Bees evolved from ancient supercontinent, diversified faster than suspected


By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
July 31, 2023

PULLMAN, Wash. –The first bees evolved on an ancient supercontinent more than 120 million years ago, diversifying faster and spreading wider than previously suspected, a new study shows.

Led by Washington State University researchers, the study provides a new best estimate for when and where bees first evolved. Newly published in the journal Current Biology, the project reconstructed the evolutionary history of bees, estimated their antiquity, and identified their likely geographical expansion around the world.

The results indicate their point of origin was in western Gondwana, an ancient supercontinent that at that time included today’s continents of Africa and South America.

“There’s been a longstanding puzzle about the spatial origin of bees,” said Silas Bossert, assistant professor with WSU’s Department of Entomology, who co-led the project with Eduardo Almeida, associate professor at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

Working with a global team, Bossert and Almeida’s team sequenced and compared genes from more than 200 bee species. They compared them with traits from 185 different bee fossils, as well as extinct species, developing an evolutionary history and genealogical models for historical bee distribution. In what may be the broadest genomic study of bees to date, they analyzed hundreds to thousands of genes at a time to make sure that the relationships they inferred were correct.

“This is the first time we have broad genome-scale data for all seven bee families,” said co-author Elizabeth Murray, a WSU assistant professor of entomology.

Previous research established that the first bees likely evolved from wasps, transitioning from predators to collectors of nectar and pollen. This study shows they arose in arid regions of western Gondwana during the early Cretaceous period.

“For the first time, we have statistical evidence that bees originated on Gondwana,” Bossert said. “We now know that bees are originally southern hemisphere insects.”

The researchers found evidence that as the new continents formed, bees moved north, diversifying and spreading in a parallel partnership with angiosperms, the flowering plants. Later, they colonized India and Australia. All major families of bees appeared to split off prior to the dawn of the Tertiary period, 65 million years ago—the era when dinosaurs became extinct.

The tropical regions of the western hemisphere have an exceptionally rich flora, and that diversity may be due to their longtime association with bees, authors noted. One quarter of all flowering plants belong to the large and diverse rose family, which make up a significant share of the tropical and temperate host plants for bees.

Bossert’s team plans to continue their efforts, sequencing and studying the genetics and history of more species of bees. Their findings are a useful first step in revealing how bees and flowering plants evolved together. Understanding how bees spread and filled their modern ecological niches could also help keep pollinator populations healthy.

“People are paying more attention to the conservation of bees and are trying to keep these species alive where they are,” Murray said. “This work opens the way for more studies on the historical and ecological stage.”

Additional contributors included Felipe Freitas, Washington State University; Bryan Danforth, Cornell University; Charles Davis, Harvard University; Bonnie Blaimer, Tamara Spasojevic, and Seán Brady, Smithsonian Institution; Patrícia Ströher and Marcio Pie, Federal University of Paraná, Brazil; Michael Orr, State Museum of Natural History, Stuttgart; Laurence Packer, York University; Michael Kuhlmann, University of Kiel; and Michael G. Branstetter, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


International research team studies honey bees in canola

It is estimated honey 70 per cent of the honey produced in Western Canada comes from canola.

Calvin Daniels
Jul 18, 2023 2:00 PM

YORKTON – Canola is the key crop in terms of farm returns in Saskatchewan.

To attain a good crop though the flowers need to be pollinated and that work is typically carried out by the humble honey bee.

“There’s a relationship between honey bees and canola. A very good relationship,” said Marcelo Camilli, a Brazilian researcher currently in Saskatchewan studying the relationship.

“What we see here is bees flourish in canola.”

Camilli said it is estimated honey 70 per cent of the honey produced in Western Canada comes from canola.

And the pollinating service by honey bees can increase the canola yield by an estimated $1.5 billion

But what happens when farmers need to apply pesticides to their canola? Does it impact the health of honey bee hives? Does it impact the honey produced?

“What is the safe dose range for honey bees?” asked Camilli.

At present Camilli said there simply isn’t the research to know for sure.

“We don’t have large scale data,” he told Yorkton This Week.

Answers to such questions are what a team of international researchers are looking for in a three-year study initiated this summer.

The study is being carried out with bees established at 20 sites across Saskatchewan, 15 in canola stands and five in boreal forest sites, the latter as a control. Sites include five that spread from Grenfell to Kamsack in east central Saskatchewan.

“It’s the largest project in all of Canada,” said Camilli, during a recent stopover in Springside. The team is staying with Kenn and Nancy Wood as they work in the local area.

The canola fields, provided in cooperation with producers, will be managed normally, said Camilli, so should a crop protection product need to be applied it can be as normal, although farmers are asked to complete a questionnaire covering variety grown, seed treatments used, and chemicals applied.

Camilli explained the researchers will be measuring the levels of pesticide residue in the bees themselves, the pollen they collect, the honey produced and in the soil of the fields.

While the main focus is the honey bee, the project will also be monitoring native, wild pollinators as well. While currently there does not seem to be great concern with pesticide application impacting honey bees from apiarists, the study will provide some much-needed data.

“We’ve come to see the real situation,” said Serbian researcher Uros Glavinic.

The international team including USask students Erin Baril and Debby Peng was drawn together because of a common interest in the honey bee.

“The bee research world is quite small, and people know each other,” said Glavinic.

Each person brings their own skill set to the project.

“All of us have some special side,” said Glavinic, who is focused on bee genetics.

Each has practical beekeeping experience too.

For example Camilli began beekeeping with his grandfather, which inspired him to pursue biology, and researching honeybees was a natural extension of his interests. As a result, he completed his Masters and PhD, both focused on honeybees.

Dr. Sarah Wood, who grew up in Yorkton, oversees the project. Wood holds the position of USask Pollinator Health Research Chair at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). She is also an associate professor in the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Pathology and is board certified with the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP). Wood’s research interests include infectious diseases of honey bees, pesticide risk assessment for pollinators, quantifying pollinator contributions to agricultural productivity, and developing honey bees as experimental models for human and animal disease.

The team is expecting to release primary data after this year’s cycle is complete, and then in each subsequent year of the project.

The large scale, multi-year project is possible through a number of funding and co-operating groups, said Camilli, including BASF

SaskCanola, Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission, Mitacs a non-profit national research organization, and the University of Saskatchewan.

Buzzworthy breakthrough: BYU students utilize AI to decipher the ‘language of the bees’

Google Translate for insects? How BYU students are helping humans understand animal communication
By Tyler Stahle,
July 19, 2023

For years, scientists have buzzed about the bee waggle – the groovy dance honeybees do by shaking their abdomen upon returning to the hive. This waggle tells other bees where to fly to find delicious nectar. Now, a team of BYU computer science students is abuzz to decode the secret language of the hive. Armed with a hum-dinger of a research project and cutting-edge technology, these students are translating the bee waggle in real-time.

“Bees will do this dance on a vertical surface and they’ll kind of waggle or shake in a line, and the angle of that line has to do with the angle of the sun that the bees need to fly from the hive to go to the food source,” said BYU computer science professor and project advisor Sean Warnick. “There’s a surprising amount of sophistication going on between these creatures that we just think of as insects.”

The project team, comprised of students across disciplines such as computer science and business, is creating a computer program that tracks bee waggles and interprets them in real-time on a computer screen. To capture the waggle dances, students constructed an observation hive with plexiglass siding in the BYU greenhouse. A camera records the waggle dances, and algorithms created by the students measure, annotate, and interpret the movements.

While the project may sound un-bee-lievable, the students themselves say that they’re learning more about bees than they ever anticipated. Nonetheless, they find inspiration in seeing the practical application of their classroom knowledge in real-world situations.

“As a computer scientist I definitely spend a lot of time staring at screens and data, but it’s been really cool to go out and actually work with the bees,” says Caelen Miller, a BYU computer science student working on the project. “I want to have it as a hobby for the rest of my life and honestly I’d love to keep studying them because they’re fascinating creatures.”

Because of BYU’s unique emphasis on undergraduate research, Warnick says he’s excited about the future application of this research and he’s impressed by the level of care BYU students bring to the project.

“Students here at BYU tend to be very focused on doing good in the world and building something amazing. They care very much about the way they’re going to use their education,” he said.

The lasting impact of the project could be far-reaching, especially for the agriculture industry, which relies on efficient pollination. With the ability to better understand and interpret bee waggle communications, farmers may optimize pollination strategies and plan more systematically, ultimately enhancing agricultural productivity and ecosystem health.

Bees make decisions better and faster than we do, for the things that matter to them

Honey bees have to balance effort, risk and reward, making rapid and accurate assessments of which flowers are mostly likely to offer food for their hive. Research published in the journal eLife today reveals how millions of years of evolution has engineered honey bees to make fast decisions and reduce risk.

The study enhances our understanding of insect brains, how our own brains evolved, and how to design better robots.

The paper presents a model of decision-making in bees and outlines the paths in their brains that enable fast decision-making. The study was led by Professor Andrew Barron from Macquarie University in Sydney, and Dr HaDi MaBouDi, Neville Dearden and Professor James Marshall from the University of Sheffield.

“Decision-making is at the core of cognition,” says Professor Barron. “It’s the result of an evaluation of possible outcomes, and animal lives are full of decisions. A honey bee has a brain smaller than a sesame seed. And yet she can make decisions faster and more accurately than we can. A robot programmed to do a bee’s job would need the back up of a supercomputer.

“Today’s autonomous robots largely work with the support of remote computing,” Professor Barron continues. “Drones are relatively brainless, they have to be in wireless communication with a data centre. This technology path will never allow a drone to truly explore Mars solo — NASA’s amazing rovers on Mars have travelled about 75 kilometres in years of exploration.”

Bees need to work quickly and efficiently, finding nectar and returning it to the hive, while avoiding predators. They need to make decisions. Which flower will have nectar? While they’re flying, they’re only prone to aerial attack. When they land to feed, they’re vulnerable to spiders and other predators, some of which use camouflage to look like flowers.

“We trained 20 bees to recognise five different coloured ‘flower disks’. Blue flowers always had sugar syrup,” says Dr MaBouDi. “Green flowers always had quinine [tonic water] with a bitter taste for bees. Other colours sometimes had glucose.”

“Then we introduced each bee to a ‘garden’ where the ‘flowers’ just had distilled water. We filmed each bee then watched more than 40 hours of video, tracking the path of the bees and timing how long it took them to make a decision.

“If the bees were confident that a flower would have food, then they quickly decided to land on it taking an average of 0.6 seconds),” says Dr MaBouDi. “If they were confident that a flower would not have food, they made a decision just as quickly.”

If they were unsure, then they took much more time — on average 1.4 seconds — and the time reflected the probability that a flower had food.

The team then built a computer model from first principles aiming to replicate the bees’ decision-making process. They found the structure of their computer model looked very similar to the physical layout of a bee brain.

“Our study has demonstrated complex autonomous decision-making with minimal neural circuitry,” says Professor Marshall. “Now we know how bees make such smart decisions, we are studying how they are so fast at gathering and sampling information. We think bees are using their flight movements to enhance their visual system to make them better at detecting the best flowers.”

AI researchers can learn much from insects and other ‘simple’ animals. Millions of years of evolution has led to incredibly efficient brains with very low power requirements. The future of AI in industry will be inspired by biology, says Professor Marshall, who co-founded Opteran, a company that reverse-engineers insect brain algorithms to enable machines to move autonomously, like nature.

Do common methods for protecting bees from pesticides actually work?

by Entomological Society of America

Responsible use of pesticides includes striving to avoid negative effects on the environment, often with an emphasis on protecting bees and other pollinators. A new study, however, finds that many common methods for minimizing pesticides’ impact on bees—even some recommendations on product labels—are backed by minimal scientific evidence.

The researchers behind the study say stronger testing is needed to evaluate which bee-protection measures are truly effective and which ones may be too reliant on conventional wisdom. They share their analysis in a report published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Growers are urged to follow a variety of “mitigation measures” meant to protect bees during pesticide applications, such as spraying at night, using specific nozzles on sprayers, or maintaining buffer zones.

“It takes time, money, and effort to follow these rules, so if they are not actually helpful, they are a waste of time,” says Edward Straw, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland and lead author on the study. “If they are helpful, though, they could be applied more widely, to protect bees further.”

Straw and colleague Dara Stanley, Ph.D., assistant professor in applied entomology at UCD, combed published, peer-reviewed research for studies that evaluated the effectiveness of any kind of mitigation measure in reducing a pesticide’s impact on bees. Just 34 studies matched their criteria, spread across a wide range of measures—but largely focused on just one kind of bee.

“Almost all research was centered around protecting honey bees. However, honey bees are a managed species that is not endangered,” Straw says. “When we try to protect bees, we really want to be protecting wild, unmanaged bee species, as these are the species which are in decline.”

