Bees: How Important Are They and What Would Happen If They Were Extinct?

The Conversation - I Need to Know August 19, 2019

How important are bees and what will happen when they go extinct? Is there research into what is killing them? I’ve been told it’s weed killers… – Tink, aged 18, Cornwall, UK.

Bees – including honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees – are very important because they pollinate food crops. Pollination is where insects move pollen from one plant to another, fertilising the plants so that they can produce fruit, vegetables, seeds and so on. If all the bees went extinct, it would destroy the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystem and affect global food supplies.

There are more than 800 wild bee species within Europe, seven of which are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered. A further 46 are endangered, 24 are vulnerable and 101 are near threatened. While it’s unlikely that all bee species will be wiped out anytime soon, losing these threatened species would still have a big impact on pollination around the world, wiping out plant species, some of which we rely on for our food.


I Need To Know is a series by The Conversation, which gives teenagers the chance to have their questions about the world answered by experts. Send your questions – along with your first name, age and the area where you live – to ineedtoknow@theconversation.com, or find out more ways to get in touch at the end of this article.


But the problem goes far beyond bees. In fact, honeybees are responsible for only one third of crop pollination and a very small proportion of the wild plant pollination. There are a diverse range of other insects including butterflies, bumblebees and small flies that do the rest of the work – and it looks like these insects are in trouble too.

A bumblebee, pulling it’s weight. Emily L Brown, Author provided

A bumblebee, pulling it’s weight. Emily L Brown, Author provided

A recent study suggests that as many as 40% of the world’s insect species are in decline. Insects are facing extinction rates that are eight times higher than vertebrates. In Germany, scientists have recorded losses of up to 75% of the total mass of insects in protected areas.

These trends lead scientists to believe that about a third of all insect species – that’s nearly 2m – may be threatened with extinction. And that figure is growing by over 100,000 species every year. Yet hard data on threatened insect species is lacking, with only 8,000 records actually assessed by the IUCN.

Here’s a rundown of what scientists believe to be the top causes of declines in insect diversity and abundance.

Invasive species

Invasive predators, parasites and disease-causing bacteria called “pathogens” have been blamed for the collapse of honeybee colonies around the world.

Recently, the spread of the Asian Hornet in Europe has caused great concern. This species preys on honey bees, and a single hornet is capable of killing an entire hive.

There is some evidence that wild bees in North America have declined in the face of fungal and bacterial diseases.



Of course, in the past bees have coexisted with these pathogens. The fact that scientists have seen more bees lost to these diseases in recent times is probably linked with the bees’ increased exposure to pesticides, which can damage their immune systems.

Pesticides

Pollution – particularly from exposure to pesticides – is a key cause of pollinator decline. There are three types of chemical pesticide widely used in the UK: insecticides targeting insect pests, fungicides targeting fungal pathogens of crops and herbicides targeting weeds.

Insecticides contain chemicals that can kill pollinators, so they’re clearly a threat. But they may not be the greatest problem pollinators experience. Herbicides are actually used five times as much in farming as insecticides. These weed killers target a huge variety of the wild plants that bees need to forage.

Environmentally-friendly farming schemes recommend planting wildflower strips on the edge of crops, to provide safe refuge and food sources for pollinators. Yet drifting clouds of herbicide from growing fields can contaminate these wildflower strips.

Wildflowers border farmland in Sussex, UK.  Shutterstock.

Wildflowers border farmland in Sussex, UK. Shutterstock.

The most cutting-edge research suggests glyphosate (the most commonly used weed killer) can impact the gut microbes of bees, which can have devastating implications for their health.

Although exposure to herbicides and pesticides used by farmers is likely to be one of the main causes of pollinator decline, the chemicals used by city authorities and civilian gardeners might also be harming bees and other insects. So, for the bees’ sake, it’s best to avoid using them where possible.

Climate change

Global warming is believed to be a major driver of wild bee declines. Some wild bees can only survive in a narrow range of temperatures. As their habitats get warmer, the places where they can live grow smaller. For example, some might be forced to live at higher altitudes, where it’s cooler, reducing the space they have to live in.

Habitat destruction

The way land is farmed has been associated with declines in biodiversity and pollination. Farming destroys the kinds of spaces that bees use to nest, it takes away the diversity of food that bees use to forage on and it even has wider impacts on other animals like wild birds, mammals and amphibians.

While countless insect species are currently going extinct, those that remain are taking their place, so it’s unlikely that crops will stop being pollinated any time soon. Generalist species such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, the European honey bee and common small black flies, which can survive in a huge range of temperatures and conditions, will become the main species pollinating our food sources, while rarer, more specialist species will decline.

But as generalist species move in to take the place space left by the losses of specialists, and complex ecosystems become dominated by a couple of generalists, the whole system becomes far more susceptible to a single sudden change. Insects form the base of many intricate food webs, their decline will result in a complex cascade of impacts on vertebrates, threatening ecological stability.

https://theconversation.com/bees-how-important-are-they-and-what-would-happen-if-they-went-extinct-121272

The Conversation:

The Conversation.jpg

If you’re a teenager aged 12 to 18, and you’ve got questions you’d like an expert to answer, send them our way! Include your first name, age and the area you live in. To get in touch, you can:

We have a huge pool of experts at our fingertips, and we can’t wait to share their knowledge with you.

The Laborious Honey Bee

BugSquad By Kathy Keatley Garvey September 9, 2019

Today is Labor Day 2019, a federal holiday celebrated the first Monday of September.

However, "the girls" are working, as they do every day of the year, weather permitting.

"The girls" are the worker honey bees.

Unless you keep bees or have access to a hive, you mostly see them foraging. But inside the hive, they are also nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.

They ensure the survival of the hive, but their life span is short.

"Worker bees live for approximately five to six weeks in the spring and summer," writes author and retired bee scientist and bee wrangler Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees."Those reared in the fall live for several months--long enough for the colony to survive the winter--and are replaced by young bees in late winter or early spring."

In peak season, a honey bee queen can lay 1500 to 2000 eggs a day, and most of them will be worker bees, the most needed of the three castes (queen, drone and worker) in the hive.  Although the smallest, but they do most of the work.  The queen is the egg layer. The drone's role is strictly reproduction.

Worker bees forage within four to five miles of their hive. If you provide no nectar or pollen sources in your yard, they'll go elsewhere.

Theirs is a dangerous occupation. No thanks to predators (such as birds, praying mantids and spiders) and pesticides, many do not return home at night.

Like to photograph them? Try the "magic hour," which occurs about an hour before the sun sets. We love photographing them on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The light is soft, warm and welcoming.

(Editor's Note: Interested in becoming a beekeeper or learning more about beekeeping? Be sure to check out the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The next course is on managing varroa mites, a major pest.)

Worker honey bee forages on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in the magic hour, the hour before sunset. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Worker honey bee forages on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in the magic hour, the hour before sunset. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the worker bee prepares to fly to another Tithonia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the worker bee prepares to fly to another Tithonia blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A worker bee takes flight, lifting over a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A worker bee takes flight, lifting over a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Agriculture’s Increasing Dependence On Pollination, Coupled With A Lack Of Crop Diversity, May Threaten Food Security And Stability

Catch the Buzz By Alan Harman August 12, 2019

agriculture.jpg

New research suggests global trends in farming practices are undermining the pollinators that crops depend on and putting agricultural productivity and stability at risk,

An international team of researchers has identified countries where agriculture’s increasing dependence on pollination, coupled with a lack of crop diversity, may threaten food security and economic stability.

The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first global assessment of the relationship between trends in crop diversity and agricultural dependence on pollinators.

Using annual data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization from 1961 to 2016, the study showed that the global area cultivated in crops that require pollination by bees and other insects expanded by 137%, while crop diversity increased by just 20.5%.

This imbalance is a problem, the researchers say, because agriculture dominated by just one or two types of crops only provides nutrition for pollinators during a limited window when the crops are blooming.

Maintaining agricultural diversity by cultivating a variety of crops that bloom at different times provides a more stable source of food and habitat for pollinators.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the research paper.

Globally, a large portion of the total agricultural expansion and increase in pollinator dependence between 1961 and 2016 resulted from increases in large-scale farming of soybean, canola and palm crops for oil.

The researchers expressed concern over the increase in these crops because it indicates a rapid expansion of industrial farming, which is associated with environmentally damaging practices such as large monocultures and pesticide use that threaten pollinators and can undermine productivity.

Particularly vulnerable to potential agricultural instability are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of pollinator-dependent soybean farms has driven deforestation and replaced rich biodiversity that supports healthy populations of pollinators with large-scale single-crop agriculture (monoculture).

Malaysia and Indonesia face a similar scenario from the expansion of oil palm farming.

“Farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there’s an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value,” Inouye says.

“This study points out that these current trends are not great for pollinators, and countries that diversify their agricultural crops are going to benefit more than those that expand with only a limited subset of crops.”

