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Bees and pollinators: So much to know and learn

Outdoors Column

Last week I was invited by a good friend to attend a wild game dinner at the Bethesda Lutheran Church which is located near Sand Lake.

The meal was delicious as I partook in unbelievable delicacies crafted with venison, grouse, pheasant and bear. Taking just a small portion of each quickly filled my plate to overflowing and the dessert was fantastic. It was a meal made in Heaven.

Following the dinner, we were treated to an excellent talk by Gary Reuter, who is a beekeeper, also known as a honey farmer, apiarist or apiculturist.

Gary works for the University of Minnesota and lives just north of Highway 8 near St Croix Falls. His main job is bee research and is concerned with honey bee health.

While I had heard other "bee talks" which focused on the declining numbers of honey and native bees, Gary's talk had a wider theme and really drilled down on the biology, social activity and physiology of bees.

His sometimes humorous presentation added greatly to a very interesting subject.

Gary noted that the worldwide decline of bee populations were a combination of several factors, including a lack of suitable foraging habitat, herbicides, pesticides and changing farming practices.

It is a "death by a thousand cuts." There are very few feral honey bees and the honey bees, which are really not native, need beekeepers to help them prosper.

Honey comes in a variety of colors and flavor depending from what flower the bees collect the pollen and nectar.

Basswood honey is very light, followed by honey from clover and wildflowers, which are moderate colored, to buckwheat honey which is almost black with a muskier flavor.

Bees collect the protein pollen which they eat and feed to their larvae and carbohydrate nectar from which they make and store honey which is "winter food." Two and a half drops of nectar will produce one drop of honey.

There is only one queen per-hive and she is pampered by the workers. She lays 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per-day. If the queen dies, a few larvae are fed royal jelly for five days which is a special concoction that will cause the larvae to morph into a queen.

The first "queen" that emerges will kill the others to become the queen of that hive and continue on with her "queenly" chores.

Honey bees will only fly when there is sunlight because they need the sun for navigation. They average about 1.25 miles flight from the hive but can go up to five miles or more when necessary. They can reach a speed of 15 miles per hour and live about six weeks while the queen can live to the ripe old age of five years. When a bee finds a good location to collect pollen and nectar, it will return to the hive and perform a dance that will direct the other workers to that prime location.

In the winter, the bees warm the hive by beating their wings to generate heat. These winter bees can live for six months and get their energy from eating the stored honey. In summer they will collect water and beat their wings to cool the hive.

Native bees are also in decline. Unlike honey bees that form a large colony, native bees are solitary with 70 percent living in ground nests and 30 percent living in woody tunnels. They forage a few hundred yards from home.

Bees are important part of our economy, providing for up to 50 percent of our food supply in some way. We need our bees as much as our bees need us.

Hunter Education Class

This class is required for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1973, who wishes to secure a hunting license in Wisconsin.

Students should be 12 years of age before Feb. 27, 2017. Pre-registration is required with students taken in order of registration. The class size is limited to the first 42 applicants.

Pre-registration is required. Call Mark Schlicht at 989-305-1750.

Sign-up is set for Monday, Feb. 13, 6-8 p.m., at Westfields Hospital Conference Center, 535 Hospital Road. New Richmond.

You must pre-register to attend class sign-up night.

Classes begin Monday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m. Classes will be held Monday and Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. and end on or before March 20..

One Saturday class will be held March 11, 8 a.m. to noon, at the National Guard Armory, 1245 Wall St., New Richmond.

All students must have a Wisconsin DNR Customer ID number which can be acquired by calling 1-888-936-7463.

The cost of the class is $10. Students in need of special accommodations are asked to call two weeks prior to the first class.