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Posts Tagged ‘Bees’

I thought this situation had gone away.

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

I guess it hasn’t.

Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply.

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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 van Engelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.

honeybee(Please don’t leave us!)

“Many entomologists and pest management professionals have been saying for years that there is no pest management justification for using these insecticides on virtually every crop grown in North America,” said Agricultural entomologist Christian Krupke of Purdue University. “Yet, the opposite trend is occurring.”

The honeybee catastrophe could also signal problems in other pollinator species, such as bumblebees and butterflies, that are not often studied.

“Thinking of honeybees as our canary in the coal mine, a monitor for environmental conditions, is very appropriate,” said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster at Pennsylvania State University. “With honeybee colonies, you have the ability to open them up and see what’s going on. There are many other species needed for pollination, but with most of those, we don’t have the ability to see what’s happening.”

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A year or two ago, I asked an entomologist friend of mine what he thought the reason was behind honeybee hive/colony collapse syndrome. He looked around, leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “I think it’s the rapture… and the bees went first!” I love nerd humour! 🙂

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BUG ROBOTS GET JOBS

Well, this is interesting. Turns out science is harnessing the power of robotics to create new “robot bugs” designed to crawl, fly, and squirm their way into tight spaces humans can’t.

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These robots can theoretically do the dirty jobs people don’t want to do – innovation!

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Check out the full article here. Below are some pictures of the prototypes and no, this isn’t an April Fool’s day prank (I checked.)

aa-kendo-kanji-red

The Bug Enthusiast

Well, this is interesting. Turns out science is harnessing the power of robotics to create new “robot bugs” designed to crawl, fly, and squirm their way into tight spaces humans can’t. These robots can theoretically do the dirty jobs people don’t want to do – innovation!

Check out the full article here. Below are some pictures of the prototypes and no, this isn’t an April Fool’s day prank (I checked.)

 

robo-bee-1robo-roach-1

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We all know that bees do the most amazing things. They set up intricate societies. They wage war on other bee colonies. They clear their beehives of debris and dead bee bodies.

But perhaps one of their most famous talents is the ability to communicate with other bees by means of a ‘wiggle dance’ by which they tell fellow bees via sign language where, for example, the good flowers are located.

Well, according to a recent article in the wonderfully named website, TreeHugger.com, it turns out that bees don’t only communicate with other bees. They can use body language to ward off enemies, like bee-eating hornets.

(Hornets… the honeybee’s enemy!)

New research that suggests honeybees also send ‘sign language’ signals to predators, warning would-be raiding hornets that they have been spotted and they’d better back off. And the best thing is the fact that these signals actually work!

The researchers described how the bees shook their abdomens when a hornet approached, a signal that triggered the hornet to retreat.

They published their findings in the journal Animal Behaviour.

(Hornet attempting an ill-advised landing at a local honeybee cluster)

As reported by the BBC:

Researchers already knew of this “characteristic shaking signal”, in which all the guards bees simultaneously vibrate their abdomens from side-to-side for a few seconds when a hornet approaches the colony. In the wild, this produces a spectacular “Mexican wave” of vibrating bees.

This study, carried out on a small bee hive, revealed the hornets (Vespa velutina) responded directly to the bees’ shaking signal. Warned wasps would retreat from the colony and try to catch bees in flight instead. To find this out, the researchers tethered live hornets to lengths of wire and held them at a variety of distances from the hive entrance. The closer the tethered hornet was held to the hive, the more intensely the bee guards shook their bodies. To confirm that the bees were specifically “talking to” the hornets with this signal, the team carried out the same tethering experiment with a harmless butterfly species (Papilio xuthus).

And what would happen if a foolhardy hornet decided to forgo the warning and try to make it into the hive?

(Uh oh! I got a bad feeling about this!)

“If a hornet lands at the hive entrance,” say the researchers, “it is pounced on by the guards, which then form a dense ball of up to 500 bees around the hornet.”

This kills the hornet with a combination of heat and suffocation. A pretty grizzly end, for sure.

So take heed, hornets, and think twice before you start up with the honeybees.

That extended finger may be the last thing you see!

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As if Honeybee Hive Collapse Disorder alone wasn’t enough.

Now we have to contend with…

ZOMBIE HONEY BEES!!

(OK… OK… maybe they don’t actually literally say “Brains!”)

A fly parasite that latches onto honeybees causing them to abandon their hives and die after a bout of disoriented zombie-like behaviour could be a potential threat to honeybee colonies across North America, according to researchers at San Francisco State University.

John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, collected some dead bees from the ground underneath lights around the University’s biology building. “But being an absent-minded professor,” he noted in a prepared statement, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them.” He soon got a shock. “The next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees,” he said. A fly (Apocephalus borealis) had inserted its eggs into the bees, using their bodies as a home for its developing larvae. And the invaders had somehow led the bees from their hives to their deaths.

In other words, the fly deposits its eggs into a bee’s abdomen. After being parasitized by the fly, the bees abandon their hives, often at night, to congregate near lights.  Bees that left the hives at night were more likely to have the parasite than those that foraged during the day.

“When we observed the bees for some time — the ones that were alive — we found that they walked around in circles, often with no sense of direction… they kept stretching [their legs] out and then falling over,” said Andrew Core, biology graduate student at San Francisco State University and co-author of the study.  “It really painted a picture of something like a zombie.”

(Eeeww, gross! Apocephalus borealis fly larva emerges from a host honey bee)

After about seven days, fly larvae push their way out from between the bee’s head and thorax. Kinda like that scene in Alien! Usually bees just sit in one place, sometimes curling up before they die.

Researchers aren’t sure how to prevent the parasitization because it’s not clear where the flies are latching onto the bees. It’s likely that it’s happening when the bees are foraging because flies aren’t hanging around the beehives, said Hafernik.

OK… it’s gross for the bees but so what. There are tons of examples of insects planting their tiny tots-to-be inside other insects.

Well… I am so glad you asked!

Genetic testing of parasitized hives showed that both bees and flies were often infected with a deformed wing virus and a fungus called Nosema ceranae. Some researchers have pointed to the fungus and virus as the potential catalysts in colony collapse disorder. Hive abandonment is the primary characteristic of the disorder.

Aha!! I knew it. Zombies are behind Colony Collapse Syndrome. Similar to a real life zombie apocalypse which brings about a societal collapse and causes non-infected humans to flee cities, so too a zombie infestation in a bee hive causes its own society collapse resulting in abandonment of the hive. Or at least, that is one possible theory.

All the more reason to be prepared, people, for The Upcoming Zombie Apocalypse!

So far, the fly parasite Apocephalus borealis has only been found in honeybee hives in California and South Dakota.

But this is no reason to become complacent.

Get a kit. Make a plan. Be prepared!

What you don’t know… can eat you!

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