Tag Archives: bees

World Bee Day Blot. (A stain on bee day.)

by Karin Sternberg

World Bee Day always reminds us how little honeybees are understood, and just how much this Bee Day is exploited globally by businesses to sell this insect’s food (honey) under the guise of “loving bees” and “supporting their health and well-being by buying local and sustainable honey!”. 

Honeybees are wild animals and thrive in their natural habitat and in cavities that support diversity. Their nest sites flourish with other creatures including ants, spiders, wax moth and wax moth larvae, pseudoscorpions, ground running beetles and an abundance of microbial life. They choose nest sites here in the fynbos in cavities that survive fire, and their natural nests are small and far apart. On average in the wild there is 1 colony per square kilometre. They produce and store just enough honey in wax comb to tide over periods of dearth and to survive the days after a fire until the early post-fire plants start flowering. When beekeepers take colonies out of their natural nest sites and biomes, and put them into hives, honeybee colonies lose all of this incredible diversity and are managed by the beekeeper, exploited to make more honey than they would naturally, and all of their symbiotic relationships with other creatures and microfauna are lost. Very often these colonies are moved around by beekeepers for pollination services. They are forced to pollinate crops in a monocultural landscape instead of having a diversity of pollen and nectar that they need to thrive, and they are stressed by exposure to pesticides and disease. 

Bees play a critical role in our environments, and are very much responsible for biodiversity and the food we eat. If you really are buzzing with a love for bees on World Bee Day and are concerned about THEIR well-being, then it would be far better to not support the beekeepers that are taking the bees out of wild spaces, and taking away the food of a critical species to bottle and sell, very often replacing their honey with a bottle of sugar water for them to feed on, which contributes to an immune system in bees that is fundamentally compromised. Beekeepers are also often unknowingly crashing fragile ecosystems of pollinator networks like the solitary bee species and butterflies and wasps and moths and flies and all other pollinators, by placing too many hives in areas already supporting wild honeybee colonies and other pollinators. When just one hive is brought into an area unnaturally, it makes for on average 25000 more bees to feed. Very often more than one hive is placed in an area, with no thought for the pollinators already there. In South Africa we are fortunate in that most of the honeybees (more than 90% of colonies) are still living in the wild, unlike in Europe and the Americas where almost 99% of all honeybees live in sterile hives.  We need to ferociously protect honeybees as a (healthy) wild species in their natural habitats in SA. 

Far better on World Bee Day would be for businesses to say that because they love bees they would like to make the consumer aware of all the sweet alternatives; be it dates or date syrup, barley malt syrup or molasses or apple syrup or maple syrup or golden syrup or the myriad of other sweeteners. Then they really can say that they care about bees on World Bee Day. World Bee Day is about the bees. It is not about the beekeepers and it is not about honey sales.

 

Gardening for Bee Biodiversity

By Karin Sternberg

Bees are a highly evolved and intelligent species, first appearing when the dinosaurs were around, dating back more than 120 million years! Insects generally make up the bulk of life on earth, so as Prof Dave Goulson says, they are biodiversity, with so many creatures depending on insects for food. So far around 25000 bee species have been found, but there are many unnamed species still waiting to be discovered. With habitat loss and the use of pesticides we are losing insects at an alarming rate. Our gardens can become sanctuaries for insects and bee biodiversity. Insects are not only beneficial for pollination but also in controlling unwanted ‘pests’ (there is no such thing as a pest). Imagine if all our gardens were insect-friendly, full of wild flowers and habitat with other flowers and vegetables growing in-between. We can all grow food in a more sustainable way that promotes biodiversity and is far more healthy for us. Weeds are simply wild flowers and are fantastic for bees, not to mention the many health benefits they have for us when used in a tea or added to our ferments and food. We should be far more tolerant of weeds, wherever they want to grow. 

Gardens can become biodiversity hotspots. Encourage your neighbours to do the same and we can easily create bee-friendly corridors of gardens, beneficial to all insects and pollinators! For bee-friendly habitat, leave your dead wood, and piles of sticks and stones, and some bare patches of soil. Minimise tidying up. Don’t use chemicals or poisons of any kind. These are all detrimental to bees and other insects, birds and other creatures, often unknowingly harming those little-seen bees living in the ground, and really all soil micro-organisms. Soil health is vital to a thriving, biodiverse garden. Put your time to much better use by watching insects in the flowers and learning to identify them. You may discover a yet unknown species! Plant a variety of herbs, like fennel, lavender, basil, comfrey, marjoram and mint, and include indigenous flowers in your garden. We can all get involved in looking after bees and all other insects, by simply inviting them into our gardens.

A Coastal Corridor – Revival of the Simon’s Town Bee Garden

By Karin Sternberg

With a vision to connect the coastal areas with the mountains above Simon’s Town in the form of a corridor, in 2015 we started with the clean-up, clearing and planting of a stretch of land near Seaforth in Simon’s Town.

Over the years we have closely watched a small aggregation of metallic Halictid bees nesting in some bare soil close to a well-walked path. With the drought having had its toll on many of the plants in the vicinity of the bee burrows, and several of the popular species like succulents, proteas and leucadendrons having disappeared with time, we decided to re-plant and re-invigorate the area for a diversity of bees and to stimulate public interest in bee species of which so little is known.

The drought has had some positive spin-offs, in that the City of Cape Town has focused on propagating hardy, water-wise plants for its public spaces. We are so grateful for the City’s contribution of the following fynbos plants for the Simon’s Town Bee Garden. The species we planted are the Pelargonium betulinum, Geranium incanum, Ruschia macowanoii, Metalasia muricata, Leonotis leonurus, Salvia aurea, and Eriocephalus africanus. These are all indigenous and wonderful bee plants which will not only attract a diversity of bees, require little water, but will bring beautiful colour into the garden. 

Besides the plants, a number of possible nesting sites were created for solitary bees. Solid wood and dead-wood were brought in from the direct surroundings, much of it filled with holes left by wood-boring beetles. These tunnels are perfect for carpenter bees, including the dwarf carpenters like the Allodapula and Allodape bees, and for the other tunnel-nesting dwellers like the leafcutter bees, cellophane bees, and carder bees (and the cuckoo bees will benefit, too!). 

Sandy, bare patches of soil are perfect spots for the ground dwellers which make up the majority of the solitary bees. Such ground nesting habitat is excavated by digger bees (family Anthophoridae) and the family Halictidae which are often metallic in colour. 

Empty snail shells were also found and left; these are suitable nest sites for bees in the family Megachilidae.

By the end of planting there were already several bees investigating possible nesting sites, including the big female carpenter bee, Xylocopa caffra, and several male digger bees who were landing on the new plants, leaving their pheromones, and ever hopeful to attract the females who were quietly waiting in their burrows for warmer weather and less human activity. 

Over the coming months, we look forward to sitting quietly, bee-watching and listening to the sound of the winter rains.

A huge thanks goes out to the City of Cape Town Coastal Management – Penguin management project – with partner organisations SANCCOB and CTEET (Cape Town Environmental Education Trust) for their generous contribution to the Simon’s Town Bee garden.

Swarming Bees and Pseudoscorpions

By Karin Sternberg and Jenny Cullinan

The chelifer found in South Africa is mostly Ellingsenius fulleri and is believed to be a predator of small mites, wax moth larvae and other arthropods found in the nest debris. They often cling onto the legs of bees and are believed to be spread in this way to other colonies (Geoff Tribe).

When bees swarm, thousands of bees pour out of a nest only to collect a short distance away in a cluster, often on a branch, but otherwise on any other structure. In September 2017 we were watching bees on the move, temporarily clustered under a concrete table, with scout bees heading out to look for possible new nesting sites and, on their return, performing dances on the surface of the cluster (on other bees) as to the location of the nesting sites found. We watched and waited over a couple of days as slowly the number of possibilities and therefore dances diminished, as the colony came closer to a consensus as to the location of their new nesting site. On the third day of watching this intriguing behaviour and to our utter amazement, we noticed that we were not alone in our waiting.

Pseudoscorpions emerging

From the edge of the first layer of bees in direct contact with the table, we spotted a number of pseudoscorpions emerging. They appeared to be restless and hungry as they moved out and away from the hanging colony, using their pincers which had fine and relatively long hairs to sensitively feel for food in the cracks and gaps of the table undersurface.

They did not get very far as certain (dedicated?) bees seemed concerned and actively encouraged them back. There was a very clear communication between these two species and they were continually touching each other; the pseudoscorpions using their pincers either in a waving motion or by clasping at the bee, and the bees using their antennae and legs to touch and usher the pseudoscorpions back into the cluster.

From all of the fussing, one could tell that the pseudoscorpions were crucial to the bees. With colony activity and communication between the bees increasing as the colony prepared to leave for their final nesting site, the bees kept a close eye on their fellow-travellers. As more and more surface bees stopped dancing and started almost buzz-running and whirling like dervishes on the surface before pushing their way into the middle of the colony as paths clearly opened up for them, the vibrations and sounds of the bees increased and activity peaked. No doubt this was also a cue completely understood by the pseudoscorpions. For when the colony finally departed for their new nesting site, remarkably not a single pseudoscorpion was left behind. 

Holes opening in the cluster

 

These observations showed us an extraordinary interdependence between bees and pseudoscorpions, and highlighted how vital each are to the other that these wild bees on the move should take the pseudoscorpions along with them. The pseudoscorpions are absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of a colony and are very much part of the bees’ hygiene. We would be very interested to hear if this has ever been documented before?

A pseudoscorpion attaching itself to the leg of a bee

Swarming bees departing for their new nesting site

(All photos are copyrighted and are thus the property of the authors. If you wish to use any, please contact us at ujubeeconservation@gmail.com)

The authors at work: