With a “waggle-dance” in the hive, honeybees signal to their work mates how to find the flower patch out there that will provide their food.
But who can waggle-dance clearly, or forage for nectar, when drunk on powerful pesticides?
“I think ‘being drunk’ is a good analogy because they are just not as productive,” said Reed M. Johnson, an entomology professor from Ohio State University and a guest of honor – second only to the honeybees themselves – at a special event Saturday at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
For the second year in a row, the Botanical Gardens paid tribute to the sophisticated air force that is crucial to the dinner table. Pollination by honeybees sustains crops of apples, cherries, watermelons, raspberries, onions and especially almonds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture values the more than 90 crops that bees pollinate at $15 billion a year.
Honeybees have been dying off in large numbers. The commercial beekeepers who make their colonies available to farmers noticed a decade ago that bees were abandoning their hives. The phenomenon came to be known as “colony collapse disorder.’’ Suspicion landed on a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids.
Chemically similar to nicotine, neonicotinoids are suspected in bee die-offs in Germany and France, as well. A Harvard University study in 2012 linked bee deaths to one specific and widely used neonicotinoid. A study in the United Kingdom drew similar findings.
Johnson, who is wiry, youthful and loves talking about honeybees, says more scientific study is needed to conclusively link neonicotinoids to colony collapse disorder. But he agrees insecticides are among the threats to bees.
“If they get just a little dose, does that mess up their ability to communicate and to maintain this complex society?” he said. “There’s all sorts of intricate things that are going on in there, and a little bit of insecticide may throw things off.’’
Honeybees face other dangers. Herbicides, for example, suppress an important source of nutrition – flowering weeds. Then there’s the Varroa mite.
Imagine if humans had a rat clinging to their shoulder blades sucking out blood. That’s what Varroa mites are to honeybees, said Gary Piatek, who keeps bees for honey at his Grace Apiaries in Arcade and was at Saturday’s event, which was attended by about 75 people.
“Not only do they suck their blood, they also vector viruses into the hive,” Piatek said of the parasitic relationship between Varroa mites and honeybees. “They weaken the immune system of the whole hive, so consequently the hive is more susceptible to invading viruses. Bees do not have a very strong immune system on their own.’’
The pesticide industry has lashed back at efforts to blame its products for colony collapse disorder: “There is a difference between natural bee loss and the condition referred to as ‘colony collapse disorder,’ the industry group CropLife America says on its website. “CCD is a clearly defined syndrome with specific symptoms, and scientists cannot attribute these losses to any singular cause.’’
Meanwhile, everyone involved in the discussion about honeybees agrees they are invaluable to agriculture and that the world must maintain adequate supplies to pollinate crops. Some commentators have voiced fears that honeybees are the canary in the coal mine, and that other pollinators, such as butterflies, may suffer as well.
Piatek lost about half of his bees this winter, not to Varroa mites or pesticides but to the brutal cold. In milder winters, bees can survive with minimal losses – a testament to their communal nature.
The bees, Piatek said, lock themselves into a tight cluster around the queen in an effort to keep their hive at 70 degrees. As temperatures drop, the cluster tightens. But the bees at the outer reaches are most susceptible to the cold and most likely to die off.
In winter, bees can live for months, because they are not out working from sunup to sundown. In summer, bees survive for around four weeks – until their wings give out. They literally work themselves to death.
The queen’s role is to lay the eggs and keep the colony populated. She mates in flight with the males, who make up just about 5 percent of a colony and have little other role. While the males, or drones, are allowed a mostly sedentary, couch-potato lifestyle, they die after successfully mating once.
The worker bees are females but with undeveloped female parts, Piatek said. The youngest of them clean the hive. At about two weeks they will venture out. The older workers also guard the entrance to the hive.
A queen bee can live up to four years, Piatek said. As she weakens, the other bees sense this and will kill her. Meanwhile, new cells have been created in the hive for a lineup of would-be queens. The first to hatch and sip the special jelly that allows her female parts to develop will kill the eggs in the other queen cells, Piatek said. She then establishes herself as the hive’s egg-laying machine.
Karl von Frisch, an Austrian ethologist who died in 1982, discovered that a bee will dance to provide the location of a patch of flowers. A round dance indicates a closer food source, a waggle dance indicates one more distant. The other bees crowd around to pick up the message.
