Entomologist helps bees fly to new home
Bees, like teenagers, don’t always make the best decisions.
So when the bees built a new colony in a large retail parking lot in Fayetteville, they were lucky that Neelandra Joshi passed on their way to the grocery store.
Joshi is Associate Professor of Entomology at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Agricultural Systems Division at the University of Arkansas. He specializes in research on pollinator health, fruit entomology, integrated pest management and pesticide toxicology.
When Joshi arrived at the store for his weekly grocery run, he noticed an area around a tree in the parking lot that was surrounded by a rope to keep people away. So naturally, curious people were there to see what was going on, and Joshi joined them.
The bees had built their hive on one of the branches. The limb was not very big and was cracked.
BUZZ ON BEES
About 20,000 species of bees are recorded worldwide, and 4,000 species are native to the United States. In Arkansas, which has many natural or undisturbed habitats, the number of native bee varieties could be between 250 and 300, Joshi said. About 70% of them nest on the ground. Their nests are often easy to spot, appearing as circular holes in open patches of land. The holes vary in size depending on the size of the species.
Honey bees and a few others prefer nesting sites above the ground, in cavities if available. They will settle in hollow trees, openings in rocks, and even a house attic if sealed.
A healthy honey bee colony can support up to 50,000 individuals or more if food resources are adequate. The health of a hive also depends on the absence of stressors such as exposure to toxic pesticides, diseases, pests or unusually harsh weather conditions.
Joshi said a bee colony consists of a queen, thousands of worker bees and hundreds of drones. The queen lives in relative luxury, even eating a special food, called royal jelly, which is richer than the common honey consumed by other bees. The queen mates with drones in a swarm that usually occurs in the spring. She is then able to lay 1,000 to 3,000 eggs per day for the rest of her life, usually around two years or more, depending on her general health, Joshi said. After her death, a new queen is prepared and also mates in a swarm.
The workers are all women and are aptly named. They do all the work of building and maintaining the hive, take care of the young, collect pollen and nectar from the flowers, and make honey. They have a shorter lifespan in summer than in winter, depending on their age and the evolution of their tasks.
Drones have a job: to mate with the queen. Once done, they simply live off the colony for the rest of their lives, unless a new queen rises before dying.
“They are kind of free riders,” said Joshi.
A parking lot, with cars, shopping carts and pedestrians going around is not a good place for bees.
“If disturbed, bees can become aggressive towards buyers,” Joshi said. “It is important to relocate settlements located in such public places. Bees naturally prefer to use existing cavities when available, so a beehive box is an ideal choice.
Fortunately, on that late May afternoon, the bees were swarming to mate, Joshi said.
“Their activity was more colony-oriented, so they were less aggressive towards people,” Joshi said.
Mating swarms are frequent in the spring and this is a critical period for the colony.
“Moving them safely is important,” Joshi said.
Joshi, always ready to hang out with the bees, had a bee costume and other field gear in his car. He went inside and spoke with the manager about the possibility of moving the bees to a safer location. The manager said the store called someone to remove the bees the day before, but that effort failed and likely resulted in the tree branch cracking. He asked Joshi to wait until the store closed and the parking lot cleared, but gave him the green light to perform the bee rescue.
The store closed in about half an hour, and Joshi went to work.
The key to successfully relocating a bee colony is to obtain the queen. Wherever the queen goes, the colony moves with her, Joshi said.
The previous attempt to move the colony from the parking lot likely failed, in part because the queen remained in the parking lot hive, he said.
Dressed in protective gear, Joshi cut off the branch that the bees had colonized. He placed the bees in a cardboard box and placed it in a reusable shopping bag.
He then drove the bees to the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center and placed them in a beehive in the entomology area of the center. The whole operation lasted about an hour.
A few weeks later, the old bees in the parking lot are happy in their new home. They’re busy building combs, filling them with honey, and even keeping new bee larvae safely locked in wax nurseries called brood combs. Life is good in the colony.
WHAT TO DO
Joshi said anyone who finds a bee colony in their yard, house or any other unwanted or dangerous place should have it moved rather than disturbing the hive or using insecticides to eradicate them.
“Bees and other useful species are in decline,” Joshi said. A loss of wild bee populations would spell disaster for many pollinator-dependent fruit and vegetable crops. Joshi’s research includes understanding the impacts of pest control products on bees and other pollinators, and finding safe alternatives to control crop pests without damaging the beneficial ones.
Anyone needing to relocate a bee colony can contact the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in the Agriculture Division at (479) 575-2445. Joshi said the department has several researchers and extension specialists who can help move the finicky bee colonies safely.
Fred Miller of the Agricultural System Division at the University of Arkansas. Details: Online at aaes.uark.edu or on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch
Agriculture Division entomologist Neelandra Joshi checks out a honey bee colony he transferred to Milo J. Shult’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center from a retail parking lot. (Special for The Commercial / Fred Miller, UA System Division of Agriculture photo)
The sealed holes in this brood comb contain bee larvae that will emerge as adults in 14-20 days. Agriculture Division entomologist Neelandra Joshi checked out the honey bee colony he transferred to Milo J. Shult’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center from a retail parking lot. (Special for The Commercial / Fred Miller, UA System Division of Agriculture photo)