Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category

By Sarah Fecht

You’ve probably heard the news that our nation’s bees are in trouble. Pollinators have been disappearing for decades, and the population crash could threaten the global food supply. Now, a small city in Iowa has decided to do something about it.

This spring, Cedar Rapids (population: 130,000) will seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. The city’s plan is to eventually create 1,000 acres of bee paradise by planting these pollinator-friendly foodstuffs.

Scientists think the pollinator crisis is caused by a variety of factors, including pesticides, pathogens, and climate change. Meanwhile, with farms, parking lots, mowed lawns, and other human developments replacing wildflower fields, bees have been losing habitat and their food supply. While many of the drivers behind bee population decline remain mysterious, the people of Cedar Rapids hope to at least give pollinators places to perch and plants to feed on.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative (http://www.cedar-rapids.org/residents/parks_and_recreation/pollinator_and_natural_resources_initiatives.php#Acre) grew out of a partnership with the Monarch Research Project(MRP), whose goal is to restore monarch butterfly populations. It was Cedar Rapids Park Superintendent Daniel Gibbins who proposed converting 1,000 acres into pollinator habitat over five years. So far, the project has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the MRP.

“With the agricultural boom around 100 years ago, about 99.9 percent of all the native habitat of Iowa has been lost,” says Gibbins, who is spearheading the project. “When you convert it back to what was originally native Iowa, you’re going to help a lot more than just native pollinators. You’re helping birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals—everything that’s native here relies on native vegetation.”

Prairie revival

Cedar Rapids has developed a special mix of grasses and wildflowers to help restore that native habitat. The seed mix includes 39 species of wildflowers, and 7 species of native prairie grasses. While bees and butterflies are mostly attracted to the flowers, the hardy prairie grasses will prevent weeds and invasive species from moving in and choking out the flowers.

Gibbins and his team have catalogued all the unused public land where they could potentially plant the flowers and grasses. The list includes not only the rarely frequented corners of parks, golf courses, and the local airport, but also sewage ditches, water retention basins, and roadway right-of-ways, totaling nearly 500 acres. Cedar Rapids is working with other cities within the county to reach its 1,000-acre target.

Before they can seed the land with the special pollinator plant mix, Gibbins’ crew has to “knock back the undesirable vegetation.” That means mowing down, burning off, or in some cases applying herbicide to get rid of grass, weeds, and invasive species. They’ll lay down the special seed mixture in the spring and fall.

“You can’t just seed them and walk away,” says Gibbins. Although the pollinator habitat will be lower maintenance than a green turf that needs to be mown every week, the prairie grasses will require some care, including mowing once a year or burning every few years.

Everyone can help

You don’t need to have 1,000 spare acres to help bees and butterflies. Even devoting a few square feet of your garden—or even a few small planters—to wildflowers native to your area could make a difference, says Gibbins.

“When creating pollinator gardens, the most important thing is to have a big diversity of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall,” says Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist at the University of Arizona and author of The Reason for Flowers. (Buchmann isn’t involved in the 1,000 Acre Initiative.)

Buchmann recommends against using herbicides or insecticides, or, if necessary, applying them at night when bees aren’t active. Providing nesting sites for certain bee species can help, too.

“People think they’ll just plant the wildflowers and the bees will come,” he says. “And that’s true in some cases, but the smaller the bee is, the less far it can fly. Some can only fly a few hundred meters.”

Some species nest in hard substrates, like the bare ground (bees hate mulch, says Buchmann), or in holes that you can drill in adobe or earthen bricks. Others nestle in sand pits or dead wood that’s been tunneled through by beetles. And it helps to have mud and water on the premises. The Xerces Society has a handy how-to guide on creating homes for bees.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative is still looking into funding for the next four years, and they don’t expect to see huge jumps in the number of pollinators immediately. But Cedar Rapids is confident it will help, and they hope the project will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

And if enough local businesses and private landowners get involved, there’s no reason to stop at 1,000 acres, says Gibbins. “There’s a big push to extend this initiative up to maybe 10,000 acres in Linn County.”

http://www.popsci.com/Cedar-Rapids-Iowa-save-bee-pollinator#page-4

by Amina Khan

One day, gardeners might not just hear the buzz of bees among their flowers, but the whirr of robots, too. Scientists in Japan say they’ve managed to turn an unassuming drone into a remote-controlled pollinator by attaching horsehairs coated with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly.

The system, described in the journal Chem, is nowhere near ready to be sent to agricultural fields, but it could help pave the way to developing automated pollination techniques at a time when bee colonies are suffering precipitous declines.

In flowering plants, sex often involves a threesome. Flowers looking to get the pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts need an envoy to carry it from one to the other. Those third players are animals known as pollinators — a diverse group of critters that includes bees, butterflies, birds and bats, among others.

Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Chief among those are bees — but many bee populations in the United States have been in steep decline in recent decades, likely due to a combination of factors, including agricultural chemicals, invasive species and climate change. Just last month, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bee in the United States to be listed as an endangered species (although the Trump administration just put a halt on that designation).

Thus, the decline of bees isn’t just worrisome because it could disrupt ecosystems, but also because it could disrupt agriculture and the economy. People have been trying to come up with replacement techniques, the study authors say, but none of them are especially effective yet — and some might do more harm than good.

“One pollination technique requires the physical transfer of pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab from male to female flowers,” the authors wrote. “Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort. Another approach uses a spray machine, such as a gun barrel and pneumatic ejector. However, this machine pollination has a low pollination success rate because it is likely to cause severe denaturing of pollens and flower pistils as a result of strong mechanical contact as the pollens bursts out of the machine.”

Scientists have thought about using drones, but they haven’t figured out how to make free-flying robot insects that can rely on their own power source without being attached to a wire.

“It’s very tough work,” said senior author Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Miyako’s particular contribution to the field involves a gel, one he’d considered a mistake 10 years before. The scientist had been attempting to make fluids that could be used to conduct electricity, and one attempt left him with a gel that was as sticky as hair wax. Clearly this wouldn’t do, and so Miyako stuck it in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle. When it was rediscovered a decade later, it looked exactly the same – the gel hadn’t dried up or degraded at all.

“I was so surprised, because it still had a very high viscosity,” Miyako said.

The chemist noticed that when dropped, the gel absorbed an impressive amount of dust from the floor. Miyako realized this material could be very useful for picking up pollen grains. He took ants, slathered the ionic gel on some of them and let both the gelled and ungelled insects wander through a box of tulips. Those ants with the gel were far more likely to end up with a dusting of pollen than those that were free of the sticky substance.

The next step was to see if this worked with mechanical movers, as well. He and his colleagues chose a four-propeller drone whose retail value was $100, and attached horsehairs to its smooth surface to mimic a bee’s fuzzy body. They coated those horsehairs in the gel, and then maneuvered the drones over Japanese lilies, where they would pick up the pollen from one flower and then deposit the pollen at another bloom, thus fertilizing it.

The scientists looked at the hairs under a scanning electron microscope and counted up the pollen grains attached to the surface. They found that the robots whose horsehairs had been coated with the gel had on the order of 10 times more pollen than those hairs that had not been coated with the gel.

“A certain amount of practice with remote control of the artificial pollinator is necessary,” the study authors noted.

Miyako does not think such drones would replace bees altogether, but could simply help bees with their pollinating duties.

“In combination is the best way,” he said.

There’s a lot of work to be done before that’s a reality, however. Small drones will need to become more maneuverable and energy efficient, as well as smarter, he said — with better GPS and artificial intelligence, programmed to travel in highly effective search-and-pollinate patterns.

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-robot-bees-20170209-story.html#pt0-805728

by Merrit Kennedy

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given endangered status to seven species of yellow-faced bees native to the Hawaiian islands. These are “the first bees in the country to be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” according to the Xerces Society, which advocated for the new designation.

The new rule designating protections for the bees, published Friday in the Federal Register, states that yellow-faced bees are known “for their yellow-to-white facial markings.” They look like small wasps, according to the rule, except for their “plumose [branched] hairs on the body that are longest on the sides of the thorax, which readily distinguish them from wasps.”

The yellow-faced bee is the only bee native to Hawaii, meaning that it was able to reach the Hawaiian Islands on its own, according to a fact sheet provided by the University of Hawaii’s Master Gardner Program. “From that one original colonist they evolved into 63 known endemic species, about 10% of the world’s yellow-faced bees and more than are found in this genus in all of North America.”

