Water: It’s what we’re made of

"come here often?"

“come here often?”

One of the most crucial requirements for choosing a location for honey bee colonies is the presence of fresh and accessible water. Honey bees need water, just like nearly everything else on this blue planet. Water quite often becomes a matter of life or death during the peak heat of summer, where temperatures within the colony must be maintained around 33-35 degrees C , so that the brood doesn’t get cooked to death. When things really start to heat up inside the hive, bees actually switch from nectar and pollen foraging to water collecting, and tell their nest mates to do so by using the Tremble Dance. Stay tuned for more on the incredible use of “dancing” in honey bee communication.

So, the forager bees have been danced at, which tells them to switch from food collection to water collection. The water is brought back to the colony, where the bees air condition the hive by evaporating the water with their wings and mouths. I have seen many creative solutions to having a lack of water in the bee yard; one being a turtle-shaped kiddie pool with sand and rocks in the bottom. The rain did a fairly good job at keeping the pool filled with water, and the gradual slope of the pool (meant for kid bums) gave the bees a spot to land safely to grab a drink. The beekeeper must ensure that the bees can access the water without drowning. Another solution I saw used near Oaxaca, Mexico was re-used plastic yogurt containers, which was very thoughtful of the beekeeper, except for the fact that the water level needed to be maintained regularly so the bees could still perch and drink.

fill 'er up!

fill ‘er up!

Regardless of how you do it, it still needs to be done, and is a necessity for overall productivity. And just as a side note, providing a watering hole is highly beneficial for other critters such as birds, butterflies, frogs, and everybody else!

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Land Fill = Land Full: Reducing Plastic Waste

Not bee-related, but important nevertheless.

not a fashion statement

not a fashion statement

Consumers have something called “buying power” that they can exert on retail markets and can make environmentally responsible choices on a daily basis. The only sticking point is when a better option is not available, the consumer should then question whether buying the product is actually necessary. In addition to being more aware, the consumer can also be happy about the fact that they are indeed making a difference. Now, I’m nowhere near on any high horse here, but these are several examples of how I buy and why:

1. Chewing Gum: it’s getting harder and harder these days to find gum that isn’t packaged in those infuriating and truly unnecessary blister packs.

chew it, spit it, toss it

chew it, spit it, toss it

The chewing gum itself is a rather pointless commodity that lasts a mere few hours, while its packaging, once emptied, lasts for decades in the dump.

Solution: There are still a few varieties that I treat myself to when I come across them…and wait until I do to buy gum. The first are those bulk Clorets boxes; loose chiclets that come in a cardboard box, and surprisingly doesn’t come sealed in those thin plastic wraps you see floating in the wind or on top of a puddle. Sometimes I might be fortunate enough to find Wrigley’s Double Mint or Big Red; sticks of gum that come in a cardboard casing, and are wrapped in tin foil.

2. Lighters: ok, so those plastic lighters come in all sorts of nifty colours and groovy designs, and might give you an edge over recovering your lighter from a sticky-fingered friend who is notorious for “borrowing” your lighters. Unfortunately, these lighters are made of really thick plastic and are typically non-refillable, so they get tossed in the garbage where many of them make their way into our water ecosystem. Sadly, due to their buoyancy and bright colours these hunks o’ junk are mistaken as food by many aquatic critters like birds and fish. If you haven’t seen the appalling consequences of adult albatrosses feeding these lighters to their young, then have a look here

Solution: Buy matches! Use a refillable lighter!

3. If you had a gander at the photos, you’ll also notice that the albatross chicks were fed a wide variety of other plastics, one being disposable tampon applicators. The environmental and economic benefits to using menstrual cups should be made known to everybody, so that even a father may educate his daughter about the benefits of using one.

Solution: Menstrual cups and here’s the short list why:

i. There is zero waste or plastics used, which can add up over the span of each of those 5 days, month after month, year after year. ii. Absolutely no risk of toxic shock syndrome and no risk of the highly unpleasant chaffed, stinky “pad crotch”. iii. These cups last for several years as long as you clean them properly. After spending an initial $40 or so, you’re saving money by the 3rd month! iv. It’s really hard on your septic tank when you flush those ol’ tampons down your toilet.

4. It may seem as though I actually like plastic bags based on the amount that I hoard under my kitchen sink, but I don’t. I reuse plastic bread bags when I clean out my cat’s litter, which is yet another way I can put that plastic bag to use before it goes to the landfill.

There are many more ways consumers can use their buying power to reduce landfill waste, like not buying bottled water, employing a reusable coffee mug, and using cloth/paper bags. Feel free to comment on ways you have been part of the solution too.

such lovely foliage!

such lovely foliage!

Bee-keeping Busy

beekeeping scene by yours truly

beekeeping scene by yours truly

I receive many bee-themed gifts, all of which are delightful. One of my favourites were these model railroad layout beekeepers my older sister gave me. I had a sudden urge to do something with them one night and switched off the TV/internet and put a vinyl on the turntable. I went to the kitchen and made some good old fashioned play dough from flour, salt, a little bit of oil, and water. While the dough was still wet, I coloured it in with a couple different shades of green markers, and stuck in the beekeepers and a bunch of other stuff from around my house. I like how the bees are bigger in proportion to the beekeepers, because they really, truly are.