In Europe, farmland is contracting as development replaces agriculture, but pollinator-dependent crops are replacing non-pollinator-dependent crops such as rice and wheat (which are wind pollinated).

The study says increasing need for pollination services without parallel increases in diversity puts agricultural stability at risk in places such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark and Finland.

In the U.S., agricultural diversity has not kept pace with expansion of industrial-scale soybean farming.

“This work shows that you really need to look at this issue country by country and region by region to see what’s happening because there are different underlying risks,” Inouye says..

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management.”

https://www.beeculture.com/catch-the-buzz-agricultures-increasing-dependence-on-pollination-coupled-with-a-lack-of-crop-diversity-may-threaten-food-security-and-stability/

Honey Bees: A Critical Component of Our Agriculture System

EDM Digest (from American Military University) August 5, 2019

By Dr. Brian Blodgett: Faculty Member, Homeland Security, American Military University

Honey Bee EDM.jpg

To many Americans, the sound of a bee’s buzzing results in a swift swipe of the air to shoo the bee away. Finding a hive of bees in a wall of your house will usually result in a call to an exterminator, rather than to the local beekeeping club to have an apiarist safely remove the hive. 

Bee Stings Are Painful and Could Be Deadly

The fear of bees, or melissophobia, is common, often the result of having been stung as a child. However, some people are so allergic to a bee’s sting, they can have a dangerous reaction such as anaphylaxis that could cause death if not immediately treated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published data showing that hornet, wasp and bee stings were the underlying cause of death for 1,109 individuals between 2000 and 2017. That equates to an average of 62 deaths a year. The lowest number of deaths, 43, occurred in 2001 and the highest number was 89 in 2017. Male victims accounted for approximately 80% of the deaths.

A 2016 report by The Ohio State University stated that an estimated one to two million people in the U.S. are allergic to insect venom. Up to one million individuals visit emergency departments each year. The cost for an emergency room visit varies considerably depending on the severity of the reaction and the patient’s insurance plan.

While honey bee stings can be deadly, the bees will rarely attack you unless you threaten their hive or if they are seriously disturbed outside their nest.

When honey bees are threatened, they take a protective stance and extend their stinger, stinging their victim. Once the stinger punctures the skin, it pumps out venom and alarm pheromones, attracting other bees. If a bee decides to attack someone, it will be its last act because its stinger is left in the skin of its victim. In attempting to fly away, the bee disembowels itself.

The African honey bee, found in the southern areas of the United States, is no deadlier than the other six primary species of honeybees found in the United States. Instead, they are much more sensitive to the alarm pheromone, resulting in a considerably faster response to danger and their clustering in large groups. They will attack nearly anything in sight that is moving; they will pursue a person much farther than the other bee species.

Honey Bees Make a Significant Contribution to Agriculture

While the honey produced by bees is wonderfully useful and healthy, the bees’ contribution to agriculture is much more significant. A single bee in one flight can visit up to 50 or more flowers, pollinating each as it flies along.

If you enjoy fresh fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, grapefruit and apples, thank the honey bee. If you like broccoli, nuts, cucumbers, onions and asparagus,  thank the honey bee again. While honey bees are not the only pollinators, they are the most well-known and among the most prolific. Honey bees are estimated to support about $20 billion worth of American crop production annually.

Also, consider the importance to wildlife of our flowering plants and fruit trees. Without the bees, our herbivores and frugivores (animals that feed on fruit) would have a much harder time finding food. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat and they increase our nation’s crop value by more than $15 billion a year.

In fact, honey bees are so important to agriculture, they are often trucked around the country during pollination season to help farmers grow their crops.

Each winter, beekeepers send their hives to California to pollinate the almond trees. Growers rent nearly two million colonies, over 60% of the nation’s domestic bees. The annual cost for renting the bees is about $300 million, but the California almond economy is worth around $11 billion.

Colony Collapse Disorder and the Plight of Domestic Honey Bees

However, bee colonies are dying in large numbers. According to the June 2019 Bee Informed Partnership's survey, “U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies last winter — the greatest reported winter hive loss since the partnership started its surveys 13 years ago. The total annual loss was slightly above average.”

According to the survey, there are multiple causes for what has been called “colony collapse disorder.” Those causes include the Varroa destructor mite, decreasing crop diversity, poor beekeeping practices, loss of habitat, the use of certain pesticides on plants and stress.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), colony collapse disorder (CCD) occurs when most of the worker bees in a hive disappear for any of several reasons. That leaves the queen with plenty of food for the unhatched bees, but only a few bees to take care of them.

Since hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees, the entire colony dies. CCD occurrences have diminished considerably since the winter of 2006-2007 when beekeepers reported losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. Nevertheless, the EPA states CCD remains a concern, and scientists are working on several theories for the phenomenon:

Honey bees are being attacked by the small invasive Varroa destructor mites that can destroy an entire colony. Since the introduction of the Varroa destructor in Florida in the mid-1980s, they had spread northward to almost every state by 2017. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) stated that the “Varroa destructor is the greatest single driver of the global honey bee health decline.”

The use of pesticides is also a concern. The EPA took steps in 2016 to limit the use of sulfoxafor, an insecticide that is highly toxic to bees and other pollination insects. However, just last month the EPA removed many of the restrictions on the use of sulfoxafor.

Farmers can now use the insecticide on about 190 million acres of arable land, nearly twice the size of California. The crops that can be sprayed with sulfoxaor include soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, millet, oats, pineapple, sorghum, tree plantations, citrus, squash and strawberries.

According to an article in Mother Jones, the transportation of honey bees around the nation, their attacks by parasites, the use of insecticides and the vast number of single-crop areas needing pollination are causing stress to the honey bee.

Just as data continue to show the decline of domestic honey bees, the USDA, citing budgetary shortfalls, announced in July that it would no longer fund its National Agriculture Statistics Service to collect data on honey bee colonies. The report helped scientists and farmers determine if honey bee populations were declining and by how much.

Honey Bees and Our Food and Agriculture Sector

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under Presidential Policy Directive 21, is responsible for ensuring that our critical infrastructure “must be secure and able to withstand and rapidly recover from all hazards.”

In the 2015 Food and Agriculture Sector-Specific Plan, facilities primary engaged in raising insects, such as bees, fall under DHS purview in the animal production category. A decrease in the number of domestic honey bees can be costly not only for farmers to “rent” them, but also for all Americans because the loss of bees could lead to steeper food prices.

Our nation’s honey bees are not thought of as a target of violent extremists or terrorists. Nevertheless, individuals are attacking them in their hives. In April, someone deliberately set fire to a large number of beehives in Alvin, Texas, just south of Houston. Each hive contained around 30,000 bees. The destruction of the hives resulted in the loss of 500,000 to 600,000 bees.

In January 2018, outside Prunedale, California, over 100 beehives were destroyed when someone knocked over the hives and then sprayed gasoline on them, killing over 200,000 bees. On December 28, 2017, 50 beehives outside Sioux City, Iowa, were destroyed, resulting in approximately 500,000 dead, frozen bees.

DHS needs to recognize the importance and criticality of our nation’s bees and the role they play as a primary contributor to our ecosystem. An attack against bees is an attack against Americans’ wellbeing in general.

Due to our nation’s extreme dependence on honey bees, action is needed to ensure we have enough bees to sustain our crops. There are several steps that we can take to ensure our bee population is not decimated:

  • Ban the use of pesticides that are harmful to bees is a main step

  • Providing shallow sources of water and providing the bees with plenty of bee-friendly flowers, plants and trees

  • Allow leafy vegetables to go to seed after harvest

  • Support local beekeepers by buying their honey

  • Teach children about the importance of bees and the interdependence of living animals

About the Author 

Dr. Brian Blodgett is an alumnus of American Military University who graduated in 2000 with a master of arts in military studies and a concentration in land warfare. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 as a Chief Warrant Officer after serving over 20 years, first as an infantryman and then as an intelligence analyst. He is a 2003 graduate of the Joint Military Intelligence College where he earned a master of science in strategic intelligence with a concentration in South Asia. He graduated from Northcentral University in 2008, earning a doctorate in philosophy in business administration with a specialization in homeland security.

Dr. Blodgett has been a part-time faculty member, a full-time faculty member and a program director. He is currently a full-time faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies and teaches homeland security and security management courses.

https://edmdigest.com/resources/education/honey-bees-critical-agriculture-system/?utm_source=inhomelandsecurity&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=IHS-article-link&utm_campaign=Blog%20-%20In%20Homeland%20Security%20-%20BT%20-%20AMU

Sharing 'The Secret Life of Bees'

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey

"Where can kids learn beekeeping for free?" someone asked us last week.

One of the ways is through the 4-H Youth Development Program. Who can join 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands and which follows the motto, "making the best better?" It's open to all youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H representative. They develop leadership skills, engage in public speaking, and share what they've learned with other through presentations.

