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Apparently there has been some mystery about struggling honeybees lately, and today I saw what appeared to be a honeybee frantically grooming herself on a strip-upholstered lawn chair. I didn't know what to do for the creature, who eventually blew or flew away. What should I do if I see this in the future? Also, does the grooming behavior inform the mystery in any way?
You may want to talk directly with someone at the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. They meet at 6:30p.m. every fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Washington Park Arboretum 2200 Arboretum Drive East, Seattle.
The following sites discuss varroa mites and bee behaviors, including grooming:
Excerpt: "We're not the only ones to brush off an annoying mosquito or other buggy pest. Honey bees, when plagued by tiny tracheal mites, will use their legs like a fine-tooth comb to rid themselves of the life-threatening parasites. But, as entomologists with the Agricultural Research Service recently confirmed, some honey bees groom themselves more fastidiously than others."
- Dave Cushman's bee site
- Wikipedia page on varroa mites
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education website has information on honeybees and varroa mites, including breeding bees for grooming behavior. Here is an excerpt:
"Bees bred for hygienic behavior are able to detect and physically remove disease-infected brood from the colony before it becomes infectious. Hygienic bees are able to detect and remove diseased brood before the human eye can detect any sign of disease symptoms. When bees remove the disease in the non-infectious stage, it prevents the disease from spreading throughout the colony."
Studies of colony collapse disorder are underway at Washington State University: WSU Research news
What you observed in your garden could actually be a sign of a bee fighting off the mites. The best thing you can do is to grow a wide range of bee-attracting plants in your garden, avoid the use of pesticides, and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Below are links to information on bee gardening:
UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab's Gardening for Bees
Puget Sound Beekeepers Association list of honey bee-friendly plants for the Puget Sound area
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Xerces Society list of Pacific Northwest Plants for Native Bees
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I am about to plant Nicotiana mutabilis seeds, and I wonder: if neonicotinoid insecticides are harmful to bees, is the pollen in Nicotiana also harmful? Also, is it a bad idea to plant Nicotiana near my tomatoes (could it spread tobacco mosaic virus)?
Although neonicotinoids are not currently implicated as a direct cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's "Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?" says that "recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD." The brief summary of the full report on this issue is well worth reading.
I doubt whether the pollen or nectar of the ornamental plant Nicotiana has the same properties as a formulated systemic pesticide which contains a synthetic form of nicotine. For an example of the ingredients in a neonicotinoid pesticide, see this fact sheet for Imidacloprid from the National Pesticide Information Center. I found a scientific article ("The effects of nectar-nicotine on colony fitness of caged honeybees" by N. Singaravelan et al., in Journal of Chemical Ecology, January 2006) which says that the floral nectar of Nicotiana species and of Tilia cordata contains trace amounts of nicotine. The authors concluded that "results indicate that honeybees can cope with naturally occurring concentrations of nicotine, without notable mortality, even when consumed in large quantities for more than 3 weeks."
As for your other question, Nicotiana does sometimes get tobacco mosaic virus, though the National Garden Bureau says the plant seldom has much trouble from it. Still, it is probably a good idea to keep some distance between your Nicotiana and your tomatoes (and any other solanaceous plants, like potato, eggplant, pepper) just to be on the safe side, or at least be sure to change gloves and clean tools after handling the plants. The main method of transmission of tobacco mosaic virus is "mechanical," that is, by handling a plant with the virus and then handling plants that are susceptible to it.
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March 22 2017 13:26:25