18 January 2012

Science Café: The buzz on bees


If you’re sweet on honey bees, you don’t want to miss the Feb. 7 Science Café at Ray’s Steel City Saloon, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Jamie Ellis inspects a comb of honey bees at an apiary.Jamie Ellis inspects a comb of honey bees in 2008 at an apiary just outside of Gainesville.To kick off the Magnet Lab’s first café of the year, we’re bringing in a top honey bee expert: Jamie Ellis, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida'’s Honey Bee Research & Extension Lab.

Ellis was only 8 when he first became infatuated with beekeeping. It took him four years to convince his parents to let him have a honey bee colony — and he hasn’t looked back since. He’'s traveled throughout the world (South Africa, Australia, Serbia, Switzerland, you name it) to research and talk about this tiny, industrious creature. He even knows what it feels like to be stung more than 400 times in one day!

At the café, the 34-year-old Ellis will spend about 30 minutes discussing the important role honey bees play in our food chain and what may be causing the collapse of so many colonies. He can also talk about what people can do to help bees.

"The first thing you can do is become a beekeeper yourself,"” he says. “"If you don’t want to keep your own hives, you can always be a native beekeeper."

Many bees are independent, even solitary creatures and live without a beekeeper’s intervention. Ways to help these little indie animals include planting bee-friendly plants — it’'s called beescaping — reducing pesticide use around your home and providing additional nesting spots.

Like many in his field, Ellis says there are probably several reasons behind the mysterious disappearance of honey bee colonies.

"Most of us think it’s a synergy of things that’'s causing it. There are probably two to three major players behind it, and two to three other, less-important players involved."

Included in the nine factors Ellis and others say may be behind honey bee colony collapse are: traditional bee pests and diseases; modern colony practices (did you know honey bee colonies are routinely relocated to California on huge tracker trailer trucks?); chemicals; mites and pathogens. After his initial talk, he'’ll be ready to field your questions.

If the café talk inspires you to get a big buzz going in your own backyard, the Apalachee Beekeepers Association is hosting a daylong introduction to beekeeping later this month. For more info on the group’s Feb. 25 meeting, which requires registration, go to Apalachee BeeKeepers.

To read more about Ellis'’ work on bees and honey-bee colony collapse, go to this UF/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) website.