PUP Op ed Original: Noah Wilson-Rich on why urban dwellers should be raising bees on their rooftops

Belted beeNoah Wilson-Rich studies bees and the diseases that are depleting their colonies. He founded the Best Bees Company, a Boston based beekeeping service and research organization, has given a TED talk, and is now the author of The Bee: A Natural History, recently published by Princeton University Press. Today he shares with us the vital importance of urban beekeeping.

CITIES ARE KEY TO SAVING BEES
By Noah Wilson-Rich

Nearly a decade after the start of Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.), a bizarre phenomenon whereby honey bees simply vanished from their hives across the United States during 2006-2011, bees are still dying at unsustainable rates today. Across the country, about one in every three hives does not survive the winter. Germany shares this alarming statistic across their apiaries. Bee deaths seem higher in areas with harsh winters and in areas with monoculture agriculture use – but lower death rates in cities. In Boston, urban bees not only survive the winter at higher rates, but they also produce more honey than beehives in surrounding suburban and rural environments.

The Bee jacketBees are vitally important creatures. We tend to give honey bees (Apis mellifera) all the credit for pollination because most people are familiar with the old man beekeeper working his white painted beehives image. Yet, honey bees are only one species of bee from about 20,000 total species worldwide. Their contributions span far past pollinating around 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon, and an estimated $100 billion to the global economy each year. Of the $15 billion that bees contribute to the United States economy annually, the alfalfa bee alone contributes an estimated $7 billion. The alfalfa bee! (Cattle rely on alfalfa for feed.) If the future of humanity is to involve nutritious food, then we must consider bees.

Regardless of what caused or ended C.C.D., or why bees are thriving in cities, the discovery of urban beekeeping as a safe haven for bees gives us hope. The post-C.C.D. world still has myriad dangers for bees; they are still dying. The three leading hypotheses for what’s killing bees: 1) Diseases, 2) Chemicals (e.g., fungicides, pesticides, etc.), and 3) Habitat loss. The Typhoid Mary event for bees that opened the flood gates to a series of additive plagues was in 1987, when Varroa mites first came to the United States. In 1998, small hive beetles were added. In 2004, imported Australian honey bees brought with them Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In 2006, C.C.D. began. In 2013, the fungus Nosema ceranae became omnipresent in all 200 hives that my laboratory sampled. And we haven’t even started on the pesticides, fungicides, and habitat loss yet.navigating bee

Spring brings to light the brighter side of things. My beekeeping team was back out this year, tirelessly checking hives, maneuvering rooftop equipment on skyscrapers, trekking through waist-high snow drifts, looking for signs of life. One team returned to our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuary in Boston’s South End, reporting that 100% of the day’s hives visited were alive. I assume they stayed around Boston or Cambridge that day, and my suspicion was right. The next day, another team of beekeepers returned from the field, their faces long trodden and forlorn, with only 1 out of 15 hives visited that day having survived the winter. I assumed they visited countryside beehives; I was right.

Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”

Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)

Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. The pesticide policy came into effect long ago, way before “killer bees” gave the non-aggressive bees a bad rap. Rather, policy makers received bad info, that bees attack fruit – and decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban the bees. We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. Yet the law of the land remains, and Angelinos must kill beehives upon site. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping as soon as within the next few months.

Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment. For example, simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based company. His latest book is THE BEE: A Natural History.

Read the introduction here, and take a peek inside here:

Sunny, Spring Book List

The Bee
Say goodbye to cold, dreary winter and hello to spring. Welcome the season by checking out Princeton University Press’s selection of natural history books. Wondering what bird you hear chirping? Download BirdGenie Backyard Birds East and West and find out. Some choices to get you out of the house and into nature:

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The Bee:
A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich
With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley
“The natural history of solitary, bumble, honey and stingless bees is as gripping as our lengthy alliance, as urban beekeeper Noah Wilson-Rich and contributors show in this charming compilation. They cover evolution, biology (including a unique proboscis made of two organs), behaviours (such as honey bee ‘quacking’), the causes of catastrophic die-offs, and more.”–Barbara Kiser, Nature

 

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Birds of Australia:
A Photographic Guide

Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones
“Written primarily for the visiting birder, reading a copy of this book will fire up anyone’s desire to get out into the field to see more of our fabulous birds.”–Sean Dooley, Australian Bird Life

 

bookjacket Britain’s Butterflies:
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland

Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson
“The images in this pocket-sized photo-guide are excellent and include pictures of eggs, chrysalids and caterpillars of all breeding species. Comparing very similar species can be difficult, but computer mock-ups helpful place specimen in situ. Clear text and page design make the book easy and fun to use.”BBC Wildlife magazine

 

bookjacket Britain’s Hoverflies:
A Field Guide

Revised and Updated Second edition
Stuart Ball & Roger Morris
Praise for the previous edition: “The latest field guild from the excellent Wildguides. . . . Beautifully and clearly laid out.”–Charlie Moores, Talking Naturally

 

10 facts about bees from The Bee by Noah Wilson-Rich

Everyone is familiar with bees, but few are aware of their significance in our survival. The roles of bees in the ecosystem include pollinating more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops. They also are critical to the reproduction and diversity of flowers.

The Bee

10 Bee Facts:

1. Only female bees sting, and many solitary bees can’t sting.

2. A bee’s sting (or stinger) is a modified egg-laying organ.

3. A bee has five eyes: two are complex eyes that see movement well, while the other three detect light intensity.

4. Bees can see ultraviolet light, but they cannot see the red end of the spectrum, so they perceive the world as more blue and purple than we do.

5. Drones do not have a father, but they do have a grandfather.

6. Bees are herbivores, and their diet comes entirely from flowers—carbohydrates from nectar and protein from pollen.

7. Honey bees are not native to the Americas, and bumble bees are not native to Australia.

8. A queen bee has exactly the same genes as a worker: she develops into a queen simply because she is fed extra rations of royal jelly when she is a larva.

9. The honey bee genome has been sequenced; it is about one-tenth the size of the human one.

10. Bees pollinate over 130 fruit and vegetable crops, and produce many other things that benefit humans—honey, wax, resins, propolis, royal jelly, and even venom.

The Bee

For more information on bees, the human-bee relationship, and beekeeping read The Bee by Noah Wilson-Rich.


bookjacket

The Bee:
A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich

With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley

Stumped for a last minute gift idea? Try these books

Buying gift or coffee-table books online can be nerve-wracking when all you have to go on is the cover and maybe, if you’re lucky, a couple of sample pages. What will the book really look like? Will it be gift-y enough? We want to take the uncertainty out of the process for you with these videos that show off three of our sumptuous recommended gift books. These books are all available now to complete your last minute holiday shopping.

Enjoy!

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10335.html

The Bee: A Natural History: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10336.html

Atlas of Cities: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10307.html

 

For additional holiday gift recommendations, please click here.

Noah Wilson-Rich author of The Bee to stop in at Labyrinth Books

Wilson-Rich_theBeeThe Press is very excited to announce that Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History, will be making an appearance at a local book store down the street from our offices on October 21st at 6:00PM. The venue, Labyrinth Books, is an acclaimed independent book store conveniently located right on Nassau St (if you’re familiar with the area) and we hope you will join us in a discussion with Wilson-Rich about his book.

Stick around after for book signings as well!

10 interesting facts about bees

8-7 Bee BookWhen I was asked to write a post about bees, I felt a lump the size of a honeycomb rise in my throat. I thought to myself,  “Bees? Like the things that ruined my 8th birthday party or every trip I’ve ever taken to Rita’s Ices? Those things?!” Yes, those things, but amazingly enough, after reading through Noah Wilson-Rich’s new book The Bee: A Natural History, I can honestly say my opinion of bees has changed, for the better. Here are 10 interesting facts about bees that will hopefully either solidify your love of these insects or foster a new appreciation for them.

1. Thousands of years ago, bees evolved from carnivores to herbivores. Maybe this explains my initial irrational fear of them!

2. There are over 20,000 species of bees who are classified in nine families and further divided by short, medium, and long tongues.

