Posts about bees

Insect Architecture

In this webcast The Brain Scoop takes an interesting look at the homes of eusocial animals and other insects. The video includes many interesting details including that adult weaver ants can’t produce the silk used to weave leaves together so they pick up their larva and use them like a glue stick.

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostWhy Don’t All Ant Species Replace Queens in the Colony, Since Some DoSymbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaHuge Termite Mound in Nigeria

Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants

photo of farmer in front of beehive fence in Botswana

Another cool use of appropriate technology. One of the problems with Elephants in Africa is when they go into farm fields and eat crops and destroy crops. The elephants and bees project is helping farmers deal with that problem.

By doing so they eliminate the need of farmers to protect their crops by killing elephant. The project uses bees natural behavior and elephants natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out.

The beehives are hung on wires stretched between fenceposts around the farm. If an elephant bumps into the wires to try and enter the farm the bees will swarm and the elephants will run away (and the elephants will send an warning to other elephants to stay away). The fences are being used in Africa and India.

And this fence also produces honey. You can donate to the project to help elephants, bees and people.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantElephant Underpass in KenyaUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasFighting Elephant Poaching With Science (2007)Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying (2013)

Lactic Acid Bacteria in Bees Counteracted Antibiotic-Resistant MRSA in Lab Experiments

13 lactic acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees have shown promising results as an antibiotic treatment in a series of studies at Lund University in Sweden (Open access paper: Lactic acid bacterial symbionts in honeybees – an unknown key to honey’s antimicrobial and therapeutic activities). The group of bacteria counteracted antibiotic-resistant MRSA in lab experiments. The bacteria, mixed into honey, has healed horses with persistent wounds. The formula has also previously been shown to protect against bee colony collapse.

photo of a bee on a flower

Photo by Justin Hunter

Raw honey has been used against infections for millennia, before honey – as we now know it – was manufactured and sold in stores. So what is the key to its’ antimicrobial properties? Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria found in fresh honey, from the honey stomach of bees. The bacteria produce a myriad of active antimicrobial compounds.

These lactic acid bacteria have now been tested on severe human wound pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), among others. When the lactic acid bacteria were applied to the pathogens in the laboratory, it counteracted all of them.

While the effect on human bacteria has only been tested in a lab environment thus far, the lactic acid bacteria has been applied directly to horses with persistent wounds. The LAB was mixed with honey and applied to ten horses; where the owners had tried several other methods to no avail. All of the horses’ wounds were healed by the mixture.

The researchers believe the secret to the strong results lie in the broad spectrum of active substances involved.

“Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria. When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat. It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees’ health and honey against other harmful microorganisms. However, since store-bought honey doesn’t contain the living lactic acid bacteria, many of its unique properties have been lost in recent times”, explains Tobias Olofsson.

This is a very cool: “When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat.” As is the note that store bought honey doesn’t contain the living bacteria. My guess is some honey bought directly from farmers or bee-keepers, at farmer’s markets may well still have those live bacteria – but I am just guessing I may be wrong.

The next step is further studies to investigate wider clinical use against topical human infections as well as on animals.

The findings have implications for developing countries, where fresh honey is easily available, but also for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is seriously increasing.

Related: People are Superorganisms With Microbiomes of Thousands of SpeciesThe Search for Antibiotic Solutions Continues: Killing Sleeper Bacteria CellsOur Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great RisksPotential Antibiotic Alternative to Treat Infection Without Resistance
Continue reading

Another Bee Study Finds CCD is Likely Due to Combination of Factors Including Pesticides

Abstract of open access science paper funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae:

Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health.

We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees’ susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers’ roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling.

Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.

Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

The attempts to discover the main causes of bee colony deaths and find solutions continues to prove difficult years after the problems became major. The complex interaction of many variables makes it difficult. And special interest groups pushing pesticides and the like, which have seemed to be major contributors to the problem for years, make it even more difficult (by preventing restrictions on potentially damaging pesticide use).

The challenges in determining what is killing bees are similar to the challenges of discovering what practices are damaging human health. The success of studying complex biological interactions (to discover threats to human health) is extremely limited. I am concerned we are far too caviler about using large numbers of interventions (drugs, pesticides, massive antibiotics use in factory farms, pollution…).

Related: Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep DyingGermany Bans Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths (2008)Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse Disorder (2007)Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying

For years the bee colony collapse disorder has been showing the difficulty of the scientific inquiry process. And that difficulty often becomes more difficult if interests with lots of money at stake want to block certain conclusions.

One-Third of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter, Threatening Food Supply

Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.

Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.

Most losses reported in the latest survey, however, don’t actually fit the CCD profile. And though CCD is largely undocumented in western Europe, honeybee losses there have also been dramatic. In fact, CCD seems to be declining, even as total losses mount. The honeybees are simply dying.

