You’ve never seen yellowjackets like this

No matter how many yellowjackets you’ve dealt with this past summer, I’m sure it was nothing like this. The nest in this video was filmed in central Florida where southern yellowjackets, and many other wasp species, can overwinter.

According to Jonathan Simpkins, the entomologist/pest control guy who shot the video, this nest is six-and-a-half feet tall and eight feet wide. He says that a nest like this can contain thousands of queens that develop over the second, third, and forth year. It also contains millions of workers. Be sure to listen to the audio as the wasps butt into the camera while they are being filmed. Unreal.

As a beekeeper, the thing that bothers me here is the company name painted on the truck, All Florida Bee, and the slogan, “Bees Buzzing You?” Guaranteed, there is nothing about bees in the entire video.

We wonder why most people are so afraid of bees, but once someone sees a video like this right next to the word “bee”—well, of course they’re frightened. There is no hint that yellowjackets are not bees. So sad.

In spite of that irritation, the nest is awesome and Jonathan Simpkins is, like many entomologists, entertaining.

Many thanks to Linda Zielinski of the Linn Benton Beekeepers Association (Oregon) for sending me the link.

Honey Bee Suite

Lasioglossum ovaliceps

Apparently not much is known about this little bee which I found in my backyard last June. I sent my photo into where the bee was identified by John Ascher of the American Museum of Natural History. It turns out to be a Lasioglossum (Hemihalictus sensu lato) ovaliceps in the family Halictidae.

That’s a lot of name for such a little bee. I didn’t collect it—only got a few photos—but I would say it was about 1/8 of an inch long and it was foraging on some catmint flowers. At first the red abdomen made me think it was a small wasp, but the pollen load on its legs gave it away as a bee.

I’ve searched and searched for more information on this species, but the only thing I found is that it lives in western North America. The genus Lasioglossum is huge—containing about 1800 species worldwide—and most of them are black or dark shades of green. However, a few species like this one have a red or yellowish-red abdomen.

Nearly all Lasioglossum species live in the ground, but they have a diverse range of lifestyles from semi-social to solitary, and they can be found foraging on a number of different plants from early till late in the season. They are known as excellent pollinators, and the sheer number of individuals makes them especially important.

I wish I could tell you more about my little bee, but part of the charm of bee watching is that many of the species are largely unknown to everyone. I will definitely be on the lookout for this one next year.


Lasioglossum ovaliceps on catmint. © Rusty Burlew.

A wintertime reading list for bee lovers

After I posted about the new book by Wilson and Messinger Carril, several people wrote with their own suggestions for wintertime reading. Following is a summary of those books. Since I’m uncomfortable recommending those I’m not familiar with, I’ve only included those I’ve read.

As many of you know, I strongly believe the best beekeepers know bees—their biology, lifestyles, morphology, habits, diet, and environment. Knowing about bees allows you to make good management decisions, decisions based on fact rather than hearsay, decisions based on observation rather than recipes. Furthermore, the more you know about all bees—all 20,000+ species—the better you will understand honey bees. No bees exist in a vacuum, and honey bees are no exception.

The books listed below are in no particular order—just the way they came off my book shelf. All are available on Amazon and I’ve included links to the format I have, but other formats are usually available.

So curl up by the fire with some brandy-laced hot chocolate and revel in the life of a Megachile or ponder the life of a Coelioxys. These are great books and I wish I could have read them twenty years ago. But now is better than never. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley. 2010. The book explains in great detail how honey bee swarms decide on a new home and how they agree on when to move. Seeley provides his raw data in charts and graphs, as well as his conclusions and insights. The book is not easy reading (you have to pay attention), but it’s packed with interesting tidbits about swarms. Good photos, too. Honeybee Democracy

Bees: A Natural History by Christopher O’Toole. 2013. This is a coffee table book about bees. (Do people still have coffee tables?) Anyway, large format with large awesome photos. It’s a good place to start if you know nothing about native species because it’s not too technical yet gives a broad overview. Fairly easy to read, a nice introduction to bees. Bees: A Natural History

The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. 2014. This book has a little of everything–a good overview of bee biology, anatomy, behavior, and evolution, as well as interesting sections on the the environmental challenges faced by bees and the interaction between bees and humans. There is even a section on beekeeping. The book covers a lot of ground without too much depth in any one area, but it is well-written and well-illustrated. The Bee: A Natural History

Bumble Bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson, and Sheila Colla. 2014. This is an in-depth guide to bumble bee identification. Although it will tell you everything you ever need to know about North American bumble bees, I find it difficult to use. Most of the problem lies within the genus Bombus; because bumble bees are so variable, it is extremely difficult to tell them apart. The book includes keys, photos, coloration diagrams, and excellent distribution maps–lots of information but not for the feint of heart. Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton Field Guides)

A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson. 2014. Some books I don’t want to end, and this was one. It reads like a cross between a novel and an adventure story as it follows the author’s fascination with bumble bees from childhood to the founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Along the way you will learn more about bumbles than you ever thought possible. A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson. 2014. This is a story about how the author purchased a 33-acre farm in rural France and turned it into bumble bee habitat. Insects, flowers, wildlife, nature, and the curious mind of an entomologist makes for entertaining and readable science. I never tire of reading Goulson’s work. A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm

Field Guide to the Common Bees of California Including Bees of the Western United States by Gretchen LeBuhn. 2013. As soon as this book arrived in my mailbox, I read straight through it three times. The author selected the most common genera of bees in her location and for each genus she provides­­ detailed illustrations by Noel Pugh, a genus summary, description, similar insects, food resources, nest particulars, and flight season. She even includes a pronunciation guide. Field Guide to the Common Bees of California: Including Bees of the Western United States (California Natural History Guides)

California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by Gordon W. Frankie et al. 2014. You don’t have to be from California to appreciate this book. The book details the basic families of bees and the plants they like using colorful photos of both. It also explains the complex relationship between bees and flowers and explores ways to build better native bee habitat. California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists

The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan. 1996. This is a book about plants, pollinators, and their amazing interdependent relationship. Well written in a story-like format, the book follows the authors’ research into the “pollination crisis” and disruption of some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, including the rain forests. The Forgotten Pollinators

Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by Laurence Packer. 2010. This is one of my favorites even though it has only four pages of photos. The book follows the adventures of Packer and his associates as they study bees here and there throughout the world. The book is packed with information about bees and bee decline. Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them

The Buzz about Bees: The Biology of a Superorganism by Jürgen Tautz. This is my number one choice for basic honey bee biology. Amazing photos and excellent descriptions of how the bee and the colony actually work. I refer to this book constantly. The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial insects with Native Plants by Heather Holm. 2014. This book looks at native plants and the pollinators and beneficial insects that are attracted to them. The author divides the native plants into different habitat types, shows what they need to thrive, and describes what pollinators and beneficials you will most likely see. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants

Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher. 2010. This is picture book for honey bee lovers. The photographs, taken with the aid of an electron microscope, reveal the honey bee and all her parts in stunning detail. Whether you are a beekeeper, gardener, photographer or just curious, this book is a joy. There is nothing like seeing the parts up close to understand how they all work together to pollinate our world. Bee

Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer. 2015. This is essentially a picture book, but the photos are far from ordinary. The book contains extreme close-ups of some of the worlds most fascinating bees with write-ups about each one. Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World

The Bees In Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril. 2016. My new favorite. The book is chock-full of identification tips, including photos of wing veins, detailed depictions of facial patterns, tongue diagrams, and photos of similar genera. Each genus has a pronunciation guide, a size-range diagram, a distribution map that shows not only where the bee occurs but also the likelihood of occurrence in that area. Best, the book contains hundreds of little highlighted text boxes that reveal bee trivia, and the whole thing is well-written and easy to understand. The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees

Honey Bee Suite

*Note: this post contains affiliate links.

A guide to North American bees

I am in love . . . with a book. I pre-ordered the new bee book by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril not knowing anything about it, but when it arrived, I became immediately and hopelessly enthralled.

I read until dinner and read while I mashed potatoes. Later, I read late into the night. After finally turning off my light and staring at the ceiling for awhile, I got back up and read some more.

The next morning I decided to e-mail my friend at OlyPollinators about the book, but when I opened my e-mail, there was a message with the subject line, “A book!!” Glen had beaten me to it.

The new book has the ridiculous title of The Bees in Your Backyard. Ridiculous because it sounds like a children’s book, sort of like “Dick and Jane Go to the Seashore”—but it is so much more than that.