The Bee: A Natural History, Pg. 67

3. Bees can see ultra violet rays. They see the world primarily in purples and blues.

4. Bees have just ten receptors for taste, but 163 receptors for smell.

5. Honey bees communicate via dancing. The Round dance communicates the nearby presence of food. The Waggle dance is used to communicate the location of a food source more than 165ft away from the hive. The direction, distance, and quality of the food is made known through the Waggle. If a threat is detected near the food, another bee will interrupt the dancing bee with a head-butt.

6. In 2000, honey bees provided an estimated $14.6 billion to the US economy.

Pg. 49

7. Only female bees sting.

8. Queen bees and worker bees share the same genes, the only difference is future queen bees are given extra rations of royal jelly.

9. Bees pollinate over 130 fruits and vegetables.

10. Flowering plants developed attractive, scented, and brightly colored flowers once bees changed their foraging preference from animal protein to a vegetarian lifestyle.

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day with Noah Wilson-Rich!

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., author of the upcoming The Bee: A Natural History, will be speaking at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History for National Honey Bee Day on August 16.

noah_wilson_rich_CALENDAR

Wilson-Rich has been keeping bees on Cape Cod since 2010 and maintains two apiaries in Truro, where he conducts research on experimental vaccines that could potentially improve the health of honey bees. His talk at the museum will focus on this research, as well as the role of bees on Cape Cod and the importance of honey bees in sustainable gardening. He will also discuss his business, the Best Bees Company, a service based in Boston’s South End that installs and manages hives for honey bees for businesses and residents of eastern Massachusetts.

 thebeewilson-rich  The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich

Q&A with Leif Richardson, co-author of Bumble Bees of North America

auricomus PHW

We’ve recently published a comprehensive identification guide to bumble bees of North America. One of the authors of that guide sat down with Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden to talk about misunderstandings when it comes to bumbles–how are they related to other social bees? do they make honey? what does aposematic mean?, and more. Enjoy this preview and then read the complete interview here.

At the end of the interview, there is an opportunity to enter and win a copy of the book, too. So make sure you scroll to the bottom.

 

Q. First, can we briefly place bees, and bumblebees, in the order of things?

A. Bees are in the insect order called Hymenoptera, which also includes ants, wasps, sawflies and a few miscellaneous taxa. The closest relatives of bees are wasps, and they diverged from them many millions of years ago.

Q. Yes, I read in the book that bees evolved from wasps 100 million years ago—though frankly, I can’t tell the two apart. Are there things I can be looking for?

A. What many people consider a bee is the furry thing that looks like a honeybee, but most people don’t know that there are many species of bees that closely resemble wasps.

In general, bees are more hairy than wasps, and the hairs are branched—all bees have branched hairs at least somewhere on their body. They can sometimes look very feathery under the microscope, just like a bird feather….The feathery hairs insulate, and also aid in the collection of pollen—or so is the theory.

In most bees, the females collect pollen to feed to their offspring, so they have a pollen-carrying structure. We call that a scopa—which is usually a morphological characteristic of the exoskeleton combined with hairs. If you think of what a honeybee’s leg looks like, you have that big, wide area on the hind leg—this is the scopa of a honeybee. It’s a concave area and then it has long hairs that arch over it, so the bee can pack pollen in there.

In other bees, the scopa may be on the underside of the abdomen or on the thorax, and some bees even carry pollen internally.

You won’t always be able to tell bees and wasps apart, but look for the pollen-carrying structures, and generally more hair on bees than on wasps.

Q. How many kinds of bees in North America? And how many are bumblebees by comparison?

A. There are only 46 species of bumblebees, which are in the genus Bombus, on the continent–but nearly 4,000 species of bees total, including the bumblebees, in the United States.

Most of the bees are not what you know as a bee—most of them are solitary in their lifestyle, and not social [like the familiar honeybees]. So the males and females mate, and then the females go off and lay their eggs in a nest, and provision it with pollen and nectar and seal it up and they’re done.

That’s as opposed to rearing their offspring, and then successive generations of a worker caste coming and later reproductive individuals, too, all in the same colony in the same year—that would be a social bee.

Continue reading this Q&A at A Way to Garden: http://awaytogarden.com/bumblebee-101-leif-richardson-win-new-field-guide/