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Bee pollinators

May 17, 2018
By JOYCE COMINGORE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

What a wonderful week of rain. So needed!

Fire alert is down. May the rainy season be with us.

I've seen the picture of the honey bee graffitied fence, saying, "If I go, I'm taking you with me." The mysterious "Colony Collapse Disorder" syndrome is suspected, believed to be caused by too much pesticide spraying. We are becoming more and more aware of the disappearance of honey bees, one of our main pollinators.

Honey bees (Alpis mellifera) have been around for millions of years, and are environmentally friendly as well as our most vital pollinator. They produce honey, which is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life. Honey has been known to keep for years in a glass container, it has no expiration date. A plastic container begins to contaminate the contents. If refrigerated, it will crystallize, but warming it up helps liquidize it. The contents of my old jar have turned the color of molasses, but I just ate some on toast. Very tasty and satisfying.

The average worker bee produces about 1/12th a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, by visiting 50 to 100 flowers during a single collection trip. Their wings stroke nearly 200 beats per second. They can fly for almost six miles at up to 15 miles per hour.

A colony consists of 20,000 to 60,000 honeybees and one queen. The worker bees are all female, living about 6 weeks, doing all the work. Larger than the worker bees are the male (drones) bees, who do no work, have no stinger and just mate and die. Worker bees produce beeswax with which they form hexagon shaped cells for the honey storage. Communicating through their honeybee dance, a "waggle," they tell the distance and direction of found pollen for others to join in collecting. Only worker bees have stingers and once they use their stinger, only if they feel threatened, they die. It is estimated that it takes 1,100 stings to be fatal.

The queen bee is chosen from other female bees, pampered, feed royal jelly honey, lives up to 5 years; her only job is to fill the hive with eggs. She alone determines the sex of the eggs. Any egg left unfertilized is a male. She only needs to mate once, then stores the sperm for future reproduction. This method gives the females genes from both mother and father; the unfertilized egg is a male with only his mother's genes. She must mate within 20 days after being born, or she loses her ability to mate. 48 hours after mating, she begins her lifelong task of laying eggs. Attendant workers take care of her grooming and feeding while she lays up to 1,500 eggs a day.

Making honey is not the biggest importance of bees. Their number one importance is their ability to pollinate our plant food producers, that makes them essential to us. Every citrus orchard has an area for beehives, essential for producing their fruit. Vegetable plants have bee-attracting flowers planted nearby.

There is a quote going around about Albert Einstein saying, "If the bee disappears off the face of the Earth, man would only have 4 years left to live," a true fact, in all likelihood, but it was never Mr. Einstein's quote. A Belgium Nobel Peace Prize winner by the name of Maurice Maeterlinck wrote it in his book, "The Life of the Bee."

This problem has bothered inquiring minds for some time, leading a nationwide chain retailer to go into action developing a robotic bee. More than 75 percent of the world's food crops rely on insect and animal pollination. If I can be so bold as to mentioning the companies name, Walmart is getting into the act of giving bees (ultimately humans) a helping hand and advancing robotics. They filed a patent in March for autonomous robot bees that can pollinate, just like the real deals. With tiny cameras on them, they detect and spot locations of needy crops, having sensitive sensors assuring success. Walmart also filed 5 other patents for successful robotic crop farming production. One of them monitors the ongoing health of various crops, another hunts down plant pests, hopefully, erasing the need for harmful pesticides that endanger live pollinators. Walmart has already developed robots for other necessary store duties. Researchers are trying to offer more pollination robotics for other companies to fund.

In 2013, Harvard University researchers introduced autonomous flying microrobots called "RobotBees" that were the size of a penny with two wafer-thin wings that flapped 120 times per second to fly. In 2017, a student at Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design created a 'Plan Bee," a pollinating device controlled by a smart device. Hopefully, more companies will follow suit in the future of robotic bees, replacing dwindling bee populations, creating a buzz with advanced technology instead of relying on environmental friendly legislation.

Bees are an important part of Florida's agriculture, with our many food crops. Florida ranks fourth behind California, North and South Dakota in honey production. Beeeepers rent their colonies to crop growers for several weeks at a time, carting them from one job to another.

There is always a spoiler that appears in anything. Here we also have the dreaded African bees crossing with our docile honeybees. Keep an alert eye and ears open to gatherings of bees. Report them to the Extension.

Food bearing trees need bees humming around them. Thank the trees for all they do for our health and sustenance. Be a "Do Bee" (shades of Romper Room).

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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