Few mitigation measures had more than one or two studies evaluating their effectiveness, and methods of testing varied. For instance, some studies tested for direct overspray while others tested for longer-term pesticide residues. And just three studies among Straw and Stanley’s review evaluated measures frequently found on pesticide labels.

“Least researched was testing on how you time a pesticide spray, be that time of day or time of year,” Straw says. “There’s good reason to believe that if you change when you spray, you could avoid peaks in bee activity. Yet surprisingly no one has really researched if this idea works. This is odd, as it’s a very common mitigation measure and not overly hard to test.”

Other mitigation measures tested in existing studies included how pesticides are applied (e.g., spray parameters or planting methods for pesticide-coated seeds), buffer zones, removing flowering weeds before spraying, direct interventions for managed bees (e.g., moving or covering colonies), and applying pesticides only in certain weather conditions or during certain crop stages.

A newer method had the most studies (12) investigating its potential: repellent additives to pesticide sprays, which encourage bees to avoid a recently sprayed crop. Several compounds have shown promise in lab testing, but all 12 studies tested repellency for honey bees only, and none were tested in formulation with a pesticide—only on their own.

“It is an interesting idea, but it is not yet ready to be used,” says Straw. “It would need to be tested on a diversity of bee and insect species, as if it is only repellent to one or two species, all the other bees would still be exposed to the pesticide.”

In sum, Straw and Stanley say too much hinges on bee-protective measures for them to be weakly supported. Bees play a critical role in both natural ecosystems and agriculture, and the presumption that mitigation measures are effective can be factored into decisions to authorize pesticides for use. Rigorous scientific evaluation of these measures is imperative, they say.

“The main limitation is that these studies need to be big, well-funded pieces of research. To test changes to how a pesticide is applied to a crop, you need to have a crop, a pesticide sprayer, and someone licensed to spray. All of that is expensive and time consuming, making it out of reach for most scientists,” says Straw.

But, if such research can be generated, there’s reason to believe it will have immediate positive impacts. In related research Straw and Stanely published earlier this year, compliance with pesticide regulations and guidelines among farmers in an anonymous survey was high. “We know that these mitigation measures are being followed,” says Straw. “We just do not know if they are helpful yet.”

Updates to Chapter 131, “The Bee Laws.” Effective September 1st, 2023

HB 4538 passed in our recent legislative session and will take effect September 1st, 2023. Many thanks from Texas beekeepers to Representative Kyle Kacal and State Senator Morgan LaMantia for their work in making this happen.

Apiary Registration Application – was Free – Registration will not be required, but if requested, a $35 fee will be assessed. Registration will be valid through the end of the fiscal year and must be renewed each September 1st. All current REGISTRATIONS WILL BE NULL AND VOID ON SEPTEMBER 1ST, 2023!

Intrastate Application (county to county) – was $35 – Intrastate permitting will be repealed. No longer will there be restrictions on moving bees across county lines. Beekeepers doing live removals will still be required to pay the $35 fee for the annual registration, but it will be a different form as opposed to the Removal Transportation Form.

Import/Export Application – was $100 for each state the beekeeper is bringing bees from & $75 for each state the beekeeper is shipping bees to – Beekeepers moving bees into and out of Texas will no longer have to do separate Importation and Exportation permits. One Interstate permit will replace these. This permit will be an annual fiscal year (September 1st – August 31st) operational permit with a fee of $250. Beekeepers can then come and go with bees.

Apiary Inspection (requested by beekeeper) – was $75 – increases to $100

Registration of Apiary Equipment Brands Application – $10 (no change…!)

Bee Removal Transportation Application – $35 (no change…!)

Queen Breeder Inspection – $300 (no change…!)

Apiary definition will have “six or more” struck.

Beekeeper – means a person who owns, leases, possesses, controls, or manages one or more colonies of bees for any personal or commercial use. In situations involving Ag Valuation/Exemption, the beekeeper and/or landowner can decide who should register.

The law changes the registration to “beekeeper” registration, not “apiary” registration. The focus will still have space to place apiary location(s).

Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program offers grant

The purpose of the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) program is to build resilience across the middle of the state’s food supply chain for food crops. For this program, “middle of the food supply chain” refers to activities and operations that occur in between post-harvesting of food crops and before food goods are being sold at a store or market, excluding the marketing of food products or services.
The RFSI program will offer two grant types, Equipment-Only and Infrastructure grants, to eligible entities to support the expanded capacity for the aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storing, transporting, wholesaling, and distribution of locally and regionally produced food products, including specialty crops, dairy, grains for human consumption, aquaculture, and other food products, excluding meat and poultry.
RFSI is intended to improve upon, provide new, and/or create more diverse, local, and regional market options for locally or regionally produced food in Texas; as well as create more economic opportunities and resiliency for communities, allowing them to retain more of the value chain dollar.
The program also aims to:
• Support development of value-added products available to consumers;
• Support proposals that provide fair prices, fair wages and new and safe job opportunities that keep profits in rural communities; and
• Increase diversity in processing options in terms of business model approaches, geography, and availability to underserved communities.
The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) will prioritize grant applications that benefit the following:
• Underutilized farmers and ranchers;
• New and beginning farmers or ranchers;
• Veteran producers;
• Processors and other middle-of-the-supply businesses owned by individuals that qualify
under Small Business Administration (SBA) defined categories*
*Additional details will be defined in the Official Request for Grant Applications document

Who is eligible?
• Agricultural producers or processors or groups of producers/processors
• Nonprofit organizations operating middle-of-the-supply-chain activities
• Local government entities operating middle-of-the-supply-chain activities
• Tribal government entities operating middle-of-the-supply-chain activities
• Institutions such as schools, universities, or hospitals bringing producers together to establish
Is there a cost share or match required?
Equipment-Only Grants: no match required. Infrastructure Grants:
cooperative or shared infrastructure or invest in equipment that will benefit multiple producers
• 50% of the total project cost; or
• 25% of the total project cost, for underutilized farmers or for other businesses that qualify under Small
Business Administration (SBA) defined categories*
*Additional details will be defined in the Official Request for Grant Applications document
What can I use the funding for?
RFSI will focus on funding Equipment-Only and Infrastructure Grants with activities that:
• Expand capacity for processing, aggregation and distribution of agricultural products to create more and better markets for producers;
• Support development of value-added products available to consumers;
• Modernize manufacturing, tracking, storage, and information technology systems;
• Enhance worker safety through adoption of new technologies or investment in equipment or facility improvements;
• Improve the capacity of entities to comply with federal, state, and local food safety requirements;
• Improve operations through training opportunities, including training on the use of all equipment
purchased under the grant;
• Support the purchase and installation of specialized equipment, such as processing components, sorting equipment, packing and labeling equipment, or delivery vehicles;
• Modernize or expand an existing facility (including expansion and modifications to existing buildings and/or construction of new buildings at existing facilities);
• Support construction of a new facility for middle-of-the-supply-chain activities;
• Support construction of wastewater management structures, etc.;
• Modernize processing and manufacturing equipment through upgrades, repairs, or retooling;
• Develop, customize, or install equipment that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, increases efficiency in water use, improves air and/or water quality, and/or meets one or more of USDA’s climate action goals;
• Increase storage space, including cold storage

More information
Visit the RFSI web page at:

Contact us
For questions about the RFSI program, please email

Research seeks insights on honeybee diets for healthier hives

Texas A&M AgriLife scientists examine sustainable beekeeping, agriculture and urban development

July 12, 2023 By Adam Russell

The old health idiom “you are what you eat” also applies to honeybees.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists are studying how pollen diversity affects the nutritional quality of honeybee diets, including asking foundational questions about how nutrition can sustain healthier colonies.

The four-year study is funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It will be conducted by co-principal investigators Juliana Rangel, Ph.D., and Spencer Behmer, Ph.D., both professors in the Department of Entomology within the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The project is exploring honeybee nutrition across multiple landscapes and will provide a multidimensional analysis of pollen as a nutritional resource. It will also examine how bees regulate the collection and consumption of pollen.

The research could provide insights that will guide beekeepers, traditional agricultural methods, and urban/suburban development planning in ways that impact food production, ecosystem health and overall sustainability.

Rangel and Behmer bring together expertise in honeybee biology and insect nutritional physiology, respectively, to investigate the complex relationship between diet and nutrition in honeybees. Their collaboration will analyze how honeybees make decisions when presented with different dietary options.

“Our research focuses on understanding how honeybees choose the best possible combinations of nutrients when given choices between different food resources,” Rangel said. “We are particularly interested in their preferences for pollen, which is their main source of dietary protein, and lipids, plus other essential micronutrients.”

Nutrition’s role in honeybee and hive health

Poor nutrition and landscape changes are two major contributors to losses of over 40% of managed honeybees in the U.S. annually, according to the Bee Informed Partnership. However, the definition of “poor nutrition” for honeybees remains unclear, Behmer said, and the characterization of available nutritional resources across various landscapes is also insufficient.

Behmer said nutritional deficiencies can have negative cascading effects on bees and colonies. Much of the impact of poor nutrition begins in brood food, a milky substance produced by nurse bees to feed bee larvae. Deficiencies of key nutritional components in brood food, especially protein and key lipids, can lead to poor physiological development that can cause undersized adults, deformities and compromise the immune system.

Rangel said preliminary work suggests honeybees tightly regulate their protein and lipid intake, and the fatty acid composition of lipids could play an important role in the bees’ nutritional preferences.

“Honeybees balance their protein-lipid intake, ensuring they do not overconsume either nutrient beyond what is required,” Rangel said. “This balanced approach ultimately contributes to their overall health and well-being.”

Answering fundamental questions about honeybee diets

The researchers’ overarching hypothesis is that honeybees tightly regulate their intake of multiple nutrients using a two-level process. First, foragers selectively collect pollen based on its nutritional content. Next, nurse bees selectively feed on stored pollen, or bee bread, to balance their nutrient intake, which optimizes their performance and the brood food they produce for larvae.

Rangel and Behmer suspect the nutritional content of pollen varies across landscapes and seasons, but that both foragers and nurse bees can assess the variability and respond appropriately.

The study has three objectives to answer their research questions.

First, researchers will conduct a comprehensive nutrient analysis of pollen, examining the nutritional space available to honeybees across three distinct landscapes – agricultural, urban and rural – while considering seasonal variations.

Second, they plan to perform a multidimensional nutrient analysis of bee bread to gain insights into the role of predigestive pollen processing. This will reveal how nutritional inputs change as pollen is turned into bee bread.

Lastly, the study will characterize the connection between the fatty acid composition of bee bread, nurse bee feeding behavior and physiology, and the overall performance of the colony. The data generated through these objectives will equip beekeepers with valuable insights, enabling them to provide necessary dietary supplementation and improve the health of their colonies.

“Protein has typically been viewed as the key dietary currency, but our feeding experiments with nurse bees suggest that lipids are also really important,” Behmer said. “Lipids, besides providing energy, are important structural components in cellular membranes and as precursors for molecules linked to immunity. We are realizing that honeybee diets are multidimensional and are foundational to their ability to meet challenges and deal with stress.”

Understanding what bees eat is important

The researchers are also interested in understanding whether honeybees make forage and dietary choices based on the colony’s nutritional needs or if they collect food at random or based on availability. Behmer and Rangel believe the honeybees make purposeful decisions based on the nutritional requirements of the colony when available.

But forage diversity may not always be available in environments such as urban/suburban or agricultural production areas.

Urban/suburban development can strip a landscape of native pollinator plants, while traditional agricultural production consists of large monoculture crops, many of which rely on bees to pollinate, Behmer said. The lack of forage diversity may lead to nutrient deficiencies in honeybee diets, affecting the overall health of the hive.

Behmer is interested in the macronutrients that bees prefer and need at the various stages of their 30-50-day lives as they take on a series of roles within the hive.

Bees are social insects, Rangel said, and they divide labor within the hive. They also have different nutritional needs as they age.

The first assignment for adult honeybee workers is as cell cleaners before they undergo a physiological change to become nurse bees around four to 10 days into their lives. Nurse bees are the main consumers of bee bread made from collected pollen. They consume the bee bread to transform it inside their bodies to produce brood food for the larvae.

The nurses then become middle-aged workers that perform centralized tasks around the hive until they are 20-21 days old when they become foragers. Forager bees collect pollen for the hive until they die.

Behmer said researchers want to better understand how foragers go about their duties and what range of plant varieties provide balanced nutrition for bees of all ages within a healthy colony.

The understanding could provide beekeepers, agricultural production or urban development managers with prescribed guidelines for managing crops and landscapes to help honeybees, which are critical contributors to both healthy ecosystems and food production.