But the populations of these seven species are getting smaller and smaller, according to Fish and Wildlife. For example, the Hylaeus anthracinus was once found in dozens of locations around Hawaii but is now in only 15 — while Hylaeus hilaris and Hylaeus kuakea are each found only in one location.

The seven endangered species are impacted by a wide variety of threats, including habitat destruction because of urbanization or nonnative animals, the introduction of nonnative plant species, wildfires, nonnative predators and natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis and drought.

The protected status “will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources,” as Gregory Koob of the Fish and Wildlife Service told The Associated Press. He added that “all federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when interacting with endangered species.”

The Xerces Society called the new rule “excellent news” but added that “there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive.”

“These bees are often found in small patches of habitat hemmed in by agricultural land or developments,” the group said. “Unfortunately, the [Fish and Wildlife Service] has not designated any ‘critical habitat’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”

As we’ve reported, pollinators are under threat around the world. A U.N.-sponsored report released in February found that “about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction.” This could have major implications for world food supply, because “about 75 percent of the world’s food crops … depend at least partly on pollination.”

Despite the threats, the University of Hawaii says these bees “have managed to persist with amazing tenacity.” While this group of species is now endangered, new species of the genus are discovered regularly — “11 new native species have been found in the past 15 years.”

The rule, which goes into effect at the end of the month, also gives the endangered designation to 39 plant species found on the islands and to three other animals native to Hawaii — the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, and the anchialine pool shrimp.

The anchialine pool shrimp is known for its unusual longevity — according to the Hawaii Nature Journal, the shrimp can live for 10 to 15 years in the wild.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/03/496402620/bee-species-added-to-u-s-endangered-species-list-for-1st-time

Bumblebees use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions.

However, how they detect these fields has been a mystery – until now.

Mechanosensory hairs may explain how bumblebees sense electric signals transmitted by flowers, says a team of scientists at the University of Bristol, UK.

Focusing on the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), Bristol scientists tested two potential mechanisms that would allow the insects to detect electric fields through the insulating medium of dry air: deflections of either the antenna or hairs.

Using a laser to measure vibrations, they found that both the antenna and mechanosensory hairs deflect in response to an electric field, but the hairs move more rapidly and with overall greater displacements.

They then looked at the bumblebees’ nervous system, finding that only the hairs alerted their nervous system to this signal.

“This ability may arise from the low mass and high stiffness of bumblebee hairs, the rigid, lever-like motion of which resembles acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae,” the researchers said.

Noting that mechanosensory hairs are common in arthropods, they suggest that electroreception could be a widespread phenomenon that provides insects with a variety of currently unrecognized abilities.

“We were excited to discover that bumblebees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair,” said lead author Dr. Gregory Sutton from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences.

“A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”

“Scientists are particularly interested in understanding how floral signals are perceived, received and acted upon by bees as they are critical pollinators of our crops,” he added.

“Research into these relationships has revealed the co-evolution of flowers and their pollinators, and has led to the unraveling of this important network which keeps our planet green.”

The team’s findings have been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

http://www.sci-news.com/biology/bumblebees-hairs-detect-floral-electric-fields-03909.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BreakingScienceNews+%28Breaking+Science+News%29

by Dan Charles

According to a new survey of America’s beekeepers, almost a third of the country’s honeybee colonies did not make it through the winter.

That’s been the case, in fact, almost every year since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began this annual survey, six years ago.

Over the past six years, on average, 30 percent of all the honeybee colonies in the U.S. died off over the winter. The worst year was five years ago. Last year was the best: Just 22 percent of the colonies died.

“Last year gave us some hope,” says Jeffrey Pettis, research leader of the Agriculture Department’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

But this year, the death rate was up again: 31 percent.

Six years ago, beekeepers were talking a lot about “colony collapse disorder” — colonies that seemed pretty healthy, but suddenly collapsed. The bees appeared to have flown away, abandoning their hives.

Beekeepers aren’t seeing that so much anymore, Pettis says. They’re mostly seeing colonies that just dwindle. As the crowd of bees gets smaller, it gets weaker.

“They can’t generate heat very well in the spring to rear brood. They can’t generate heat to fly,” he says.

Farmers who grow crops like almonds, blueberries and apples rely on commercial beekeepers to make sure their crops get pollinated.

But the number of honeybees has now dwindled to the point where there may not be enough to pollinate those crops.

