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Essays from the edge of knowledge & bewilderment

 

 

Entries in this blog

Sticky Health Claims

Propolis is a mysterious material, not so much a thing bees produce but literally a collection of ‘things’ they use. Beekeepers view it as a bit of a nuisance and frequently selectively breed honeybees that use as little as possible. In some respects, that’s not a good idea.   Apis, euglossine, meliponine, and megachilid bees, and, occasionally, other social insects, all use a kind of propolis to a greater or lesser extent, which in its simplest description consists of plant resins mix

Dave Black

Dave Black in none

‘Leaf’ my bumblebees alone…

If you’re a gardener (aren’t all beekeepers?) you’ll know a little about what biologists call the ‘stress induced flowering response’. As a lad some forty-something years ago I think I knew that, even if scientists have just got around to studying it in the last decade. You know, stop watering whatever it is, or provide a bit of a temperature shock, and it’ll burst into flower. We already knew that right? We suppose plants can survive as a species if they flower and produce seeds, producing the

Dave Black

Dave Black

Biology is the study of complicated things; Observing Pollination in Flowering Crops

It’s a complicated thing. There are plants that do not require pollination of any kind to produce fruit and seeds. There are some that require the stimulus of pollination, but not actual fertilisation, to fruit. Where pollination is required a plant may use pollen that it has produced (in the same or a different flower), or may have to use pollen from another, distant, plant of the same species. Unfortunately too, there are plants that have a bet each way, both ‘cross-pollinating’ and ‘self-poll

Pretty bubbles in the Air…

It’s hard to find a paper or article these days that doesn’t begin with a reference to “Declines in the number of global pollinator insects” or some other form of the bee or insect ‘apocalypse’ sentiment and the potential economic or ecological damage to be wrought. While one reaction to this is to prevent or mitigate the circumstances that cause it, finding alternatives to natural biotic pollination is another one to consider. At times there are clear reasons why forms of ‘artificial’ pollinati

Dave Black

Dave Black

Things you probably don’t know about sex

Everyone knows honeybee females (queens) mate at the beginning of their adult life and are then unable to mate again. A queen mates with many males (drones), often on a single occasion but sometimes after multiple flights in successive days. The mating is very quick, not more than 5 seconds and perhaps no more than one or two seconds, after which the male is paralysed and dies.   Competition between males in a mating congregation occurs, mostly as a result of size and power, and some s

Dave Black

Dave Black

Probiotics or faecal transplants?

A honey bee nest and its enclosure provides a rich and stable range of ecosystems where we might expect an abundance of microbe populations to thrive, constantly replenished through its interface with the phyllosphere that surrounds it. We know a great deal about the harmful micro-organisms that cause disease; foulbrood bacteria, chalkbrood and nosema, even virus infections, but very little about beneficial micro-organisms that maintain health. Despite a contemporary obsession with prophylactic

Dave Black

Dave Black

Let's Get Physi-cal

Physics provides a lens that focuses on our honeybee colonies in interesting new ways and a recent paper from Derek Mitchell at Leeds University’s School of Mechanical Engineering does just that. The mathematics is a bit challenging if you’re anything like me, but it’s possible to get through that, and he also has some worthwhile observations we can apply to polystyrene hives.  Mitchell’s current interest (Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD); his thesis was about differences in heat transfer betw

Dave Black

Dave Black

Bee and Wasp stings

1.         Introduction 2.         Venom Biochemistry 3.         Minimising the dose 4.         Treating the sting 5.         Topical treatments 6.         Systemic, toxic, and anaphylactic responses 7.         Ocular stings 8.         Beekeepers 9.         Caring for others 10.      References   Introduction New Zealand is fortunate to have very few stinging insects. These are members of the hymenopt

Dave Black

Dave Black

Social immunity and Hygienic Behaviour

Social insects like honeybee living in close proximity have a higher risk of spreading diseases and poisons among nestmates, so we would expect to find mechanisms that mitigate this. One of these systems is an innate immune system that provides an antimicrobial film on their exoskeleton, a hostile gut environment, a peritrophic membrane and gut epithelium, and effective cellular and humoral defences. These secrete antimicrobial chemicals, engulf or entomb foreign materials, and provide enzymes t

Dave Black

Dave Black

Viruses, RNA, and Honey bees

For most of us viruses are confusing. Many people are unable to distinguish between viruses and bacteria and expect them to be much the same kind of thing, which they are not. Viruses don’t fit easily in to the various categories of living things we are used to dealing with, and actually whether they even are living organisms is arguable, and how they came to be still more controversial. Which is why there is never a clear answer about how we might kill a harmful virus.   Viruses are n

Dave Black

Dave Black

Honey Bee Families

The promiscuity of honey bee queens generates lots of interesting questions about social insect society, many of which relate to the many different ‘sub-families’ that co-exist within a colony.  For example, do individuals within a colony overcome their self-interest to rear the ‘best’ replacement queen in an emergency or do they try to pick their closest relative? Just how far does social co-operation extend? Emerging recent research is starting to suggest that, apart from picking well-fed larv

Dave Black

Dave Black

Over the fence: Perspective on managing acaricide resistance

This article was originally published in 2015   Everybody needs to look over the fence once in a while, especially beekeepers. Something that caught my eye recently was a study looking at weeds and glyphosate resistance, a study which itself took a glance over the palings at antibiotic resistance in hospitals. Resistance is not a phenomenon unique to beekeeping, it is universal and, at its simplest, just about how organisms adapt and evolve in their environment.   From our po

Dave Black

Dave Black

Another look at American Foul Brood

The bacterial brood disease American Foul Brood (AFB) occurs worldwide and leads to significant losses of honey bee colonies every year. In several countries, as in New Zealand, AFB is a notifiable disease and infected bee colonies have to be burned to contain the disease. Although it has been under investigation now for more than a century, the underlying characteristics of the host–pathogen interactions on larval level remain elusive. An effective treatment of AFB does still not exist, partly

Dave Black

Dave Black

Beginner's Guide to Nectar and Honey

Have you ever wondered about honey, what it is and why it’s like it is? What about quality and honey, what should beekeepers know?     Honey comes from Nectar Nectar is a solution produced by plants that animals collect for food. Plants have special structures that make this solution usually from water and sap flowing in the plant. Often these are found in flowers and attract animals that pollinate the plant, but that is not always the case, and they can sometimes be found on

Dave Black

Dave Black

Pollination under cover with honey bees

The number of kiwifruit blocks covered by a canopy is increasing. These canopies consist of a hail netting supported on rammed posts, and can cover a considerable area, thousands of square meters. Many, but not all, are fully enclosed with netting down to ground level along the sides. From a grower's perspective these provide some substantial benefits. Obviously, given the name, one is protection from hail. Even unnoticed hail damage can cause a significant fall in the return a grower gets for t

Dave Black

Dave Black

Learning Their Place

As Honey bee workers mature they undergo a behavioural development scientists call “temporal polyethism”, more commonly referred to as an age-related (not age-dependant!) division of labour. Younger bees for the first two to three weeks of adult life work inside the hive at tasks such as brood care and hive maintenance, and older individuals work outside the hive as foragers. The transition to foraging involves changes that cause many thousands of alterations in gene activity in the brain affect

Dave Black

Dave Black

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