“Honeybees are important to humans, but they also impact wildlife and the entire food chain more broadly,” Behmer said. “If we understand how to maintain a richer nutritional environment for honeybees, we can take management steps that make the entire system healthier and sustainable.”

Texas Environmental Agency to distribute awards

The TCEQ’s Texas Environmental Excellence Awards (TEEA) Program – an annual awards program that encourages citizens, communities, businesses, and organizations to be recognized for their environmental projects will be issuing awards soon.

These awards include a variety of categories such as agriculture, innovative operations, youth, and more. The Texas Commission on  Environmental Quality would encourage any beekeepers that have implemented successful environmental projects to apply!

The deadline to apply for the current awards cycle is August 25, 2023. For questions or to learn more, please feel free to contact us at

UTSA professor awarded $2.8M USDA grant to support next generation of urban beekeepers

JUNE 28, 2023 — Victoria Garcia, a UTSA senior studying biology, only knew honey in its role as a sweet additive before she enrolled in a Medicinal Properties of Honey class this past school year.

Throughout the course, she and other students tested varieties of honey in various bacterial cultures to identify which are best at killing or inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Garcia is continuing her research this summer comparing the properties of manuka honey and revisiting results gained from the course about the bioactivity level of honeys.

Led by Ferhat Ozturk, an assistant professor of practice in the UTSA Department of Integrative Biology, the undergraduate class explores honey as an antibiotic and antioxidant healing agent.

“A major goal of this generous grant is to provide workforce training that will expand the opportunity for underrepresented students.”

Ozturk was recently awarded a $2.8M grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to foster the next generation of urban beekeepers through a HONEY (Honeybee Oriented Nextgen Entrepreneurs and Youth) Pathway.

He is collaborating with Kelly Nash and Amelia King-Kostelac, professors in the UTSA College of Sciences, on the creation of the program. This work is supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program (NEXTGEN).”

“This prestigious grant will allow me and my colleagues Kelly Nash and Amelia King-Kostelac to establish a HONEY Pathway to educate our UTSA students,” Ozturk said. “This federal award will provide various opportunities to educate the students about the importance of beekeeping and explore the medicinal properties of local honey. A major goal of this generous grant is to provide workforce training that will expand the opportunity for underrepresented students to pursue USDA career paths.”

The Medicinal Properties of Honey course is among a host of research opportunities offered by the integrative biology department’s Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) partnerships.

CUREs offer several key features that traditional lab and field courses may lack, such as having students conduct original research that is of interest to stakeholders outside of the classroom and ensuring that students are involved in the iterative research process, repeatedly problem-solving and troubleshooting as needed and generating new questions and research directions. These research experiences include everything from uncovering novel viruses, decoding genetic pathways, discovering new sources of antibiotics and more.

“I love everything I’ve learned so far,” Garcia said. “I was drawn to the course because of the research, and I found the CUREs program provided the opportunity to learn about the research process. There’s been so many opportunities. I’ve gotten to connect with so many people from beekeepers to businesspeople.”

Throughout the course, Ozturk witnessed enthusiasm grow as students delved into research and began to consider honey as a medical treatment to carry into their career paths. The grant, he said, will strengthen hands-on learning experiences for UTSA student and encourage students toward completing their higher education.

King-Kostelac added that these hands-on research and applied learning experiences will prepare UTSA students for career opportunities within the agriculture and STEM fields.

The five-year grant will cultivate future leaders in the field about beekeeping and the medicinal properties of honey through seminars, research projects, apprenticeships, internships, workshops and a CURE course. These opportunities, Ozturk said, will provide students with a well-versed understanding of honey’s benefits/applications in various sectors of education, industry and government.

“The HONEY Pathway program is designed to provide our students with the necessary tools to tackle the most pressing issues confronting the U.S. agricultural industry. Uniquely, our program aims to broaden the diversity of the workforce and grow entrepreneurship that will advance the mission of the USDA,” Nash added.

The efforts will also reach local high schools, where STEM teachers will be trained to implement honey-based courses into curriculum to inspire younger students.

“As we educate future generations of diverse students, who are majorly interested in health sciences, the honey will have a better place as a treatment option in different fields of medicine. Sooner or later, medical-grade local honeys will reach their deserved position as a frontline therapeutic ailment as we pave the way for the HONEY Pathway,” said Ozturk.