Diorama-rama!

Diorama-rama!

Bee Whispering

Once you get to know honey bees as I have, you’ll find an extra-special spot for them deep in your psyche. Interest and passion for honey bees likely comes from the primitive vestiges of our heart-brain, where a human knows that making friends with this insect actually ensures survival. The honey bee can provide a human with surplus honey that serves as both food and medication, beeswax for light and fuel, and highly proteinaceous larvae and pollen for eating (which I have tried – not bad!).

I fell under their spell many years ago, and make a point of always having a hive or two (or 30) of my own. There is something highly rewarding about good beekeeping, but the feelings are hard to narrow down into a few words. One of the recurring feelings I get is that of acceptance…that the bees are accepting me; I am not an intruder, but an admiring servant. Another feeling is that if you learn how to listen to the bees, you will be able to hear when they are sick, angry, happy, or in need of a new queen. Sounds crazy! I guess it kinda is…especially considering that any of this needs to be experienced first hand, as opposed to being written about.

On a sunny day in March of last winter, I went and checked up on them. I have this ritualistic thing that I do when it’s relatively warm out and the bees start flying around…and this time I filmed it.

Blabbing about bees at the Royal Ontario Museum

2013 marks my 7th year of presenting at the ROM

2013 marks my 7th year of presenting at the ROM

The ROM’s poster this year wasn’t entirely accurate…I’m certainly not a PhD candidate, and don’t plan to be one for a long while! I do however, have a couple of great ideas for a project that would require several years of research.

This is probably one of the most exciting and rewarding jobs I will ever do. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and am honoured that the ROM asks me back every year so far. This gig happens once a year for the ROM’s Pollinator Appreciation Weekend, where I don my Bee Lady hat and talk to museum visitors until I can hardly think straight. I bring all sorts of visual aids, such as empty brood chambers and honey supers, bags of pollen and propolis, chunks of beeswax, and all sorts of other hands-on stuff. The ROM’s Hands-On Biodiversity gallery has an observation hive that serves as a great visual aid. This “hive” is actually 4 frames of bees stacked vertically on top of one another and enclosed in plexiglass. The bees access the outdoors via a clear tube, and can be seen coming home with their pollen baskets (corbicula) packed with pollen from the beautiful maple and chestnut trees nearby.

using a "picture hive" to explain honey bees to a young fella

using a “picture hive” to explain honey bees to a young fella

My favourite activity is getting children to pretend they’re bees while I wear my beekeeping veil and chase them around with an unlit smoker. There are also some really cute questions that are asked by kids: “Are there any king bees?”, “why is the queen bee born with different colours on her back?”, “can I take a bee home with me?”.

the Bee Lady in her glory

the Bee Lady in her glory

I sincerely enjoy being an interpreter of citizen science. Much like the honey bee’s compound eye, the story of the honey bee is multifaceted, and I never run out of conversation material, even after talking for 7 hours straight, for two days in a row.

Pondering Pollination

Click for high-rez amazingness!

Click for high-rez amazingness!

I’m not an advocate for just one kind of bee or animal. I speak loudly when it comes to protecting all species of pollinators, their habitat, and the flowers that bear the fruit and vegetables WE ALL need to live.

In short, anything that flowers will have a pollinator to appease. Why else would a plant invest so much energy into forming a flower and making nectar (which is costly for a plant) if it weren’t to attract a pollinator? The plant does this because it needs to have SEX, and considers a honey bee to be its little hairy cupid, seeing how it can’t get up and take another flower out on a date. The act of pollination is to pass along pollen (plant-sperm) from one flower’s stamen (penis) to another flower’s stigma (vagina). The pollen germinates down the flower’s style (uterus) where the ovaries are located. This act of actual fertilization results in an embryo, or a baby, which is the fruit or vegetable that contains the SEED for the next generation. full pollination description here

Drawn in by colours (even ultraviolet), odours, and the nectar reward, a bee lands on a flower to feed on the nectar, and the flower uses this opportunity to cover it in pollen. You see, plants are actually USING bees to do their sexy bidding, and have devised countless clever ways to draw in pollinators so that they can dust, coat, and even paste their plant-spunk all over them.

Trees do it. Coffee plants do it. Even educated orchids do it. The wild orchid of Israel has, over many eons, evolved the ability to LOOK and SMELL like a female long-horned bee. As a result, this orchid attracts male long-horned bees as its pollinator, and deceives these horny little devils into thinking they’re actually getting lucky. While the bee is distracted in his frantic attempt to get it on, the orchid deposits its pollinia on the bee’s body. The male tires and leaves, but soon tries to hump another “female”, and consequently pollinates the orchid.

Think about it. A PLANT evolved to LOOK and SMELL like a bee. Tricksy, ain’t it?!!

The video is rather fascinating: