#HIVEMIND


We as a human community are trying to figure out these days what it means to live together. The ancient ones, honeybees also known as apis mellifera, figured that out many, many moons ago. To go into a beehive is to learn a lesson about taking care of the common good. The 80,000 workers living together, often on top of one another in a hive community, aren’t trying to figure out how they can individually reap the most for their money. “Hive mind”means that everyone is trying to think as one for the best of the whole. Out of this amazing collaboration comes the prized elixir of honey.

Recently Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) had a townhall meeting at a local  gymnasium. When asked about some of the guts of the new plan particularly in regards to Maternity care, “Blum said he’d voted in favor of legislation that repeals and replaces major parts of the Affordable Care Act to “get rid of some of these crazy regulations that Obamacare puts on […] such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance”

In a response resounding across the country, a 63 year old woman named Barbara Rank, a retired special education teacher sitting in the audience fired off a reply to his dismissive comment, picked up by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

“Why should I pay for a flower I won’t smell, a park I don’t visit, or art I can’t appreciate? Why should I pay for a bridge I don’t cross, a sidewalk I don’t walk on, a library book I don’t read? Why should I pay the salaries of politicians I didn’t vote for, a tax cut that doesn’t affect me, or a loophole I can’t take advantage of?”

Rank ended her missive explaining why she did actually believe in people paying for all of those things ― by saying how it was all about “democracy,” “a civil society” and “the greater good.”

Someone posted a photograph of her letter to Reddit over the weekend, and it’s now gone viral, sparking positive reactions across the internet:

Rank said she’d laughed at the response to her letter because it’s “such a silly little piece.” The conclusion to the note, however, was something she “always” ends up saying, she added.

“Every argument I’ve ever had with somebody, friends or relative: Don’t you want to live in a civil society?” she told The Washington Post. “Government is the structure of the country we live in. It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.” (HuffPost, May 16, 2017, Lee Morgan)

Thank you Barbara. You show us how to think like a bee. And a human being.

#hivemind

The Brutality of Bees

Bees are not all gentle and sweet smelling of honey, though I do love that about some of my hives. As you heard from my last post, the hive mind can be testy and irritable and pesky towards intruders. But they also visit brutal things upon their own kind. Which in a weird way is comforting, right? We aren’t the only species.

Above is a lovely little queen that one hive recently offed. It came on the heels of a few days of intense buzzing and frenetic activity around the door. Clearly something was going on inside….when I found this little queen dead, outside the door a few days later, I realized that the hive had been living through a duel of sorts between the old queen and the younger queen. Evidently the old queen won. I can imagine the intensity and anxiety of the hive as all this was going on.

Bees like to make new queens for a variety of reasons. If they are crowded and need to split, they’ll make a new queen and take off with her in tow, for a new zipcode. If the  old queen becomes aged or failing and stops being a productive egg layer, they will begin to plot against her, building a new queen right under her nose that hatches out and comes back to fight for the throne.

Thankfully our human societies do better than this when people age, but we still do warehouse old people as they move past their productive, generative years.

At the same time, I also noticed the hive next door to the queen drama becoming quite active, throwing out drones all day long.  The picture you see below is of the killing fields of drones, the males. It was quite shocking one morning. Males are the genetic DNA of the hive and necessary when it comes to mating in the Spring. But if the hive is running out of room or has few resources to spare, the lounging drones become dead weight for the hive. They are useless when it comes to foraging and food production—or any other work that needs to be done in the hive, quite frankly. They eat through the honey and pollen stores. The girls will cruelly dig them out, chase them down, bite off their wings and attack them, throwing them out the front door.  It is shocking and sad.

But when I went in the next day to see what was the matter, I noticed they were getting ready to de-throne their queen too. The girls were tending queen cells that would come out in a few weeks to face down the old queen. I have to trust that the bees know what they are doing. There have been a ton of drone cells in that hive and usually queens will begin overlaying drone eggs when they have run out of fertilized eggs. Alas, for her.

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So, clearly the hives have been in a state of flux and transition. It’s Spring after all. Everything is popping, growing, expanding, fruiting. I’m not surprised. Never a dull moment in the beeyard.

However, thinking like a bee, it did made me think about a few things. I realized how much humans are more like the hive mind than not. Often when violence intensifies or escalates in a community, it’s not hard to see the anxiety and fear that it visits on the whole. Feelings intensify. Everyone becomes unsettled. How quickly group think can kick in and things get out of control.

Another thing I realized, coming on the heels of a cabaret workshop recently offered by friends, Dying to Live”. I realized that all things are in a state of living and dying at any moment. None of us can escape this. Often we don’t fully understand the work we are called to do so we are fully prepared when it shows up on our doorstep—often a series of small deaths daily, with the big ones hitting us like a two by four. The best thing is to prepare and enjoy, seriously savor, every waking moment and imbibe as fully as possible. Cynthia and Stephen sang us the Cabaret Song with their ukelele’s in hand and we belted it out (little did I know this song and show was created during WWII, a time so rife with fear and angst)….

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!

 

 

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Resist Like a Bee

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I have a hot hive in my backyard. I know I need to take them far away from town, down to the farm in the valley where there are no people. I like to think of myself as a bee whisperer. They remind me that this is hubris. I am freaked out by their kamikaze ways, torpedoing me when I go out to water the plants. I remind them that they are in my yard by my good graces. Perhaps it is because once upon a time (about a month ago) I went into their hive and took their queen and half the hive mind. They were overpopulated. I needed to start a new colony. No problem. They raised up a new queen. I opened them the other day and am pretty sure I spotted her. But the problem is, this queen might have some Africanized or Russian genetics, which tend to be more aggressive, super productive and hyper vigilant.

So, now whenever I go outside to hang laundry, tend another hive or just play in my garden, this beehive sends a “minder”. They hover, and hover, and pester.

They persist.

Sometimes they get tangled in my hair, or if they are having a bad hair day themselves, they see my black fleece underwear and it plucks their last nerve. They dive bomb into my pants, thinking perhaps it is the fur of a bear too close to the hive for comfort. I have two pretty angry looking bruises emanating from the red bullseye of a sting.

So, a funny story. We have a security system sign for our house alarm in our front yard that says “PROTECTED BY SECURITY USA”.  Someone recently penned in magic marker next to the “security” part—”bees”. So now it says, “PROTECTED BY BEES SECURITY USA”. Very funny. I hope they didn’t get stung by a bee from the little terrorist hive in our backyard, radiating minders into the front yard. We haven’t seen angry notes yet, or been sued. My neighbors are amazingly supportive.

So, until I take them away and deal with the “hot” queen, it has given me plenty of food for thought.

I have a rather “hot” Leo the Lion personality —having been born under this sun sign in the fair month of August. Not many days go by that I’m not enraged by something in the news. My urge is to pour all my enthusiastic, persuasive, righteous, fire-y energy into that issue.

Not a good idea.

As two friends have reminded me in the last week alone…it is better to pour that persistence, enthusiasm, passion, that hyper-vigilance, that raging against the “machine” into creative energy for building a new tomorrow on this planet. All the life affirming things I love are awaiting my attention. My daily work in progress is to become more filled up with Love than rage, day by day.

My spiritual director, Cynthia, a wise soul who is further ahead on the path, reminded me that we are all governed by the gravitational pulls of the planets, the lunar cycles, the seasons, though we have run far afield of them in our relentless pursuing and fixation on culture, politics, words, techno toys and screens. The farmers have always known we are indivisible from our planet—thus the Farmer’s Almanac with instructions about weather and when to plant according to the moon.

She told me about her recent visit to the Monterey Aquarium in Northern California. There she was fascinated to learn about octopuses. From Sy Montgomery:

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 The common octopus has about 130 million neurons in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.

“It is as if each arm has a mind of its own,” says Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York…researchers who cut off an octopus’s arm (which the octopus can regrow) discovered that not only does the arm crawl away on its own, but if the arm meets a food item, it seizes it — and tries to pass it to where the mouth would be if the arm were still connected to its body.”

We have forgotten we are bodies—more alike all the creatures than not. They have evolved brilliant ways of adapting to and living on earth that we as a fairly young species—the last to be exact— could really benefit from in this time when our survival is so interconnected. My bees, and particularly the hive mind, draw me back to remember this on a regular basis. I am in relationship with them. They are showing me lessons, some simple and practical, some existential and profound, on a daily level. They remind me of the world in which I live in so many ways….teaching me how to navigate it.

For instance, the gentle “herding” instinct to keep me away from their hive, the daily persistent, needling, buzzing presence—with the occasional stings— remind me to stay awake, stay away and be respectful. It is also a model of how to show up in the world when my things or those of all that I love are threatened. Persist. Resist. Sometimes with a sting, but mostly just with vigilant “hovering”.

And so, on this day, instead of manipulating my universe, I slow down and listen up. I reflect on the body wisdom of the created universe. What is it telling me these days? It would be wiser for us to remember that we are part of a much large universal story that is unfolding, of which we are only a minute part in this dot of a time in her/history. There are successful ways of living that Indigenous people can show us as our western industrial civilization is coming up short.

It is time for us to set our clocks with the wisdom of the elders. The earth speaks, and since we are part of the earth, our bodies deeply intertwined, it would behoove us to slow down and pay attention.

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Bees Love Mushrooms (Happy Earth Day!)

…not the psychedelic kind, but the fungi kind.

Grow Gourmet Mushrooms

Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti, has been studying mushrooms for decades. His love affair with mushrooms was inspired by his brother who traveled south to Mexico and Colombia in the 1970’s looking for the “magic mushrooms”.  You know. The kind that make you happy.

Paul became a mycologist. A mushroom pioneer. Knowing my passion for bees, I understand how it can drive one’s life in a certain direction.

He began studying the amazing anti-viral properties of mushrooms for health. But he soon found out that not only can certain mushrooms enhance our immune system and kill cancer cells, but other kinds of mushrooms can clean up toxic spills and pollution in the soil. They can repel certain pests in agriculture. Digging deeper, he began to study the relationship between bees and mushrooms. He found bees feeding on certain kinds of mushrooms growing in his garden which then became resistant to the dreaded varroa mite—the ones that disfigure and eventually suck the life out of bees.

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evil little varroa mite

Bees were attracted to the fungi, which in turn strengthened their immunities against disease and mites. In October 2016, Stamets created the U.S. Patent # 9,474,776, “Integrative Fungal Solutions for Protecting Bees”.

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A recent article about Stamets revealed that Monsanto, poison giant of the world, might just be getting worried about what’s happening in Stamets’ little corner of the world—where he plies his mushroom passion, not for profit or the bottom line, but for the love of it— sharing his fascinating finds with the world. He has created a patent to resist agricultural pests without spraying pesticides—the kiss of death for bees and pollinators.

 

In 2006, a patent was granted to a man named Paul Stamets. Though Paul is the world’s leading mycologist, his patent has received very little attention and exposure. Why is that? Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, this patent represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.” And when the executives say disruptive, they are referring to it being disruptive to the chemical pesticides industry.

What has Paul discovered? The mycologist has figured out how to use mother nature’s own creations to keep insects from destroying crops. It’s what is being called SMART pesticides. These pesticides provide safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects – and all thanks to the ‘magic’ of mushrooms. Paul does this by taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroys insects) and morphs it so it does not produce spores. In turn, this actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out!

(http://www.ecosnippets.com/environmental/patent-that-could-destroy-monsanto/).

As the article states, “To tolerate the use of pesticides in modern agriculture is to deny evidence proving its detrimental effects against the environment. Such ignorance really can no longer be tolerated. For example, can you imagine a world without bees?”

Paul’s philosophy is that “We do not wage war against insects. We just want to protect our homes, crops or bees without causing collateral harm to the ecosystem” We do not use sprays. The lovely advantage of Paul’s mycology based insect control is that insects seek it out so no need to ‘carpet bomb’ landscapes.

Evidently Mother Nature’s fierce wisdom and recurring ability to heal herself and humans is a threat to the corporate powers that be. Stamets’ patents could prove to be bad for Monsanto’s bottom line. Poisons pay in this world, after all. And the humble little mushroom stands in the face of this insanity and says, “hey, you can do this without sickening people and the planet.”

