Monday, June 6, 2016

Apiaries 3

Robust cell builder colonies used for the production of grafted queen cells
Working for a commercial beekeeping company (Old Sol Apiaries) has been a dream come true. Sometimes it feels less like work and more like what I would do for fun, depending on the project we are on at the time. The primary focus of the company is breeding for a variety of traits such as hygienic behavior (mite and disease resistance is a result of this), good temperament, yield (honey production), buildup (the speed at which they pick up the pace in spring), and wintering (how well they come out of winter). Breeder colonies are allowed a considerable amount of selection pressure by minimizing or forgoing mite treatment altogether to gauge their effectiveness under a number of environmental conditions. Larvae from tested colonies that succeed despite the numerous challenges are used to graft the next generation of queens. The colonies seen here have a productive queen that is excluded to the bottom box, while frames of grafted larvae are placed in the uppermost boxes where the bees are so far removed from their excluded queen that they attempt to make a new queen from the grafted larvae.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia creeper vine, planted around the apiary above, is in the family Vitaceae along with grapes, genus Vitis. The flowers are similar to those of Vitis and are apparently good nectar producers according to the hordes of honeybees on each cluster. This vine gets no irrigation and spreads freely, without being a nuisance. If it were close to irrigation I suspect it would be very difficult to contain, although this is pure speculation.

Tilia sp. with Apis mellifera
In the center of the breeder apiary is a linden tree (aka basswood or lime in the UK, no relation to the Citrus trees of the same name). These have been known as excellent honey producers, the honey being water white where the trees are in abundance. This is blooming at the tail end of the main nectar flow here in SW Oregon. While there are wildflowers that bloom up until mid autumn, they diminish in diversity and abundance creating a dearth as the year progresses. Most native bees here are native in spring and early summer, and their diversity, too, diminishes as the year moves along.

Tilia sp. with Forficula auricularia
I have argued for a while now that the common earwig may contribute to pollination, and here in the middle of the day I continue this argument. While it is doubtful they contribute much in this regard, I am in favor of leniency towards any arthropod who utilizes floral rewards for sustenance. Earwigs are omnivorous, sometimes predatory, sometimes scavengers. Though they occasionally eat live plant material, they also eat mites and other small arthropods as well as decaying matter. Scientific consensus seems to agree that bee diseases can and are transferred at flowers, so perhaps this is just anecdotal or just plain wishful thinking but perhaps earwigs can help by eating the disease causative agent or carrier of said agent thus preventing exposure to a bee. It could happen.

Oenothera elata with Apis mellifera
A tall evening primrose in bloom nearby has flowers that open at dusk when honeybees are no longer flying or foraging, and remains open until the morning. Honeybees on occasion flock to these flowers for their apparent abundance of nectar and pollen. Naturally the genus Oenthera is moth pollinated, probably by large hawkmoths in this species, and so are heavy nectar producers (a common trait in Lepidoptera-pollinated flowers). Pollen is also abundant.

Bombus sp. on Hyssopus officinalis
Asclepias speciosa
Growing wild down the road, the showy milkweed is in full effect with its odd clawed flowers putting on a good show. Milkweeds are adapted to butterfly and moth pollination, though they can effectively be pollinated by other pollinators as well. They are useless as a source of pollen because their pollen is produced in the form of pollinia similar to orchids, where multiple pollen grains from a single anther are compressed into a single mass of pollen which are transferred as a whole. They are sticky, and will adhere themselves to legs or other body parts of bees or other pollinators, sometimes trapping them where they will remain to their deaths. (See: Milkweed: Fatal Attractions by Peter Chen)

Asclepias speciosa
As a kid I loved the Alien and Predator movie franchises, and I can't help but to think of those movies when seeing these flowers up close.

Asclepias cordifolia
Heartleaf milkweed is a less common species than A. speciosa, and rather than growing in sunny field edges and roadsides it is more common at forest edges and clearings.

At a farm in the woods
This is one of my favorite apiaries. This is the land of a local farmer. The area is absolutely pristine, with the exception of a few blackberry brambles, and is rich in wildflower diversity. The bees do great here.

