Are Bees Mammals?

Log hive.

Log hive.

This was the provocative question radical “apiculturlist” Michael Thiele posed at the beginning of his lecture at this year’s Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa.

Thiele pointed out that bees:

  • Maintain a hive temperature of around 94°F/35°C
  • Have a low number of offspring, if you consider a swarm to be their offspring
  • Are nurtured by mother’s “milk” (technically sister’s milk)

These are all characteristics of mammals. Thiele inspiration is a book The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism, by Jürgen Tautz who calls bees,”the mammal in a thousand bodies.”

Golden Hive.

Golden Hive.

Thiele’s next point was that if we think of them as a mammal than we’re going to have a different relationship with them. Practically, this might mean different housing. If a bee is a mammal what they live in becomes their skin and fur. To keep their hive temperature steady they need insulation, both in warm and cold climates. He suggested that the standard Langstroth box is too thin. Maybe they’d be happier in the two hives Thiele had on display, a hollowed out log or the insulated Golden Hive box (which had movable frames).

Thiele’s talk took a metaphysical turn when he said that we need to “go beyond the left brain” in our relationship with bees. He also, provocatively, suggested that we need to “know ourselves” before approaching bees. I took this to mean understanding our intentions, our goals, and our attitudes.

Back to housing. Langstroth was very much the product of a “left brain” industrial age whose point was the domination of nature. Given the problem bees are having, perhaps it’s time to strike a balance between the intuitive and analytical and, literally and figuratively, think out of the box.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to roots[email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

016 The Urban Bestiary with Lyanda Lynn Haupt

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On the sixteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we interview naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds.

During the podcast Lyanda covers:

  • The effect of the drought on urban wildlife
  • Invasive species
  • How to get along with wildlife such as skunks, possums, raccoons and coytes
  • The problem with relocating animals (except rats!)
  • Moles and gophers
  • Seeing raccoons during the day
  • Root Simple’s CritterCam
  • Possums!
  • Preventative measures
  • How to encourage wild animals and increase diversity by planting native plants and trees

Lyanda also answers listener questions about hawks, coyotes, and feral cats.

Lyanda blogs at The Tangled Nest.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

CritterCam Reveals Yet More Rats and a Plea to Not Use Poison

My beautiful picture

Taking a cue from the NSA, I blew up and enhanced one of the images our CritterCam took over the weekend. It reveals two rats peeking out from under the shed.

It may be time to consider locking up the chicken feed at night. That and a little cleanup behind and around the shed are the only things I feel the need to do.

A rant on rat poison
Thankfully, the general public can no longer buy d-CON rat poison in California. Unfortunately, professionals still have access to even more toxic chemicals. These poisons have been linked to the recent illness of the magnificent mountain lion that lives in nearby Griffith Park. Check out the before and after photos to see what these horrible chemicals can do.

It’s my hope that the principles of Integrated Pest Managment, developed by a team of scientists at the University of California in the 1950s will gain even more traction. I met the daughter of one of the UC researchers who developed IPM. She told me that her dad had basically sacrificed his career to further the IPM cause. At the time, and to some extent to this day, there’s a lot of incentive to sell poisons.

IPM offers a balanced, common sense approach to dealing with critters like rats: observe, reduce habitat for the creatures we don’t want and increase habitat for predators, use barriers, use biological controls and use toxins as a very last resort.

Our own health and the health our planet demands a less toxic approach to pest management.

How many ladybugs can you find? The Lost Ladybug Project

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image courtesy of wikimedia commons

We linked to this project in our last link roundup, but I though it deserved its own post. The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science initiative out of Cornell University asking people all over North America to identify and report ladybugs they see in their area, so that these sightings can be mapped and collected in a database. Apparently some sketchy things are going on with our ladybug populations (as if the whole bee thing isn’t traumatic enough) and they’re trying to get a handle on it. From their website:

Across North America ladybug species composition is changing.  Over the past twenty years native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.  During this same time ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased both their numbers and range. This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low.  We’re asking you to join us in finding out where all the ladybugs have gone so we can try to prevent more native species from becoming so rare.

arggh…

But still….ladybugs!!!  Check out their website. It looks like a fun thing to do, for both kids or grownups. Part of the fun is learning to tell the difference between the different types of ladybugs. There’s lots of educational resources for homeschoolers and teachers. And yes, there’s even an ap for it.

It might be a little late in the year for the best counting, but I’m going to go out in the garden and see what I can find.

013 Keeping Chickens with Terry Golson of Hencam.com

Image: Hencam.com.

Image: Hencam.com.

On the thirteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we talk to chicken expert and author Terry Golson. Terry fields chicken questions from all over the world through her blog hencam.com where, as the name implies, you can watch her hens live through the interwebs.

One of the main points Terry makes during the podcast is that chickens have not really been bred to live long and that they start to get health problems after two years of age. When I solicited questions for this podcast, sure enough, most of the questions were related to health. By the way, I think I managed to ask Terry all the questions–many thanks to the listeners and blog readers who sent them in.

During the interview Terry mentions:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Root Simple’s New CritterCam

Say hello to Root Simple’s new CritterCam and to some of Los Angeles’ many enterprising rats!

For my recent birthday Kelly got me a Moultrie M-990i game camera, a device used by hunters and wildlife researchers. It’s a digital still and video camera with a infrared flash and a motion detector. If something moves in front of the camera a picture or video is taken. It also stamps the time and records temperature and moon phase. [See update at the end of this post--this is probably the wrong camera for the application I intend. Thanks Max!]

My plan is to use it for some urban, backyard citizen science. Specifically I want to figure out a few things:

  • What mammals are visiting the backyard?
  • What paths do they take through the yard?
  • What kinds of birds are visiting the bird bath?
  • Have my skunk proofing efforts worked?
  • What’s the most active time in the night for mammalian activity?
  • How many cats are visiting and what time do they come through?
  • What’s the best way to critter proof fruit trees and vegetable gardens?
  • What mammal is chewing on our fruit?
  • How often do coyotes visit and at what time? (We’ve seen them two times in the backyard).
  • Are rats visiting our chicken feeder?
  • When does a broody hen get up to eat?
  • What critters are hanging around the chicken coop at night?
  • Use the camera’s time lapse function to look at shade patterns in the yard.

I’ll share the results on the blog over the next year.

The first night I used the camera I pointed it at the grape arbor where I know rats visit. The resulting images, that I strung together into the video above, show at least two rats who set off the camera around 30 times throughout the night between 8:30 PM and 5:30 AM.

This is the first year that we’ve got a significant crop off of either of our two grapevines. I think I could have prevented most of the rat problem by picking all the grapes just slightly before they were fully ripe.

What critters visit your backyard?

Update: I may have the wrong camera for, at least, capturing rats. The images I got may be just because I set the camera up close to where the rats were feeding. Root Simple reader Max sent in the following letter from Moultrie:

The PIR, of our game cameras, is set to pick up larger movement and eliminate false triggering of the smaller game that you have listed. This is because the people that rely on our cameras for game management do not want numerous pictures of squirrels, and such, when focused on larger game. Our sister company – Wingscapes – is better suited for the things that you are interested in. We suggest looking at the BirdCam Pro and the Wildlife Cam offered at http://www.wingscapes.com/products/cameras.