“Even if CCD went away, we’d still have tremendous losses,” said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster at Pennsylvania State University. “CCD losses are like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The system has many other issues.”

Continue reading

How Bee Hives Make Decisions

The Secret Life of Bees by Carl Zimmer

The decision-making power of honeybees is a prime example of what scientists call swarm intelligence. Clouds of locusts, schools of fish, flocks of birds and colonies of termites display it as well. And in the field of swarm intelligence, Seeley is a towering figure. For 40 years he has come up with experiments that have allowed him to decipher the rules honeybees use for their collective decision-making. “No one has reached the level of experimentation and ingenuity of Tom Seeley,” says Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University.

Enthusiasm translates into attention. An enthusiastic scout will inspire more bees to go check out her site. And when the second-wave scouts return, they persuade more scouts to investigate the better site.

The second principle is flexibility. Once a scout finds a site, she travels back and forth from site to hive. Each time she returns, she dances to win over other scouts. But the number of dance repetitions declines, until she stops dancing altogether. Seeley and his colleagues found that honeybees that visit good sites keep dancing for more trips than honeybees from mediocre ones.

This decaying dance allows a swarm to avoid getting stuck in a bad decision. Even when a mediocre site has attracted a lot of scouts, a single scout returning from a better one can cause the hive to change its collective mind.

“Bees are to hives as neurons are to brains,” says Jeffrey Schall, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. Neurons use some of the same tricks honeybees use to come to decisions. A single visual neuron is like a single scout. It reports about a tiny patch of what we see, just as a scout dances for a single site. Different neurons may give us conflicting ideas about what we’re actually seeing, but we have to quickly choose between the alternatives. That red blob seen from the corner of your eye may be a stop sign, or it may be a car barreling down the street.

To make the right choice, our neurons hold a competition, and different coalitions recruit more neurons to their interpretation of reality, much as scouts recruit more bees

Very cool stuff.

Related: Honeybees Warn Others of RisksWasps Used to Detect ExplosivesStudy of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

I can understand why people get complacent. We have a pretty remarkable run of science and technology finding solutions for whatever peril we face.

Also, quite often, future risks are over-blown. Then, people get habituated to reading ominous predictions, followed by a future doesn’t seem to reach those dramatic predictions. But this is a risky pattern to just expect – that no matter what we will figure out some way to avoid the consequences.

Risks actually do come true. The obvious result of overfishing, just as predicted, has resulted in collapses of fish populations over and over creating great hardship for those who had fallen victim to that prediction. If people don’t vaccinate themselves (and their kids) we will have ever increasing numbers of deaths and sickness. If we fail to use anti-biotics is a long term sustainable way, our actions will result in many deaths.

I am not sure why we find it so easy to ignore the evidence of bad consequences but we do. Partially I would imagine that as problems begin to be manifest countermeasures take affect. So in the fishing example, many people leave that line of work and so the numbers in the industry after a collapse, who are suffering in the present, are reduced. Still I find it odd how easily we ignore the risks in the future.

I do understand if there are short term benefits to ignoring the risks (or pretending they don’t exist): so you have fisherman that don’t want to take steps in advance to avoid collapse. Or you have industries and politicians that want to pretend ignoring global warming is a strategy to avoid the consequences. Or you have parents that say, well today we don’t have many risks of sicknesses people get vaccinated against (yes, because people have been vaccinated – if you stop vaccinating your children they we get to experience the avoidable pain and suffering).

I have been following the honeybee colony collapse disorder for several years (see the end of the posts for links to posts from 2006 – 2010, like this one The Study of Bee Colony Collapses Continues from 2007). It is a great example of the scientific inquiry process. It is messy and confusing and full of studies that have trouble finding what the actually causes are or what solutions will work.

There are occasionally mentions of how devestating things could get if the trend continues. In fact stories that seem so devestating that they just don’t seem real. surely either that won’t happen or if it started to some countermeasure would be found to deal with the problem and avoid the most severe consequences. That is basially how I have felt about it. But that is not because of some scientific understanding but just a feeling that hey that couldn’t really happen. Well that isn’t exactly solid evidence that it can’t.

Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’

In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.

farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops’ production — a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.” In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that “if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.” But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser — who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.

I believe this is the latest advise of the Unites States Department of Agriculture (though their web site doesn’t make it nearly as obvious as it should that this is in fact the current advice – the document seems to indicate it is but if someone were to say no, that is outdated, it wouldn’t be hard to believe)

Continue reading

8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal

Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project [Blackawton Bees] called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves.