I have a shelf about three feet long full of books that I use for wild bee identifications. Most have only short sections on identification methods, and most are extremely limited, covering only certain families or certain geographical areas, or having complex keys with no photos. Each time I want to i.d. a bee, these books spill out over the floor as I ruffle through them, usually to no avail.

But this book is different. According to the back cover, “It gives detailed accounts of every bee family and genus in North America, describing key identification features, distributions, diets, nesting habits, and more.” Did you catch that? Every genus in North America! It also has more than 900 color photos.

The book is chock-full of identification tips, including photos of wing veins, detailed depictions of facial patterns, tongue diagrams, and photos of similar genera. Each genus has a pronunciation guide, a size-range diagram, a distribution map that shows not only where the bee occurs but also the likelihood of occurrence in that area. Best, the book contains hundreds of little highlighted text boxes that reveal bee trivia, and the whole thing is well-written and easy to understand.

This is the book I have been waiting for, the one I wish I had years ago. If you are at all interested in wild and native bees—and as a beekeeper you should be—this is the book for you. It is published by Princeton University Press and is available in both softcover and Kindle editions. Although I usually buy e-books, when it comes to field guides and references, I prefer printed materials. The print edition of this unbelievable book is only $22.39 on Amazon.

Enough said. Now I’m going to dig out that little box of dead bees I’ve been keeping in my closet and see if I can figure out who they are. The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees

Honey Bee Suite

A no-cook candy board recipe for wintering bees

For several years I’ve been looking for a way to combine a moisture quilt with a candy board. I wrote a post about this a while back, but the board in that example contained cooked candy. I wanted a no-cook candy board for several reasons.

The first reason is that cooking sugar syrup is both dangerous and boring, a bad combination for me because when I’m bored I don’t pay attention. Not paying attention when you’re working with molten sugar at about 240 degrees F is not a good idea.

The other issue is that I keep reading articles that say cooked sugar forms high levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), especially when you try to invert it with an acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice.

The entire “invert-the-sugar-for-the-bees” argument is kind of ridiculous anyway because honey bees do it instantaneously, thanks to the enzymes in their saliva. Lots of types of nectar have high levels of sucrose, and honey bees have no issue with this, inverting it without knowing it.

The candy board frame

A candy board made to place below a quilt could not be solid, obviously, because moist air from the colony could not be collected by the quilt if that air never reaches the quilt. Secondly, the no-cook candy board could not be flipped over because “upside down” doesn’t work well with uncooked sugar.

Debbe Krape in Delaware sent me some no-cook ideas that she collected, and then directed me to the West Central Ohio Beekeepers, where some of the ideas originated. I went to work altering the plans to make them work with my system. The following is what resulted.

The candy boards are made from baggie feeder rims (or mountain camp rims) that are about three inches deep, and a plastic queen excluder, the kind that many people don’t like. A friend told me about the excluder idea, and it seemed to be the perfect answer. Remember, the excluders are not meant to exclude queens, but simply to hold the sugar in place.

Once the feeder rims were assembled, I nailed the plastic excluder onto the bottom of the rim, adding what I thought was a reasonable number of nails along all four sides. Actually, I started this project using screws, but I didn’t have enough of the type I needed, so I just used nails instead. If I find the nails pull out from the weight of the sugar, I will go back to using screws, but so far, so good.

No holes in the frame

Note that I did not put an entrance hole in the candy board frame. Every candy board design I saw had a hole somewhere, either for an upper entrance or ventilation or both. Most recommended tiny holes that I thought wouldn’t do much good, and most had to be shielded from the candy that might block them.

Since my no-cook candy board will have ventilation through the center, and my quilt has ventilation ports, there is plenty of opportunity for air flow. For the bees—should they want an upper entrance—I simply placed an Imirie shim below the candy board. This shim has the added benefit of providing some space between the candy board and the brood frames, in case the candy board sags in the middle.

Once complete, I spread a layer of plastic wrap on the table, placed the empty candy board on the wrap, and then positioned a piece of 2×4 lumber in the center of the candy board. (No, I didn’t measure the wood; it was just a random piece I found under the saw table.) Later, when the wood is removed, the empty space provides the place where the air will flow from the colony up into the moisture quilt. Some of the moisture will condense on the underside of the candy board, which is a good thing because moisture on the surface of the hard candy allows the bees to consume it with ease.