Spiranthes romanzoffiana
The orchid Spiranthes, or ladies tresses, is my most recent discovery, and it's growing right in the middle of the bee yard! Spiranthes, and related Piperia, are unusual for orchids because they produce nectar to entice bees to visit the flowers. Upon a brief observation, I saw no bees or any other pollinators visiting it. This is no surprise since honeybees are less likely to visit flowers right outside of their hives (where they most often poop) preferring flowers at a slight distance, even if they are the same flowers. Also, being a single flowering plant (that I could see), the odds were unfavorable that it would receive much attention, namely because honeybees and most bees prefer groups of flowers rather than single specimens.

Horkelia daucifolia with Apis mellifera
An obscure rose relative native only to this region, Horkelia daucifolia was in full bloom just a few weeks ago. Growing adjacent to an apiary, there were no shortage of honeybees on the small clustered inflorescences. Honeybees appeared to gather both pollen and nectar from the plants.

Horkelia daucifolia with Hoplitis sp.
A variety of native bees were also prevalent on the flowers, including bumblebees and a number of tiny bees which were not so kind as to let me photograph them. Boo.

Horkelia daucifolia with Penstemonia clarkei
A small clearwing moth. The genus Penstemonia, perhaps you already guessed, was named after their host plant, Penstemon. They are root borers of the host plant, and likely feed on nectar as adults along with other members of the family Sesiidae and perhaps contribute to pollination.

Longhorn flower beetles (Lepturinae) mating on Ceanothus integerrimus
The flowering of the deerbrush, Ceanothus integerrimus, is a sight to behold. Driving through the country one will encounter the shrubs along the road ranging from white to blue, horizontally spiked inflorescences leaning towards wherever there is more light. Various pollinators visit the flowers, including honeybees. Beetles and ants are also frequent visitors to the highly accessible flowers.

An unidentified male solitary bee inside Sidalcea glaucescens
Sidalcea is a hollycock relative in the Malvaceae. Sidalcea glaucescens holds its flowers in a nearly horizontal panicle with the flowers facing up like little bowls. Bees, typically males, will often be found taking refuge in the flowers at night when they close up. Native solitary bee males do not make nests, but rather spend their lives around flowers which they feed on and await a hot date. Some species are territorial and will attack any insect that flies nearby, but they are practically to humans since male bees lack stingers.

Agapostemon sp. on Hypochaeris radicata
A highly invasive weed of fields and lawns, Hypochaeris radicata is a great source of food for bees of various types. They are sometimes known as false dandelions, but there are some key differences. The flowering stalk, unlike Taraxacum, is solid rather than hallow. The leaves are also more entire, less lobed in most cases I've seen, and have small hairy bumps on the upper leaf surface. The flowers open when the sun comes up, but close once a certain temperature or sun exposure reaches a particular threshold, although they will bloom all summer.

Hypochaeris radicata with Ceratina (subg. Zadontomerus)
Tiny carpenter bees, genus Ceratina, were very common on the flowers while I was photographing them and apparently weren't as shy as the larger Agepostemon. They were collecting both nectar and pollen, though the latter is hard to tell since this genus carries the pollen mostly in its body rather than on it.

Ceratina (subg. Zadontomerus) on Hypochaeris radicata
Ceratina are small carpenter bees, but rather than nesting in trees they excavate the pith of broken or burnt stems of woody plants and overwinter as adults, turning their winter hideout into their nest the following year.

Apis mellifera on Rubus armeniacum
Blackberry is one of the most prolific blooms of the summer. The benefit of this noxious invader is that it produces an exorbitant quantity of nectar and pollen in hundreds of thousands if not millions of flowers within reach of a beehive or other pollinator nesting site. In an ecological sense this is bad because the resultant berries contain seeds that germinate all too readily and are "spread" by animals which prep them for planting by putting the seeds through their digestive tract.

Rubus armeniacum with Apis mellifera
Blackberry honey is a light amber and has a full rich flavor without being overpowering or bitter, one of my favorite varietal honeys. As mentioned above it blooms en masse where it is common and creates an intense nectar flow. Hives nearby are figuratively bursting at the seams with honey right now from this stuff.

Ligustrum sp.
Next door to one of our apiaries, a neighbor has what may have once been a hedge but is now a hedgerow or privet in full glory, nearly 20' trees in full bloom just a few weeks ago. The smell was intoxicating (not kidding) and they were absolutely teeming with honeybees. An audible buzz between the blackberry and privet were to be heard from the road.