“They can communicate the distance to a patch of flowers and the direction. And they can kind of rate the source by how vigorously they will do this communication,’’ said Johnson, the associate professor from Ohio State.
“I just think bees are fascinating creatures,” he said.
For Immediate Release
Taste of Paradise, the Spring Flower Show and an Easter Egg Hunt Announced at the Botanical Gardens
Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens has an exciting line-up of events to welcome the spring season. Adults can enjoy an escape to the tropics at Taste of Paradise on April 4, families can experience the beautiful array of spring colors and fragrances at the Spring Flower Show from April 5-27, and kids can join the traditional Easter fun at the Easter Egg Hunt on April 19.
Soak in the vibrant colors and tastes of the Gardens at Taste of Paradise on April 4 from 6-9pm. Sip crisp, fresh garden cocktails from ONE ROQ Vodka, enjoy the fresh smells of spring, tastes of herbs, fruits and savory delights and listen to the sounds of tropical fun! Tickets include cocktail samples and delicious tidbits from: Buffalo’s Best, Ilio DiPaolo’s, Lucarelli’s, Obviously Avi Catering, the Old Orchard Inn, Oliver’s, Quaker Bonnet and Salvatore’s. Full drinks will also be available for purchase. Ticket prices are $30 for Garden members, $35 for non-members and all tickets will increase to $40 after March 21. Tickets may be purchased online at www.buffalogardens.com or by calling 827.1584 ext. 204. Taste of Paradise is sponsored by: M&T Bank, ONE ROQ Vodka, Tony Walker & Co., Buffalo Spree Magazine, Local Edge, Star 102.5, Backyard Party Supply, Seagram’s Escapes and Dundee Ale & Lager.
Western New York’s favorite Easter tradition is back! This year the Spring Flower Show will fill the gardens with nearly 10,000 bulbs, including 29 varieties of Narcissus, 4 varieties of Allium, 5 varieties of Crocii, 49 varieties of Tulips, 3 varieties of Grape Hyacinths and 9 varieties of Hyacinths. Yellow Fritillaria or Crown Imperial is one of the showstoppers at this years’ spring show. Giant allium will be another key feature with heights reaching four feet or more, these colorful giants of the garlic family offer distinct, bell-shaped blooms of green and pink. Sicilian Honey Garlic is another Allium that will tower three feet in the Spring Flower Show. These cream and purple pendulous flowers have a sweet, honey-like scent. Unlike other members of the garlic family they have wonderful gray spiraling leaves that complement the spring landscape. Narcissus “Mount Hood” Daffodil is a common beauty and easy-to-grow classic. These brilliant Daffodils grow to 18-24 inches, start off yellow at first, bloom and eventually fade to a pure white. The Spring Flower Show will take place from 10am-5pm daily April 5-27 and admission tickets can be purchased at the door. Prices are $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (55+) and students (13+ with ID), $5 for kids 3-12, free for Garden members and kids under three.
The Spring Flower Show would not be complete without Farmer Brown’s Animals. Baby bunnies, chicks, a lamb, goats, a donkey and more will visit the Gardens daily from 10am-4pm during the Spring Flower Show. The ever-popular Easter Bunny will also visit the Gardens April 12, 13, 18 and 19 from 11am-4pm. The Spring Flower Show is sponsored by: M&T Bank, Buffalo Spree Magazine, Star 102.5 and Wendy’s.
Kids seven and under are invited to participate in the annual Easter Egg Hunt on April 19. Hunters collect eggs in exchange for a great prize bag. The Hunt will begin at 11am and take place outside, so participants are advised to dress accordingly and bring a bag or basket to collect eggs. The Hunt is pre-registration only and sells out every year, so participants are encouraged to register early. The costs are $8 for children/grandchildren of Garden members, $10 for children/grandchildren of non-members, and all prices will increase to $12 after April 1. Registration can be made online at www.buffalogardens.com. Hunters are also admitted free to the Gardens this day to enjoy the indoor scavenger hunt, games, Farmer Brown’s Animals, prizes and more! The Easter Egg Hunt is sponsored by: M&T Bank, Buffalo Spree Magazine, Star 102.5 and Wendy’s.
For more information on these events, visit www.buffalogardens.com. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Society, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing appreciation for and knowledge of plant life and its connection to people and cultures through its documented living plant collection, historic conservatory, education, research and exhibits.
For Immediate Release
For Immediate Release
February 27, 2014