African Bees, Alkali Bees, Pear “Bees”

African Bees

In the late 1980’s I was working with Howard Kerr, an engineer with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on a project associated with neutral particle beams for defense against enemy missiles. I learned that he was a bee keeper, had about 150 hives that he hired out to orchards and farmers for pollination, and he sold good honey. From then on until we moved from Oak Ridge we bought his honey.

Doing our working and traveling together we talked a lot about bees, in particular about African Bees, because at that time they were being tracked moving north from Mexico. There was quite a lot of concern about them being so aggressive compared to the domestic or European bees.

Howard was asked to work with the USDA, since he headed up a bee keepers association in Tennessee, and he traveled to Mexico and Central America to track and become more familiar with the African bees.

One time he included a tape recorder among his instruments and recorded the wing buzz of some African bees. When he returned home he recorded his domestic bees. Running the sounds through a frequency analyzer he was surprised to note a definite difference between the sounds. It turned out, after a number of verifying tests, that the African bees had a center buzz frequency more than 25% higher than the domestic ones, 275 Hz vs. 215 Hz. Bingo!

Howard and his helpers immediately patented an analyzer which, I assume, is still being used.  The device includes a microphone for acoustical signal detection which feeds the detected signal into a frequency analyzer which is designed to detect the presence of either of the known fundamental wing-beat frequencies unique to the acoustical signatures of these species and to indicate the particular specie’s identity on a readout device.

These aggressive bees are now all across the southern border from California to Georgia.

Alkali Bees

In early 1990 I moved to Richland, WA and established an instrument company with a partner. I first lived in an apartment while waiting to locate a house and spent some weekends exploring that part of Washington, an area I hadn’t been in except for a couple of business trips.

One day I was driving in the vicinity of Walla Walla and along narrow roads through farming country when I came upon a strange road sign. 

Speed Limit 20, Alkali Bee Area. I slowed down wondering what this was about. Soon I noticed bees hitting my windshield and I slowed down to 20 and then stopped at the next opportunity which was by a partially vacant lot by the fields of alfalfa. There were bees flying all around and when I got out I could see that they were going to or coming from the vacant area. Looking closer I found that they were coming from the ground, from small holes. 

Here is some description I got from the internet. Alkali bees are native to this region, and nest underground in the Touchet (a village near Walla Walla) area.  Alkali bees live in areas with highly alkaline (non-acidic) conditions with little or no plant growth, and flooding (sometimes a problem in the Walla Walla Valley) can destroy their nests.

I learned that the area I was passing through was mainly farmed for alfalfa seeds sold throughout the country and the bees were considered to be very important to the farmers. The county officials posted the speed limits on roads by the fields to reduce injury to the bees. At 20 mph they feel that the bees can avoid most cars.

Pear “Bees”

I was watching a documentary some time ago on pollution in China. One of the features was a valley were, for many, many years excellent pears were grown and formed the major business foundation for the region. However, over the years, as pollution had invaded the area, the bees gradually died out. The people living there would not give up on the pears so they, as the bees slowly disappeared, became the “bees”. Each year during flowering people would bring their ladders, stools, etc., and sticks with feathers tied to the ends and pollinate every flower. Later they would tie a fine mesh net bag over each flower to keep out the insects that could harm the fruit.

At the time of the documentary they were still harvesting beautiful pears, but the labor needed to replace the bees work was enormous.

Pollinators, bees in particular, are wonderful helpers and our lives would be decimated without them. Let’s hope the viruses that researchers now believe are killing the bees will be isolated and that they find means of defeating it.

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