Ligustrum sp. with Apis mellifera
The small privet flowers are apparently heavy nectar producers, and every honeybee I observed appeared to be solely focused on nectar collection rather than pollen, though they do inadvertently collect some pollen which gets packed into their corbicula as a result of in-flight grooming.

Table Rock Apiary
One of the more scenic apiaries, Table Rock apiary sits on an alluvial substrate which for an incredibly amateur geologist like myself finds quite interesting. The natural history of the Table Rocks involves millions of years of change in terrain including gigantic lava flows and rivers and other forces to create the complex environment we see today. Alluvium is what is left behind after a river or other waterway has been in an area at some point in the distant past, often leaving telltale rounded stones (think river rocks), gravel, and silt embedded in the ground. Where I live in Evans Valley is quite similar, and any attempt to dig reminds me of the natural history. Old coniferous trees will often have rings of rounded stones around their bases from the force of the growing tree slowly pushing them up, it took me years to realize they hadn't been placed there intentionally for some reason beyond my grasp.

Conium maculatum with Apis mellifera
Visible in the panorama above, poison hemlock fills the entire field between Lower Table Rock and the apiary. This is an invasive roadside weed from Europe, and is incredibly toxic. We can become quite ill if we are to accidentally break a stem and somehow ingest the sap, kids are even more at risk. Unfortunately, this weed also is a common squatter of many areas by the local waterways where kids are to be present. If one is unsure of the identity, look for spots on the stem (particularly where it branches). If there is any good news, it is that the bees appear to be utilizing the resources this plant is offering. Surely the small flowers are useful to a wide range of insect pollinators.

Conium maculatum
Unfortunately I did not take a photo of the characteristic spots on the stem, but the plants are not too difficult to identify by other means. Though often compared to wild carrot (Daucus carota), these are nearly five or six feet in height while carrot plants typically top out at three feet. Conium also prefers areas with substrate that is more wet, while carrot will happily flower where there is no moisture and the ground hard as rock. It is always best to edge on the side of caution, and if you aren't sure, wash your hands. They both smell like carrot too, by the way.

Convolvulus arvensis
If the Table Rock apiary didn't have enough noxious weeds, here's another. These are, in my opinion, very beautiful plants. I would love to see them in their native terrain!

Anthemis cotula with plant bugs (Miridae)
Last but not least, no patch of weeds is complete without a sprinkling of stinking mayweed. The plants share a resemblance to German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) except the foliage is pungent and somewhat citrus-like. Honeybees occasionally make use of this, though it is probably only when there is not better forage available.

Gold Hill
This yard contains a number of four frame mating nucs which are what we use to raise queens for sale. Each eight frame box has a divider in the center, and two entrances, so two colonies go into each box. Queens are captured and evaluated using a five star rating system, then after a few days we add a new grafted queen cell to start the process anew. It is a constant challenge, as there is always a chance they will reject the new queen. There are a lot of challenges, a lot of moving parts, and a lot of variables which make this line of work incredibly interesting and fun!

Brodiaea elegans with Apis mellifera
Brodiaea is a cormous genus native to the West. Brodiaea elegans is the last to flower of the Brodiaea-complex (Brodiaea, Triteleia, Dichelostemma) and incidentally has the largest flowers of the group in this area. Dichelostemma has the smallest flowers, but the most numerous per inflorescence, while Brodiaea flowers are few in comparison. Triteleia is somewhere inbetween. Interesting to me is the largest flowers in the group appear when there is the least rainfall, and perhaps the smaller flowers of Dichelostemma capitatum (the first to bloom) are least susceptible to collecting rainwater. The lack of rain in late spring and summer may have enabled B. elegans to have larger flowers by natural selection, while selective pressures may be responsible for keeping the flowers of D. capitatum relatively small.

Eriogonum compositum with multiple Strymon melinus
Arrowleaf or heartleaf buckwheat is a somewhat predictably common shrubby perennial which grows on the dry rocky banks of many of the local waterways. The plants flower to nearly three feet with a similar spread, sometimes less, with creamy white somewhat flat-topped inflorescences comprised of the small six-petaled flowers. This plant is growing in close proximity to one of our apiaries yet is not often visited by honeybees as per my observations. Instead, a plethora of other pollinators have been spotted, including butterflies.