In today’s world, it is immoral, unethical and irresponsible to continue to poison and pollute the planet. It is robbing future generations of their right to life.

On this Earth Day weekend, the invitation is to work on behalf of all that is life affirming, spreading the good news—such as Paul Stamets’ work. Human ingenuity and imagination partnering with the brilliance of the planet  is creating a different dream for our future. We can choose this over the nihilistic, death dealing vision we are being handed.

I have no doubt that Monsanto could shut Stamets down. That’s what they do. Their resume is stocked with stories of bullying, threats, suppression of information, pay offs, and lawsuits against ordinary farmers, people and organizations. The goal is to silence dissent. Make them go away.

But I also believe, as the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) said, that humanity can change our collision course with disaster.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Happy Earth Day!

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Bee a Pollinator Protector!

IMG_0886These lovely little signs for your garden and yard are available at the Albuquerque Garden Center. 10120 Lomas Blvd. NE, open 9:30-2:30 M-F. Call them for more information @ 505-296-6020.

These were designed and created for our Burque Bee City USA resolution party— the brainstorm of Sally Vance, with the support of the Xeric Garden Club  of which she is a member.

To find out more about what we are doing to protect pollinators in the fair City of Albuquerque, check out the New Mexico Beekeeper Association and CABQ Open Space Division.

Like any child, it takes a village or a whole bee hive to raise up any baby bee-ing properly. Burque Bee City is in that toddler stage. We need lots of help! We need you!

We will need pollinator protectors in every neighborhood, co-op, city hall, household, school and congregation to make it a reality. Here’s a few things you can do to make this happen:

  • Become a pollinator friendly Neighborhood! Call CABQ Dalaina Carmona @ 924-3914 to find out your city neighborhood district and President. In our city you have the power to create pesticide free and pollinator habitat zones in your neighborhood. Call CABQ #311 and request a spray free zone around your house. Here’s what the Burque Bee City resolution says:

Whereas, communities have the opportunity to support bees and other pollinators on both public and private land through pesticide free zones; working in collaboration with city officials to manage and increase healthy native habitat for pollinators—including, but not limited to roadsides, medians, open spaces and parks.

  • Mark your calendars for Father’s Day to come out to the first citywide celebration of Burque Bee City. It will be held in conjunction with City of Albuquerque at Open Space, 6500 Coors Blvd. NW, June 18, 2017, 9am-2pm. Enjoy all things pollinator-friendly, which include moths, bees, butterflies, bats and birds as pollinators. Games and activities for children, music for the family, cutting the ribbon for Burque Bee City.
  • *like* us on Facebook. Go to Burque Bee City or Think Like A Bee and begin to follow us to learn more about the ways you can get involved and all things bees happening right here in Albuquerque.

We have the opportunity to make New Mexico unique with Burque Bee City. It is a first of its kind in the southwest—a New Mexico True event! We have the power to create the kinds of neighborhoods we want to live in—communities that celebrate pollinator health and create the kind of planet we want for our children and grandchildren.

For more information contact Anita @ afasinger@gmail.com

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Ode to Bees

Some weeks are harder than others.

Even as the night temperatures plunge towards freezing again,

my bees thrive and expand.

For me, nature in all her resilient generosity and reciprocity

is a testament to life.

Even when the powers of the world seem hell bent

on destroying all that we cherish as life.

Even as beauty, goodness and truth are offered up daily

on the altars of war and profiteering.

I offer a bee poem and prayer for times such as these….

(I have taken the liberty of using bees instead of birds for the first poem. I hope the authors will forgive me.)

I love to watch how bees

soar on the wind.

There appears to be such

little effort, yet such joy.

I want to become like a bee

and let my spirit soar

on the winds that are blowing through my life.

I will not be crushed against the rocks!

I will sense the rhythm, the

flow, and react accordingly.

I will trust my inner guide.

—Judith Garrett Garrison and Scott Shepherd, Prayers for Healing, ed. Maggie Oman(Berkeley, CA: Conan Press, 1977)226.

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Beehive Source

Trellised womb

Mother of all beginnings

Hold me

Gather me

Feed me

With the honey-nectar

from the hive.