Pettis says that this year, farmers came closer than ever to a true pollination crisis. The only thing that saved part of the almond crop in California was some lovely weather at pollination time.

“We got incredibly good flight weather,” Pettis says. “So even those small colonies that can’t fly very well in cool weather, they were able to fly because of good weather.”

Pettis says beekeepers can afford to lose only about 15 percent of their colonies each year. More than that, and the business won’t be viable for long. Some commercial beekeepers are still in business, he says, just because they love it.

“It’s just something that gets in your blood, so you don’t want to give up. [You say,] ‘OK, it’s 30 percent this year; I’ll do better next year.’ We’re very much optimists,” he says.

Beekeepers have a whole list of reasons for why so many colonies are dying. There’s a nasty parasite called the Varroa Mite, which they can’t get rid of. There are also bee-killing pesticides. And there are just fewer places in the country where a bee can find plenty of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen.

That was especially true this past year. The same drought that left Midwestern corn fields parched and wilting also dried up wildflowers and starved the bees.

That was a natural disaster. But May Berenbaum, who chairs the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that most of the changes in the landscape are the result of people’s decisions about what to do with their land.

“I just wish there were more incentives for people — not just farmers — to plant a more diversified landscape that provides nutritional resources for all kinds of pollinators,” she says. “Plant more flowers! And be a little more tolerant of the weeds in the garden.”

More controversial is the role of pesticides. Some beekeepers and environmentalists are calling for tighter restrictions on the use of one particular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Europe is about to ban some uses of these pesticides. But U.S. farmers and pesticide companies are opposed to any such move here, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it’s not yet convinced that this would help bees very much.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/05/07/181990532/bee-deaths-may-have-reached-a-crisis-point-for-crops

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

bees-swarming-1

A swarm of about 30,000 bees attacked a North Texas couple as they exercised their miniature horses, stinging the animals so many times they died.

Kristen Beauregard, 44, was stung about 200 times, and her boyfriend about 50 times, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Saturday ( ). http://bit.ly/12RiVMA

But the horses, Chip and Trump, were so covered in bees they shimmered. Neither could be saved.

“They were chasing us down, they were following us,” Beauregard said of the incident Wednesday evening. “We swept up piles and piles of them … it was like a bad movie.”

The bees are being tested to see whether they are Africanized or “killer” bees. It is unclear what prompted them to leave the hive.

Beauregard was exercising Trump, a Shetland pony, when he started to jump and kick, she said. That is when a cloud of bees started stinging them all over. Trying to escape, she jumped in the pool and the horse followed.

“It got all dark, like it was nighttime there were so many bees,” she told the newspaper. “We were trying stand up in the water but every time we stuck our heads out for air, they would cover us and start stinging us. We were trying to breathe and they were stinging us in the face and in the nose.”

She escaped to the house, and her boyfriend called 911. Bees chased her, crashing into the windows of the house. Trump ran through the yard, rubbing against bushes in an attempt to wipe off the bees.

Beauregard’s boyfriend called 911 and firefighters arrived with special gear and a foam substance used to clear the bees. They were able to drag the horses to a pasture where police and paramedics tried to treat them.

Chip, a 6-year-old show horse, died before a veterinarian arrived. Trump was sedated and taken to equine veterinarian Patricia Tersteeg’s clinic.

“He was so overwhelmed by bites that his body could not handle it,” Tersteeg said. “That’s way too much for any 250-pound mammal to survive.”

The bees also killed five hens, and stung the couple’s dog.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/27/bee-attack-texas_n_3663964.html

bees

A Provo, Utah couple will sleep a little more soundly after a beekeeper removes a hive of tens of thousands of bees from inside their bedroom wall Saturday.

Tyler Judd and his wife moved into their home in Provo five months ago. They first noticed bees outside his home, then, late one night, he and his wife could hear them buzzing inside the walls.

“We were just sitting on our couch, turned off the TV and could hear some buzzing in the walls,” Judd said.

They called in a beekeeper, who located a colony of about 40,000 bees in the wall of the Judd’s master bedroom Friday.

The colony, said beekeeper Al Chubak, was causing bigger trouble to the home than just building their hive, as it was sending swarms to further colonize the area and removing insulation from the home’s interior.

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/article/243538/108/40000-bees-found-inside-Utah-homes-wall