Strymon melinus, Gray Hairstreak
Strymon melinus is a generalist species which has a large variety of host and nectar plants, usually Fabaceae for the former. There were easily a dozen of them on this single plant while I was taking pictures.

Mating Trichodes ornatus
The ornate checkered beetle has been like a friend to me, for no other reason than I see them quite often on a wide range of flowers. The larvae are kleptoparasitic, killing and feeding on the food stores of certain ground nesting solitary bee species. The hairy adults, in my opinion, are highly likely to contribute to pollination, and I know this is pure anecdote, but there is evidence to suggest this is true (hairy bodies, frequently seen on flowers, many known and proven beetle pollinators, Wikipedia says it's true, etc.)

Mating Strophiona tigrina
Another mating pair, at first glance very similar to Trichodes based on colors and patterns, Strophiona tigrina. As they emerged from the flower cluster they seemed to glow.

Mating Strophiona tigrina
Adults of this family of beetles feed on pollen while larvae feed on [usually] dead or rotting wood. Larvae can remain in wood for two to sometimes five+ years, and cases where adult beetles have emerged from completed furniture could probably be attributed to this family.

Mating Strophiona tigrina (and a voyeuristic Strymon melinus)
Other members of the family Cerambycidae (long horned beetles, of which Strophiona is a member) are serious pests where they are nonnative, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle Anoplophora glabripennis which has been responsible for the deaths of many hardwood trees in the eastern United States, and was inadvertently introduced in wooden crate material from China.

Philanthus crabroniformis
I was very excited to spot this individual, not a bee but a predatory wasp in the genus Philanthus: a beewolf. The name comes from their lifestyle, they hunt bees, sting them with a paralyzing venom, bury them in an underground tunnel which ends in a small chamber. An egg is laid on the victim and the cell is sealed (the cell is then protected by the inoculation of the cell with a variety of bacteria which serve to protect the immature beewolf from harmful bacteria, see Kroiss et al. 2010). The eventual larvae feeds on the living bee, pupates, and emerges as an adult some time later.

Philanthus crabroniformis
Adults are flower feeders, which is convenient since flowers also serve as their hunting grounds. Honeybees aren't typically on the menu for the American Philanthus, though there are European species which hunt almost exclusively on worker honeybees. Most of the bees hunted by beewolves are sweat bees (family Halictidae), but it is possible that worker honeybees are occasionally hunted.

Philanthus crabroniformis
As pollinators they aren't as efficient as bees for pollination strictly for the lack of hair on their bodies, they have no need for pollen since their larvae get protein from bees. However insect-pollinated plants have evolved pollen that is typically a little sticky and will adhere, albeit in small quantities, to a hairless surface. Also worth considering is the electric charge of flowers and insects. The top and outermost parts of flowers have a slight negative charge, in a similar fashion as a lightening rod. Flying insects, on the other hand, pick us a positive charge from air friction. This causes pollen grains to jump from flower to floral visitor, suggesting to me that any flight-capable insect has the potential to be a pollinator.

Philanthus crabroniformis

Apis mellifera ♂ (aka a drone) on Hemerocallis
This is a male honeybee (a drone) and this photographed was staged. You would be very unlikely to find a drone on a flower, let alone dusted with pollen. The story behind this image started when I caught this drone and brought it home in a small cage to show my three year old. She loved it, she thought it was amazing! My wife on the other hand was less pleased, and more concerned that the creature would not survive. I fed it some honey and released it onto this daylily the following morning. It proceeded to clumsily fall into the flowers center, then stumble to the edge of the petal to groom itself where it was photographed. A moment after the picture was taken, it fell off.

Drones have one purpose: mate with virgin queens. Then they die, usually after their genitals break off inside the new queen. This is similar to other bees, except the vast majority of solitary bee males feed themselves while in contrast male honeybees are pampered in the hive until it is time to mate at which point they are kicked out to mate, and die. Sometimes they are kicked out when resources are scarce, and their hard working sisters are well aware that drones contribute literally nothing to the fitness of the hive, so they are sent out to their deaths. Bees are metal as f*ck.