Finally was able to find this really cool interview from Fresh Air with biologist Laurence Packer about his research on bees (and his new book Keeping the Bees). It was incredibly interesting and he’s also got this really fantastic accent which of course makes it better. Some of my favorite bits:
DAVIES: I have to say, one of the most entertaining moments in the book is when you described this Francisco oil beetle, a parasite that has a really wicked way of getting at bees. Tell us what it does.
PACKER: Yeah, the subtitle for that [chapter] is sexually transmitted, child-eating female impersonators on a California sand dune – and it is a remarkable story that’s been discovered by Leslie Saul and coworkers… It’s a remarkably weird story. And, as they say, it’s a bit like going to a bar and chatting somebody attractive up and thinking that you are going to be able to enjoy their company, and then all of a sudden they turn into several hundred rat-sized parasites that you’re forced to take home, and then they eat your children.
I like that: “As they say…”
PACKER: …But in general if you want to help the bees have the kind of garden that your neighbors will be irritated at you for having, because it looks kind of messy. The end of the talks I give on this, on bees, in general, I show a picture of my backyard and I’ve had people stand up and shout at me – “What do I do if I want to help bees but not of a garden that looks as ugly as yours?”
I also learned that similarly to industrial farming, there are fewer and fewer species of domesticated bees, making bee populations more vulnerable (“what this results in is a simplified ecosystem and, you know, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket type approach. The more diverse the bees are in a community, it’s likely that things are going to be working out better in the long run“). And I hadn’t realized that most of the recent buzz (hee) about hives hit with colony collapse disorder and the like are domestic bee hives, not necessarily wild bees (although they have been impacted as well). This is a really interesting part that I feel is missing in the discussion about colony collapse disorder. At the very least, despite having heard about it lots over the past few years, I wasn’t aware until listening to this interview about the distinction between domesticated and wild bees.
This was also interesting:
PACKER: Since I wrote the book, there’s been a finding of an even more unusual behavior and some other stingless bees in Southeast Asia has been shown to collect tears from vertebrates… that use the proteins from the antibacterial enzymes in tears as the protein source for the bee larvae, so that’s pretty unusual. And the researcher who did this Hans Benzinger in Thailand actually had the bees feeding at his eyeballs…
You should really listen to it.