At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at Sierra K-8 School, Vacaville, 4-H'ers presented demonstrations, educational displays, illustrated talks, an improv,  and an interpretative reading.

The interpretative reading was about bees.

Kailey Mauldin, 15, a sixth-year 4-H'er and member of the Elmira 4-H Club, Vacaville, delivered an award-winning presentation on Sue Monk Kidd's New York Times'bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees. Kailey read and interpreted passages, and answered questions from evaluators JoAnn Brown, April George and Kelli Mummert.

Kailey related that the story is set in a fictitious rural town in South Carolina in 1964 during the civil rights era. Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens "has just run away from her abusive father named T-Ray," Kailey recounted. "Her mother passed away at an early age." In going though her mother's belongings, Lilly finds an address that leads her to a farm where she meets three sisters, May, June and August, strong African-American women who run a beekeeping business.

Kailey read several passages about Lily's first experience with bees. The book is in Lily's voice.

August, opening a hive, tells Lily: “Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She's the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don't care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She's the mother of thousands.”

The way the bees poured out, rushing up all of a sudden in spirals of chaos and noise caused me to jump.

“Don't move an inch,” said August. “Remember what I told you. Don't be scared.”

A bee flew straight at my forehead, collided with the net, and bumped against my skin.

“She's giving you a little warning,” August said. “When they bump your forehead, they're saying I've got my eye on you, so you be careful. Send them love and everything will be fine."

I love you, I love you, I said in my head. I LOVE YOU. I tried to say it 32 different ways...

Eventually, Lily experiences "a frenzy of love" as the bees seem to say: "Look who's here, it's Lily. She is so weary and lost. Come on, bee sisters."

Interpreting the passages she'd just read, Kailey said: "I learned all bees have mothers and that love isn't who or what, it is now...The way they took her (Lily) in, that was love. Love is everywhere."

Kailey isn't enrolled in a 4-H beekeeping project--yet.

(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño offers beekeeping classes at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. See website.)

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Our 'Bee-Eye Camera' Helps Us Support Bees, Grow Food And Protect The Environment

To help draw bees’ attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. Credit:  Shutterstock

To help draw bees’ attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. Credit: Shutterstock

Walking through our gardens in Australia, we may not realise that buzzing around us is one of our greatest natural resources. Bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of food for human consumption, and data on crop production suggests that bees contribute more than US$235 billion to the global economy each year.

By pollinating native and non-native plants, including many ornamental species, honeybees and Australian native bees also play an essential role in creating healthy communities – from urban parks to backyard gardens.

Despite their importance to human and environmental health, it is amazing how little we know how about our hard working insect friends actually see the world.

By learning how bees see and make decisions, it's possible to improve our understanding of how best to work with bees to manage our essential resources.

How bee vision differs from human vision

A new documentary on ABC TV, The Great Australian Bee Challenge, is teaching everyday Australians all about bees. In it, we conducted an experiment to demonstrate how bees use their amazing eyes to find complex shapes in flowers, or even human faces.

Humans use the lens in our eye to focus light onto our retina, resulting in a sharp image. By contrast, insects like bees use a compound eye that is made up of many light-guiding tubes called ommatidia.

Insects in the city: a honeybee forages in the heart of Sydney. Credit: Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Insects in the city: a honeybee forages in the heart of Sydney. Credit: Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

The top of each ommatidia is called a facet. In each of a bees' two compound eyes, there are about 5000 different ommatidia, each funnelling part of the scene towards specialised sensors to enable visual perception by the bee brain.

Since each ommatidia carries limited information about a scene due to the physics of light, the resulting composite image is relatively "grainy" compared to human vision. The problem of reduced visual sharpness poses a challenge for bees trying to find flowers at a distance.

To help draw bees' attention, flowers that are pollinated by bees have typically evolved to send very strong colour signals. We may find them beautiful, but flowers haven't evolved for our eyes. In fact, the strongest signals appeal to a bee's ability to perceive mixtures of ultraviolet, blue and green light.

Building a bee eye camera

Despite all of our research, it can still be hard to imagine how a bee sees.

How we see fine detail with our eyes, and how a bee eye camera views the same information at a distance of about 15cm. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

How we see fine detail with our eyes, and how a bee eye camera views the same information at a distance of about 15cm. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

So to help people (including ourselves) visualise what the world looks like to a bee, we built a special, bio-inspired "bee-eye" camera that mimics the optical principles of the bee compound eye by using about 5000 drinking straws. Each straw views just one part of a scene, but the array of straws allows all parts of the scene to be projected onto a piece of tracing paper.