The pollen supplement

The next thing I did was prepare the pollen supplement. I decided to add the pollen supplement (as others have recommended) so that as spring approaches the bees will have an ample supply for brood rearing. Here, where we have so much spring rain, it is often hard for the bees to get out and forage for early pollen. But it was important to me to have a free choice patty—free choice meaning the bees can eat it if they want to, but they are not forced to eat it. If the pollen is mixed uniformly into the candy, the bees are more or less compelled to eat it even if they don’t want to.

I made each pollen patty from 100 grams of Mann Lake Bee-Pro pollen substitute, 200 grams of baker’s sugar, and 105 ml of water. I like baker’s sugar (also known as bar sugar) because the fine particle size allows it to dissolve quickly. Baker’s sugar in small quantities can be expensive, but in the the 50-pound bag, I pay only 2 cents per pound more than regular sugar, which is totally worth it.

At first the mix looks dry and crumbly, but I just knead it like bread for a minute and it makes a silken patty with the consistency of bread dough. You can make them in advance and they stay moist if wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap.

The no-cook candy

I decided on ten pounds of sugar per candy board based on talking to beekeepers in similar areas. I’ve heard seven pounds isn’t enough, 15 pounds is too much, so I arbitrarily decided on 10. I think most of my colonies should get by on their own honey stores anyway, but the candy board is an insurance policy of sorts and not designed to replace all their food. The feeder rims I used are plenty deep, and I think they could hold 25 pounds, depending on what you need in your area.

I placed ten pounds of baker’s sugar in a pot and added 10 tablespoons of hot water. Some folks recommend much more water, but one tablespoon per pound worked perfectly when I used the baker’s sugar. I don’t know if it would act differently with regular sugar, but you can experiment. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary, but remember the more water you add, the longer it will take to harden.

After adding the water, I just reached in the pot and worked the mixture by hand. I thought it would be a dry mess, but the small amount of water was amazing. It reminded me of the texture needed to build a sand castle that will hold together without slumping. It also reminded me of really dry snow that barely works for a snow ball.

Once mixed, I spread a layer on the bottom of the candy board, divided the pollen patty and put a piece on either side of the wood, and put the rest of the candy on top. Then I just tamped it down until firm.

By next morning the thing was hard as a rock. I removed the wood from the center and placed the candy on a hive. Just above the brood box I added the Imirie shim with the opening in front, then the candy board, then the quilt, then the lid.

The excluders nobody likes

I always hear stories that honey bees will not go through plastic excluders, so after a few minutes, I lifted the quilt for a quick peek. The central area was crawling with bees that hadn’t seemed to notice the excluder. I think it must be a psychological barrier more than anything: if you have to go through an excluder to do to work, that’s one thing; but going through to feast is something else again. Go figure.

So that’s where I am on the project. I have no results to report, no findings to share. But I do feel better having backup food on the hives, especially since our hot and dry summer produced very little in the way of nectar. I will keep you posted.

Honey Bee Suite

I just ran nails through the plastic queen excluder and into the wooden feeder.
Nail-pattern into feeder
I spaced out the nails in what seemed like a logical pattern. If the nails don’t hold, I will replace them with screws.
I placed a sheet of plastic wrap on the table and then placed the candy board on top.
The pollen substitute-sugar-water mix looks dry, but once kneaded, it formed a nice cohesive ball.
If you must keep the pollen patties for a while before use, just wrap in plastic.
Sugar-and-water like wet sand
The sugar and water mixture feels like wet sand. Ignore the spatula and just use your hands to mix.
Pollen-patties-buried in-sugar
First I put in the wooden board, followed by part of the sugar and the pollen patties.
Then I covered the patties with the rest of the sugar, and patted it down firmly.
The next morning, the sugar was hard and I was able to remove the wooden board. This hole gives damp air a way to travel up to the moisture quilt.
Pollen-peeking-through the sugar
You can see the pollen patty peeking out through the sugar. This is free choice feeding: they can eat the pollen or not, depending on what they want and need.
Imirie-shim with entrance hole
An Imirie shim goes under the candy board. Besides giving the bees an upper entrance, the shim provides extra room in case the candy board sags in the center.