The class (including Lotto’s son, Misha) came up with their own questions, devised hypotheses, designed experiments, and analysed data. They wrote the paper themselves (except for the abstract), and they drew all the figures with colouring pencils.
It’s a refreshing approach to science education, in that it actually involves doing science.

The children designed a Plexiglas cube with two entrances and a four-panelled light box in the middle. Each panel had 16 coloured lights, illuminated in clear patterns of blue and yellow. Each light had a feeder that dispensed either delicious sugar water or repulsive salty water. Once the bees had learned to drink from the feeders, the kids turned the lights on.

Absolutely great stuff. This is how to engage kids in science. Engage their inquisitive minds. Let them get involved. Let them experiment.

Some of the children’s questions when looking at what to discover using experiments:

What if… we could find out how much effort the bees will go through in order to get a reward? For instance, they have to move something heavy out of the way to get a reward.

What if… we could discover if bees can learn to go to certain colours depending on how sweet they are?

What if… we could find out how many colours they could remember?

Related: Playing Dice and Children’s NumeracyKids on Scientists: Before and AfterTest it Out, Experiment by They Might Be GiantsWhat Kids can LearnTinker School: Engineering CampTeen diagnoses her own disease in science class

And some of their comments:
Continue reading

White House Bee Hive

The White House added a bee hive last year. An Excellent White House Bee Adventure

On Tuesday, March 24, [2009] the first known hive of bees at the White House arrived at their location on the South Lawn. You don’t have to count on my crummy photo to see them: just stop by the fence on the Ellipse (south) side: two deeps and a medium of Maryland mixed breed bees, with known Russian and Caucasian genetics.

During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama emphasized healthy, local food, and since arriving here has tasked her family’s personal chef, Sam Kass, with putting a garden in to supply fresh produce for the Executive Mansion and educational events for the community. Charlie realized that this was a chance to include bees, and to show their important role in putting one of every three bites on your plate. Charlie allocated (free of charge, people!) one of his own hives for the White House Victory Garden, and it will both provide hive products and an teaching opportunities.

Related: Bee Colony Collapse ContinuesVirus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Collapse DisorderPresident Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringBye Bye BeesThe Great Sunflower Project

Bee Colonies Continue to Collapse

The activity to find the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder provides a view into the scientific inquiry process of complex living systems. Finding answers is not easy.

Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country’s estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.

It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination.

Potential causes range from parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods.

“We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies,” said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS’s bee research laboratory.

“It’s getting worse,” he said. “The AIA survey doesn’t give you the full picture because it is only measuring losses through the winter. In the summer the bees are exposed to lots of pesticides. Farmers mix them together and no one has any idea what the effects might be.” Pettis agreed that losses in some commercial operations are running at 50% or greater.

High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health (open access paper on the topic, March 2010)

The 98 pesticides and metabolites detected in mixtures up to 214 ppm in bee pollen alone represents a remarkably high level for toxicants in the brood and adult food of this primary pollinator. This represents over half of the maximum individual pesticide incidences ever reported for apiaries. While exposure to many of these neurotoxicants elicits acute and sublethal reductions in honey bee fitness, the effects of these materials in combinations and their direct association with CCD or declining bee health remains to be determined.

Related: Solving the Mystery of the Vanishing BeesVirus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse DisorderBye Bye Bees

Honeybees Warn Others of Risks

Honeybees warn of risky flowers

They trained honeybees to visit two artificial flowers containing the same amount and concentration of food. They left one flower untouched, making it a “safe” food source for the bees.

On the other flower, they placed the bodies of two dead bees, so they were visible to arriving insects, but would not interfere with their foraging. They then recorded whether and how the bees performed a waggle dance on their return to other members of the hive colony.

On average, bees returning from safe flowers performed 20 to 30 times more waggle runs that bees returning from dangerous flowers.

That shows that the bees recognise that certain flowers carry a higher risk of being killed or eaten by predators, such as crab spiders or other spider species that ambush visiting bees.

Related: Scientists Search for Clues To Bee MysteryThe Study of Bee Colony Collapses Continues

  • Recent Comments:

    • Jack Lawson: Wow! Awesome article and very entertaining story about insects. Animals are awesome! Keep it...
    • Mehmet: I think governments should encourage people for such initiatives.
    • Anonymous: It looks like a bird like a woodpecker. I do not know the name, but I have a perfect creation.
    • David: Very interesting story about the architecture of insects. They create very interesting shapes.
    • Mon Roi: Instead of marketing DVD sets or VHS sets or whatever else they just give it up for free. There is...
    • Gebze Pansiyon: Woww…. what a beautiful bird. I love the picture.
    • Vignesh P: very useful information.thank you for sharing It is so good blog !
    • Dustin McEarchern: Love the use of technology to improve lives. Really great story.
  • Recent Trackbacks:

  • Links