The resulting image can then be captured using a digital camera. This project can be constructed by school age children, and easily be assembled multiple times to enable insights into how bees see our world.

Because bees can be trained to learn visual targets, we know that our device does a good job of mimicking a bees visual acuity.

Student projects can explore the interesting nexus between science, photography and art to show how bees see different things, like carrots – which are an important part of our diet and which require bees for the efficient production of seeds.

Yellow flower (Gelsemium sempervirens) as it appears to our eye, as taken through a UV sensitive camera, and how it likely appears to a bee. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Yellow flower (Gelsemium sempervirens) as it appears to our eye, as taken through a UV sensitive camera, and how it likely appears to a bee. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Understanding bee vision helps us protect bees

Bees need flowers to live, and we need bees to pollinate our crops. Understanding bee vision can help us better support our buzzy friends and the critical pollination services they provide.

In nature, it appears that flowers often bloom in communities, using combined cues like colour and scent to help important pollinators find the area with the best resources.

Having lots of flowers blooming together attracts pollinators in much the same way that boxing day sales attract consumers to a shopping centre. Shops are better together, even though they are in competition – the same may be true for flowers!

This suggests that there is unlikely to be one flower that is "best" for bees. The solution for better supporting bees is to incorporate as many flowers as possible – both native and non native – in the environment. Basically: if you plant it, they will come.

We are only starting to understand how bees see and perceive our shared world – including art styles – and the more we know, the better we can protect and encourage our essential insect partners.

How a bee eye camera works by only passing the constructive rays of light to form an image. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

How a bee eye camera works by only passing the constructive rays of light to form an image. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Clip from “The Great Australian Bee Challenge, Episode 2.

Looking at the fruits and vegetables of bee pollination; a bee camera eye view of carrots. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

Looking at the fruits and vegetables of bee pollination; a bee camera eye view of carrots. Credit: Sue Williams and Adrian Dyer/RMIT University

It's Time to Revisit the 13 Days of Christmas!

Eric Mussen, Extension emeritus (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen, Extension emeritus (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey December 16, 2018

It's time to revisit the "13 Bugs of Christmas!"

Back in 2010, two innovators with the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) decided that "The 12 Days of Christmas" ought to be replaced with insects.

Remember that iconic song, "The 12 Days of Christmas?" Published in 1780, it begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree?" Eleven more gifts follow: "2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, 4 calling birds, 5 gold rings, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans-a-swimming, 8 maids a'milking, 9 ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping."

The two innovators--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (with the department from 1976-2014 and now emeritus) and yours truly (with the department since 2005)--decided that "5 gold rings" ought to be "five golden bees." The duo also figured that varroa mites, and other pests of California agriculture, should be spotlighted. Don't know what happened to the varroa mites! Hey, Eric, where did you put the varroa mites?

They penned the lyrics for the department's holiday gathering. Then Mussen, who sings with a Davis-based doo wopp group, led the department in song.

That was supposed to be the end of it. Not so. It went viral when U.S. News picked it up.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree

"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see: 13 Kaphra beetles, 12 Diaprepes weevils, 11 citrus psyllids,
10 Tropilaelaps clareae, 9 melon fruit flies, 8 Aedes aegypti, 7 ash tree borers, 6 six spotted-wing Drosophila, 5 five gypsy moths, 4 Japanese beetles, 3 imported fire ants, 2 brown apple moths, and a medfly in a pear tree."

Mussen, although retired in 2014, keeps bee-sy. A co-founder of Western Apicultural Society (WAS), he completed his sixth term as president in 2017. WAS, which serves the educational needs of beekeepers from 13 states, plus parts of Canada, was founded in 1977-78 for “the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America."

Mussen also continues to answer bee questions from his office in Briggs Hall and recently updated the "13 Bugs of Christmas" lyrics with some more agricultural pests:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
One the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two peach fruit flies
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three false codling moths
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four peach fruit flies
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gypsy moths
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six white striped fruit flies
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven imported fire ants
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight longhorn beetles
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine melon fruit flies
On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten brown apple moths
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven citrus psyllids
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve guava fruit flies.
On the 13th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, thirteen Japanese beetles

You're welcome.

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees.” This is one of them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees.” This is one of them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Varroa mite on a honey bee—not something beekeepers want to see on their bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Varroa mite on a honey bee—not something beekeepers want to see on their bees! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen bee with her retinue, “On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 queen bees piping.” (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen bee with her retinue, “On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 queen bees piping.” (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)