves living in urbanized settings. Rather than foraging in a natural meadow, urban bees may look for flowers planted in window boxes, rooftop gardens and city parks.

In fact, residents and businesses in Oslo, Norway created a “bee highway” made out of flowering plants and bee hives to help city bees navigate through the heavily urbanized area.

Researchers from North Carolina (NC) State University recently posed an interesting question: would living in cities alter bees’ food preferences in favor of processed junk foods? They conducted a study to find out.

Even City Bees Prefer Flower Nectar Over Junk Food

City bees have at their disposal something bees of yesteryears did not: processed sugar. Faced with an influx of sugary beverages and a scarcity of flowers, have city bees adapted to feed from leftover sodas in lieu of flower nectar?

The researchers tested bees from 39 colonies located in urban and rural areas in and around Raleigh, North Carolina. They looked for levels of an isotope called carbon-13, which reveals how much human food the bee may have consumed.

Fortunately, the city bees did not appear to be consuming more processed sugar than rural bees.1 Lead author Clint Penick, Ph.D., noted:2

“Basically, bees are relying on flowers in cities and are not turning to human foods to supplement their diet … This is good news for urban beekeepers … The honey in their hives is mostly coming from flower nectar and not old soda, which is what we originally guessed.”

Further studies will be needed to determine if bees from larger urban areas are also snubbing soda in favor of flowers, but for now the results highlight the importance of creating green areas for wildlife within city limits.

If you’re a city dweller, even adding flowerpots (make sure the flowers don’t contain neonicotinoids, read all plant labels well!) to your balcony can help make a difference.

Orchid Bees Create Their Own Perfume

Bees also made headlines recently after a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) revealed they appear to create their own blends of perfume. The bees in the study were orchid bees, which live in tropical forests ranging from Mexico to Brazil.

Unlike the “ordinary” black and yellow bees typically seen in the U.S., orchid bees (from the genus Euglossa) have long, thin tongues and come in metallic shades of blue, purple, red, gold or a rainbow combination.

Interestingly, if you live in Florida, you may have noticed these striking bees, as they’ve become naturalized in several areas within the state.3 As for the recent study, which was conducted in Panama, bees were attracted using scents including vanilla and cinnamon.

The researchers then analyzed the scents the male bees created, which are used to attract mates, and studied their sensitivity to different scents.4

The researchers were even able to recreate one of the bee-made perfumes — a floral scent — raising the possibility that bee-made scents could one day be made available to human shoppers. The U.S. Forest Service explained how the bees collect their signature scents:5

“Using specialized scraper hairs on their front legs, they [male orchid bees] gather up these essential oils and store them within glands in their inflated hind legs. Over a period of weeks or months, males collect a species-specific mixture of scents.

One or more males gather in 'leks' display sites on tree trunks where they release some of their harvested scents while buzzing, flying out from their tree, and returning. Although rarely observed, females seem to choose among males and mate with them in these territorial sites.”

Killer Bees Come to California, Fatally Attack 2 Dogs

Also in the news of late are reports that Africanized honeybees have come to parts of northern California.

The bees, which are thought to be a mix of European and African honeybees, look like those typically found in the U.S., but they’re far more aggressive. It’s reported that these bees will actually chase people and animals for a mile or more.6

In one report, a swarm of the bees in Concord, California attacked several people (some up to 16 times) along with two dachshunds in one resident’s backyard. The dogs were covered in at least 50 stings each and sadly, both died from the attack.7

The aggressive swarms have since moved on, but it’s expected that isolated cases of “killer bee” attacks will continue. Seeker reported:8

The working theory is that the bees were Africanized honey bees — a hybrid of European and African honey bees. African bees were imported into Brazil in 1957 to improve honey production, and have been spreading steadily north since then, entering California for the first time in 1994.

Once in the United States, they have mated with domesticated European bees to create ‘Africanized’ bees.”

What to Do If Your Pet Is Stung by a Bee

Bee stings are painful to pets and it’s possible that your pet could have an allergic reaction. If your pet is stung multiple times or displays signs of allergic reaction, visit an emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

In many cases, however, a bee sting can be treated at home. First, locate where the sting occurred (usually it’s on a paw or the face). If you need to remove the bee's stinger, don't use tweezers. Use a credit card from your wallet to scrape away the stinger and make sure the venom sac comes out with it.

If your pet has a mild allergic reaction to a bee sting, offer what I call “homeopathic Benadryl” Apis Mel. Also add “nature’s Benadryl” quercetin (if you don’t have quercetin, you can offer real Benadryl).

If regular diphenhydramine (Benadryl) isn’t working, it’s important to head to your vet for injections of drugs that prevent the inflammatory response from escalating. If your pet is stung my multiple bees, hornets or wasps, head to the vet immediately for urgent care.

In Most Cases, U.S. Bees Are Docile and Beneficial

Most U.S. bees tend to be docile and don’t pose a serious threat to humans or animals (unless you or they are allergic). On the contrary, they’re incredibly beneficial for the environment but have been declining at an alarming rate.

In the U.S., pollination by insects including honeybees and native bees results in $40 billion worth of products annually.9 Honeybees alone help to pollinate 87 of the top 115 food crops. Aside from food production, pollination is necessary for the survival of many other plant species as well, like wildflowers.

Such flowering plants help provide clean air, help purify water and prevent erosion, since their roots help hold soil in place. If you want to get involved in saving these precious species, there’s a lot you can do, including buying organic and locally grown food. In addition, the Pollinator Partnership recommends:10

  • Growing native plants, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators
  • Installing houses for bats and native bees
  • Supplying salt or mineral licks for butterflies and water for all wildlife
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Substituting flower beds for lawns
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