Nourished

I will sing

The Bee-song

The long-forgotten threnody

Of praise to thee.

—Anne Baring, Prayers for Healing, ed. Maggie Oman(Conari Press, Berkeley, CA, 1977)108.

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SPRING SWARMS

One of my favorite bee mentors, TJ Carr, an elderly gentleman perennially clad in blue denim overalls, once told me that Palm Sunday was the indicator for the beginning of bee swarm season here in the southwest. But with the early onset of a warm, dry Spring, it’s looking like swarm season has already started. What does this mean?

It means that soon you may find pulsing or resting balls of honeybees dangling in one of your flowering bushes or clinging high in your backyard trees. Swarming is the way that hives naturally reproduce. When a hive is strong enough and has a good population of bees, they will produce a new Queen. With a new queen, the old one will need to leave the hive and take half of the bees with her so there will not be queen wars or overpopulation.

If you happen to see a swarm of bees, DO NOT PANIC! A swarm of bees is very docile, as they have no hive, no eggs and no honey to protect. DO NOT spray them with pesticides! PLEASE DO call your local beekeeper’s association or contact me at 505-514-4982 and a beekeeper will happily come to collect the bees. Once collected, the beekeeper will put them into a hive and help them establish a new colony.

Beekeepers are eager to cultivate swarms since this means that a hive is healthy and strong enough to create a new hive. I was fortunate enough to catch multiple swarms last year which means my hive genetics are slightly more feral and intense this year. My hives have incredibly fertile queens and the most productive honey makers I have ever had the good fortune of knowing. It seems out of state bees are engineered to be docile, bred for beginning beekeepers.

I’d rather have a slightly hot hive. It has taught me to be more keenly observant, keeping me on my toes. I cannot become lazy. I must always think in terms of best beekeeping practices. I have learned to work “with” my high strung girls rather than forcing my way with them. I am facing multiple splits this year, and the wonderful blessing of increasing my home hives from 4 to at least 6. I will then need to put them around the city so I don’t saturate my own neighborhood with too many honeybees.

This year I’m hoping for some Very. Good. Honey.

As often happens, my mind turns to how the wisdom of the hive can help me manage my daily life in turbulent and uncertain political times. Somedays it feels like I am in the midst of a swarm of bees—a crazy whirlwind of chaos. A few words come to mind….

  • Patience.
  • Careful observation.
  • Breathe often.
  • Slow movement (to sustain energy, reduce anxiety, and allow for optimum success)
  • Proactivity (not reactivity)
  • Remain in a calm, positive mindset.

For times such as this, think like a bee. Bzzzz.

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Happy Spring Equinox

I heard a good joke today.

Noah’s wife: We lost the bees!

Noah: Bummer. Did you check the ark hives?

Meg handed me the U.S. Catholic magazine with this little gem as I walked into the Norbertine Community in Southwest Albuquerque today. A monkish community—they are not cloistered, but rather deeply engaged in ecumenical work and the needs of the community. I come here for the peace of wild things, to reflect, pray and write.

In this high desert outside the city I can see the effects of decades of drought squeezing this region. The desert is clearly encroaching. Many of the native high desert plants have turned to dust and it is looking more like the Sahara. The wind piles up the sand. When I came here 15 years ago it was still vitally green this time of Spring and full of jack rabbits, coyotes, many types of birds. Today all this is shrinking. No longer are the coyotes heard. I rarely see rabbits. A solar field hugs the buildings. A tall barbed wire fence wraps around the land which once was an open field. Development punishes the fragile land in this part of the world.

 Since working with honey bees I have become more aware of the plight of native bees. The onslaught of chemicals, drought and destruction of pollinator habitat is even more dire for them. Despite my hive losses of 50% this past year, honeybees still have humans to keep them, pay attention to them, try to save them. Evidently we’re worried about the wrong bees.

There are over 4,000 species alone of gorgeous native bees in North America, which are fast dwindling. If you ever meet a native bee researcher, they are total bee nerds— more so than me, if you can believe that. Over 500 of these super fantastic lovelies are in New Mexico alone. They are all adapted and co-evolved with specific native plants—incredibly diverse and unique. Almost all are gentle and non-stinging. When we destroy their native habitat and insert non-natives, they simply do not have the apparatus to pollinate. Also, they nest in the ground. When the dirt becomes a chemical receptacle they die.

