Sunday, September 04, 2011

Black Bees

Photos of close ups of the honey bee feeding on the pollen of a michaelmas daisy.  There appears to be a varroa mite attached to the back of the bee on the top photo.  These tiny mites appear to be crab-like and suck the juices out of the bee and infect them with a virus that kills the bee.   Beekeepers can have infestations of these mites in the hives, and the mite is decimating the honey bee population.  Some bee keepers have contracts to put their bees into fields to pollinate the crops.  So the infestation of mites is causing millions of dollars in crop production losses.  In the UK they are seeking to introduce the black bee as a substitute for the honey bee.  There are also chemicals that can be used to attract the mites to a surface where the chemical is applied, and thus the mites starve when they are not on a bee.  This chemical is like the pheromones  emitted by the bees and so the mites are attracted to the trap.
I have a hive of black bees in a cedar tree in my back garden.  Some of the research I did with google searches  says these black bees can be aggressive.  The ones in my hive are not at all aggressive.   The hive is about 10 - 15 feet off the ground.  I was a bit antsy about getting close to them, and I could not seem to get a good close up with my little Canon S3 IS with its 12X zoom.  I do not seem to have a long enough lens for my Rebel.
black honey bee - Apis mellifera
Apparently these black bees have a thicker skin and the mites cannot easily penetrate it.  This hive is egg shaped and is about 12 to 18 inches long with the hole at the bottom.  I have been doing gardening near them all summer and they never bother me.  
This is a closely cropped shot of a bee at the germander.  This patch of plant has been covered in honey bees when ever I am out there.  I have not seen black bees on it though.  The germander is not far from the black bees hive.  Nor did I see a black bee on the michaelmas daisies.  I could not find information on what these bees prefer to pollinate.

Also, in searching for black bee images, I came across carpenter bees.  They are not social bees though, and this hive would not be carpenter bees.  Apparently carpenter bees are about the size of a bumble bee, but have no hairs on the abdomen and are black to shiny dark blue.  They are not aggressive either.  The male cannot sting, and the female only stings if it is threatened.  She makes burrows in wood, collects pollen and nectar, deposits some of this food in a hole, lays an egg on the cell and seals it over.  So, this bee is also a good pollinator.  Some people with orchards set out pieces of soft wood for this bee to use as a home to encourage it to colonize the wood and pollinate the crops.

The wasps are a far bigger nuisances than any of the bees.  I see them stripping wood off the deck and using it to build their cells for laying eggs. I watched them rolling the wood into a small ball to carry away. They can get to be quite a large hive.  A couple of years ago Pat and I removed one of these nests from in the debris under the camillia tree next to Mrs. Pees sidewalk.  Pat is not afraid of bee bites, and did not get bitten, even once, while digging out the nest.  We hauled it off to the compost bin, and I thoroughly watered down the area.  There were wasps coming back for days afterwards, but I guess the queen was gone, and they have not rebuilt there.  A couple of weeks ago, while liberating some clay from under the deck, I inadvertently  must have struck a wasp nest.  I got two stings and they took at least 2 weeks to heal.  Today I watered under the deck, but could see no sign of the wasps around the area.  But I will still wait for winter before I clean up under the deck, now!

Today, I spent more time watering the corners that I may have missed with the sprinklers, yesterday.  I did some weeding.  I see I have some sort of canker on the plum tree at the front.  I cut off all of the branches with this stuff on it, that I could find.  The tree looks healthy with lots of branches and good green leaves.  Next spring, I should prune it properly and feed it with the fruit tree spikes.  I will need to research this growth on the tree to see what it is.


Anonymous said...

Bee very careful around the black honey bees; around here they are known as black hornets or "bald-faced hornets" from the white on their heads.
A sting by one of them is like being hit with a hammer. Ours are not good pollinators but are said to be good winter weather predictors; nest down low = harsh winter.
Most of our honey bees are missing; I rarely see one anytime I'm outside.

Maggie said...

thanks for the warning. After reading your comment I spent some time looking at hornet images. I am beginning to think you are right. But these bees or hornets, have not bothered me. I have not seen them pollinating either, though. I guess the dead of winter would be a good time to knock the hive down, then.

Anonymous said...

Hornets will abandon the nest and most will die off when the weather gets cold. The queen will hibernate and start a new nest somewhere else next year.
If there is an elementary school near you, a teacher might like to have the old nest for instruction. I used to brown-nose and take one to school about every year. :-)

Maggie said...

I took more photos today and watched them some more. I really do believe they are hornet. Dammitt. I was hoping for black pollinating bees.

Joe B said...

The "Black Bee" is a type of wasp. It's nest is made of pulped wood.
True black honey bees look like this:
The bee in the background has the top segments orange.
Taken in Somerset in the UK on March 6th 2014.
Some of my colonies are black bees and resistant to varroa.

Maggie said...

thanks Joe, for the clarification of the black bee and the black wasp. The nest I had in my tree was the wasp variety.

Here is a hot link to the URL you left for us: black honey bee picture

Spore said...

Hi Maggie,
You really should change the caption/text regarding the "bald faced hornets" being black honey bees. There is a huge difference and when I Googled "black honey bee" to find out more about my very gentle and docile Carniolan honey bees, your blog came up and the picture of the "bald-faced wasp" came up as a picture of a black honey bee. It is very misleading and completely incorrect. Honey bees do not make paper nests and are not aggressive at all (unless you're dealing with Africanized ones).

I love your honey bee pictures, though. Great photos!

Maggie said...

Thanks for for the information, Spore. It is a good learning process, I find, to have this titled Black Bees. People like to help. :) I certainly have learned from the comments. If I changed the title now, the comments would make no sense.