So for all you bee geeks out there, indulge yourself with the following native bee photos, factoids and the flowers they love. Marvel at their special apparatus evolved for living in  their unique local habitat (compliments of the website featuring Clay Bolt’s photography: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/9-extraordinary-facts-about-north-americas-native-bees).

For those less beek-ish, just look at the picture to get an idea of the amazing planet we are dependent upon and seem to be destroying at a blind and breathless pace. Share this. Show your kids and grandkids.They’ll appreciate it.

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Vosnesensky’s Bumble Bee (Bombus vosnesenskii), San Francisco, CA

1. In the spring, a new queen bumble bee incubates her eggs in a little nest of straw much like a mother bird. By placing her abdomen over the eggs she is able to control their temperature, speeding up the development of her young. Once the eggs have hatched and the larvae have emerged, she will continue to keep her daughters warm until they are old enough to leave the nest for foraging. In order to retain her sitting position eggs for as long as possible she first constructs a little wax pot filled with sweet nectar next to the nest that she can sip from so that doesn’t have to leave her young too often.

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Male Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp), Chatanooga, TN

2. After copulation, a male cuckoo bee in the genus Nomada transfers an ‘invisibility cloak’ of pheromones to his mate that allows her to slip, undetected, into the nest of her host bee species. The entrances of solitary bee nests are lined with a unique chemical signature that serves as a type of intruder detection system for unwanted visitors. However a female cuckoo bee is able to pass by without much trouble thanks to this unique gift from her mate.

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Night-flying Sweat Bee (Megalopta sp), Kanuku Mountains, Guyana

3. Most bees fly during the day. However a few North American species (such as a sweat bee, Lasioglossum texana) are able to navigate by the light of the moon and stars, which allows them to collect pollen and nectar from nocturnally blooming plants such as the evening primrose. Nocturnal species, such as the night-flying South American sweat bee shown here, have enlarged simple eyes known as ocelli (the 3 small eyes centered between the larger compound eyes) that help them to navigate in very low levels of illumination.

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Fuzzy-legged Leafcutter Bee (Megachile melanophaea), Madison, WI

4. Leafcutter bees are raised in narrow, tube-like nests that are lined with leaves by their mother. Typically, the bees hatch from the entrance (the last eggs laid) to the back of the nest so that everyone can leave in an orderly fashion. Occasionally, a young bee may ‘sleep in’ too long, blocking the exit and causing a traffic jam for the remainder of its nest mates. When this happens, the nest mate who is next in line will give her drowsy sibling a gentle nip on the end of the abdomen as a cue that it is time to wake up and get moving.

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Thistle long-horned bee (Melissodes desponsa), sleeping on a goldenrod

5. Solitary bees, as you might guess from their name, don’t live in colonies like honey bees. Since there is no communal home to return to, many solitary species such as the thistle long-horned bee will rest at night by clamping their mandibles onto a bit of vegetation. After finding a suitable roosting site at dusk, the bee will enter in a state of suspended animation until the next morning when the sun’s warmth makes it possible for it to fly once again. This is a trait that is also still shared by some of bees’ ancient wasp ancestors in the family Sphecidae.

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A Beewolf (Philanthus gibbosus) holds a Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum pilosum) beneath her abdomen before transporting it back to her nest as paralyzed, living food for her young.

6. Which came first, bees or wasps? Many evolutionary biologists believe that bees are essentially a lineage of pollen collecting wasps that are directly descended from a group of predatory wasps in the family Crabronidae. Wasps in this family –Bee Wolves, for example– often visit flowers in search of insect prey to feed their young. The captured prey is often coated in pollen when fed to the young wasps. In the beginning this served as an additional source of protein for the young wasps but over time one or more species began to feed their young a strict pollen diet. This eventually led to the rise of the insects that we now call bees. Bees feed strictly on nectar and pollen and utilize uniquely shaped hairs called scopa that allow a female bee to collect pollen for her young.

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Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa)

8. Native bees deserve more credit for producing the foods that we enjoy each day. Did you know that honey bees are not always the most efficient pollinators of native North American crops such as blueberries and squash? Blueberry pollen is held tightly within the flower’s anthers, which makes it very difficult for honey bees to access it. Bumble bees and specialist species such as the Southeastern blueberry bee use a technique known as buzz pollination or sonication to release this pollen. To do this, the bees unhinge their flight muscles and vibrate them at a rapid pace, dislodging the pollen and causing it to fall from the blueberry flower onto their bodies. It has been estimated that a productive Southern Blueberry Bee will visit as many as 50,000 flowers in its lifetime, resulting in the production of somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 blueberries. Not bad for a little bee!

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Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). Photographed in Madison, WI

9. While there are approximately 4,000 species of native bees in North America many are in serious trouble due to a variety of factors including loss of habitat and the use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids. In many cases, pesticides don’t directly kill a pollinating bee but rather do so indirectly by affecting its ability to reproduce or store body fat, resulting in a slow death. A tragic example of a North American bee in serious decline is the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), whose numbers have dropped 87% in the past 15 years. This beautiful bumble bee and other closely related species have been inflicted with an internal pathogen that was introduced into North America when bumble bees imported from Europe to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes escaped into the wild and came in contact with wild bees. Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), a relative of the rusty patched bumble bee that has also been affected by this pathogen has not been seen since 2006.

 

Theres something life-giving you can do each day. Nature is ever regenerating and life affirming, so find ways to connect with her daily. Make sure to provide a water source with stones for bees to perch and sip!

When you’re setting up your bee-friendly garden, make sure to leave space for the bees to lay their eggs in and near the ground. If this sounds a little weird, welcome to the biggest myth you’ll have to confront as a self-appointed savior to the bees: honeybees that live in hives are not the ones we’re really worried about.

So back away from that image of a sad beekeeper with boxes and boxes of honeybee hives. Colony collapse disorder was unfortunate but not devastating. Those bees are employees in big agrobusiness, and they have jobs and caretakers all around the world. Entomologist Gwen Pearson points out that honeybees are “not remotely threatened with extinction” but thousands of lesser-known bee species are. You can see a list of our imperiled bees here; many are marked “PE” for “possibly extinct.”

A lot of these native bees live on their own, not in colonies, and they lay their eggs in little tunnels in the ground. The mother gives each baby bee a loaf of “bee bread” made of pollen and nectar. Since they don’t have a colony to protect, these bees don’t even sting.

So if you want to save the bees by planting flowers, these are the ones you should dedicate your garden to:  Xerces publishes regional gardening guides to help you figure out the best plants to buy if you prefer a DIY approach. Meanwhile, if you want to check the status of a random plant you’ve brought home from a garden store, check out the USDA’s PLANTS database. If your state is green, that means the plant is native there. Click on the “legal status” tab to see if the plant is on any federal or state noxious weed lists.

But there’s more to creating a bee-friendly habitat than just planting flowers. If you spray pesticides on or near the flowers, the bees are once again in danger, so you need to be aware of what you (or your lawn service) is spraying. Xerces would like you to sign a pollinator pledge swearing that you’ll lay off the insecticides, and that you’ll grow plants that nourish bees and other pollinators (like butterflies and their caterpillars) year-round.

—The Cheerios project

Taking Care of Bees-ness

As the warmer temps crept up this past week here in Albuquerque, I began visiting my hives, readying them for the Spring bee keeping season.

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Since all my ladies are flying in my home bee yard, I started with the three beehives at the organic farm in the South Valley, followed by two at my friend’s home in the North Valley. Both locations are along the agricultural and recreational swath called “The Bosque” Spanish for forest. As Burquenos we love our Bosque. It has the last vestiges of the wild in an urban area—including coyote, porcupine, skunk, migrating and nesting birds. It is one of the last cottonwood forests in the contiguous United States.

Unfortunately it is severely ecologically degraded and exposed to heavy equipment to maintain the acequias—ditches to irrigate.  Round Up is regularly used to control “weeds”, spraying to control mosquitos, and agricultural chemicals are applied along the waterways.

One by one I opened each of the five hives. Not a one survived. Colony collapse. I had hunches about what may have gone awry. I wondered whether we had over zealously harvested blackberry honey in the Spring of 2016, creating a food compromised situation for at least one hive. But several hives were heavy with honey, bees burrowed into the comb in clusters. Their soft bodies lifeless. Clearly queen-less. In some hives the bees were just gone. MIA.img_0026-1 It was a sad day as I spent the next four hours cleaning the hives, ruminating, blessing those that had brightened our days last summer and praying for the next inhabitants.

The honeybee’s business is our business. What ails them will eventually ail humans.  In response to some of my readers good questions last week about the correlation of autism to Round Up, I wanted to add a few more insights.

Dr. Seneff, at heart, is a biologist. Like Rachel Carson, biologists don’t look at any one cause, but multiple interactions between humans and their ecology. Both Carson and Seneff were able to observe how the cumulative effects of a deteriorated ecology impacted a whole array of factors —food, nutrition, disease, population, fertility. In my birth year, Carson’s groundbreaking work on DDT and declining bird populations (Silent Spring, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1962) eventually forced the EPA to ban it. It was a hard fight and Carson was slandered by Congress as a mere biologist and blocked at every juncture. She first chronicled what bee researcher Mark Winston calls “A thousand little cuts”. Meaning, in the end there is not one but multiple  factors that create honeybee colony collapse. Both have shown that a cascading series of causes can create the decline of health, and ultimately death, in any species.

Among other things, the chemical industry is driving life on planet earth to extinction, cut by cut. Dr. Winston writes…

Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.

The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.  (New York Times, Op-Ed column, 7/15/2014

This has been circulating on Facebook: “In case anyone is getting distracted by the Russian spy drama, the following bills have been introduced in Congress“….

It goes on to list House Bills that will terminate the EPA (HR 861), Wildlife protection (HJR69), gut Clean water and Air Acts, Stream protection, privatize public lands— to name a few.

Friends. In an age of massive ecological destruction, this administration is looking to set back the clock 300 years. Much like the Robber Barons of the late 19th century— unfettered capitalism makes the masses poorer and sicker, for the profit of the greedy.

Thank you to all of you who continue to stand up for that which is life affirming!

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Know Thy Food

My dentist is a very well read and smart man. He and I often talk bees and human environmental toxins, since we share a passion for these things. Recently, at my regular cleaning visit, he handed me a very useful tool.

It was a PLU code guideline for reading food labels which determines whether what we buy is genetically modified, organic or produced with chemical fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides. Here’s what I found out (EWG/Environmental Working Group analyzed pesticide residue testing data from the USDA):

  1. A four-digit code beginning with a 3 or 4 means the produce is probably conventionally grown. The last digits of the code represent the kind of the fruit or vegetable you are buying. For example, bananas are always labeled with the code 4011
  2. If there are five numbers, and the first is “8”, then the product is genetically modified. The label on genetically modified banana (GE–genetically engineered of GMO) would contain the numbers 84011
  3. A five digit number that starts with a 9 means the item is organic. Organic bananas are labeled with 94011

If we think our bees are in trouble from pesticides and herbicides, consider the following:

In a groundbreaking 40 year study, Dr.Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gathered data, publishing over 170 peer reviewed articles, showing a consistent correlation between glyphosate (a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, universally used in agriculture and backyards)—and the rise in autism.

Today, 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.S., a rate that’s increased 30 percent since 2012, according to a March 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

….Dr. Seneff spoke about the alignment between the side effects of glyphosate toxicity and autism, noting that they closely “mimic” one another…since Monsanto’s Roundup became a flagship weedkiller in 1990, the number of kids with ASD has soared from 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 68.

Dr. Seneff also made an alarming prediction regarding the recent spike in ASD: “At today’s rate, by 2025, one in two children will be autistic.” (https://dailyhealthpost.com/glyphosate-autism-link/)

I’m not sure what else to say. The statistics are alarming. We (meaning humankind) and bees are in trouble.

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Spread the news. Share this post with Moms. Women are known to vote with their pocketbooks. We can change the tide with our dollars. Economic choices make a difference. Companies notice when public opinion and consumer demands shift their profits.

We can do it.

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