The More Pesticides Bees Eat, The More They Like Them

Science Daily / Imperial College London     August 28, 2018

Bumblebee. Credit: © Jolanta Mayerberg / FotoliaBumblebees acquire a taste for pesticide-laced food as they become more exposed to it, a behaviour showing possible symptoms of addiction.

This study of bumblebee behaviour indicates that the risk of pesticide-contaminated food entering bee colonies may be higher than previously thought, which can have impacts on colony reproductive success.

In research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team from Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have shown that bumblebee colonies increasingly feed on pesticide-laced food (sugar solution) over time.

The researchers tested the controversial class of pesticides the 'neonicotinoids', which are currently one of the most widely used classes of pesticides worldwide, despite the near-total ban in the EU. The impact of neonicotinoids on bees is hotly debated, and the ban is a decision that has received mixed views.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: "Given a choice, naïve bees appear to avoid neonicotinoid-treated food. However, as individual bees increasingly experience the treated food they develop a preference for it.

"Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals. Our findings that bumblebees acquire a taste for neonicotinoids ticks certain symptoms of addictive behaviour, which is intriguing given the addictive properties of nicotine on humans, although more research is needed to determine this in bees."

The team tracked ten bumblebee colonies over ten days, giving each colony access to its own foraging arena in which bees could choose feeders that did or did not contain a neonicotinoid.

They found that while the bees preferred the pesticide-free food to begin with, over time they fed on the pesticide-laced food more and visited the pesticide-free food less. They continued to prefer the pesticide-laced food even when the positions of the feeders were changed, suggesting they can detect the pesticide inside the food.

Lead author Dr Andres Arce, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: "Many studies on neonicotinoids feed bees exclusively with pesticide-laden food, but in reality, wild bees have a choice of where to feed. We wanted to know if the bees could detect the pesticides and eventually learn to avoid them by feeding on the uncontaminated food we were offering.

"Whilst at first it appeared that the bees did avoid the food containing the pesticide, we found that over time the bumblebees increased their visits to pesticide-laden food. We now need to conduct further studies to try and understand the mechanism behind why they acquire this preference."

Dr Gill added: "This research expands on important previous work by groups at Newcastle and Dublin Universities. Here, we added a time dimension and allowed the bees to carry out more normal foraging behaviour, to understand the dynamics of pesticide preference. Together these studies allow us to properly assess the risks of exposure and not just the hazard posed.

"Whilst neonicotinoids are controversial, if the effects of replacements on non-target insects are not understood, then I believe it is sensible that we take advantage of current knowledge and further studies to provide guidance for using neonicotinoids more responsibly, rather than necessarily an outright ban."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Imperial College London. Original written by Hayley Dunning. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Andres N. Arce, Ana Ramos Rodrigues, Jiajun Yu, Thomas J. Colgan, Yannick Wurm, Richard J. Gill. Foraging bumblebees acquire a preference for neonicotinoid-treated food with prolonged exposure. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2018; 285 (1885): 20180655 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0655

Clever Bees Can Identify Different Flowers by Patterns of Scent

June 14, 2018


Certain aromas trigger memories in humans, transporting us back in time. But how well do bees understand scent? And can they translate scent cues into a visual imprint? New research led by scientists from the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London demonstrates that bumble bees have keen sniffers, letting them tell flowers apart by patterns of scent.

Flowers have lots of different patterns on their surfaces that help to guide bees and other pollinators towards the flower's nectar, speeding up pollination. These patterns include visual signals like lines pointing to the center of the flower, or color differences. Flowers are also known to have different patterns of scent across their surface, and so a visiting bee might find that the centre of the flower smells differently to the edge of the petals.

Bumble bees can tell flowers apart simply by how scent is arranged on their surface according to new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Lead author Dr. Dave Lawson, from the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, said: "If you look at a flower with a microscope, you can often see that the cells that produce the flower's scent are arranged in patterns.

"By creating artificial flowers that have identical scents arranged in different patterns, we are able to show that this patterning might be a signal to a bee. For a flower, it's not just smelling nice that's important, but also where you put the scent in the first place."

The study also shows that once bees had learnt how a pattern of scent was arranged on a flower, they then preferred to visit unscented flowers that had a similar arrangement of visual spots on their surface.

Dr. Lawson added: "This is the equivalent of a human putting her hand in a bag to feel the shape of a novel object which she can't see, and then picking out a picture of that object. Being able to mentally switch between different senses is something we take for granted, but it's exciting that a small animal like a bee is also able to do something this abstract."

Professor Lars Chittka, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "We already knew that bees were clever, but we were really surprised by the fact that bees could learn invisible patterns on flowers - patterns that were just made of scent.

"The scent glands on our flowers were either arranged in a circle or a cross, and bees had to figure out these patterns by using their feelers. But the most exciting finding was that, if these patterns are suddenly made visible by the experimenter, bees can instantly recognize the image that formerly was just an ephemeral pattern of volatiles in the air."

Senior author, Dr. Sean Rands, also from Bristol, added: "Flowers often advertise to their pollinators in lots of different ways at once, using a mixture of color, shape, texture, and enticing smells.

"If bees can learn patterns using one sense (smell) and then transfer this to a different sense (vision), it makes sense that flowers advertise in lots of ways at the same time, as learning one signal will mean that the bee is primed to respond positively to different signals that they have never encountered.

"Advertising agencies would be very excited if the same thing happened in humans."

Around 75 percent of all food grown globally relies on flowers being pollinated by animals such as bees. The work published today is part of ongoing research at the University of Bristol that explores the many different ways in which plants communicate with their pollinators, using different innovative techniques to explore how bees perceive the flowers that they visit.

Bees Learn to Play Golf and Show Off How Clever They Really Are

Daily News / New Scientist   By Sam Wong    February 23, 2017

I’ll show you ball skills Lida Loukola/QMUL

It’s a hole in one! Bumblebees have learned to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, stretching what was thought possible for small-brained creatures.

Plenty of previous studies have shown that bees are no bumbling fools, but these have generally involved activities that are somewhat similar to their natural foraging behaviour.

For example, bees were able to learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t too alien to them.

So while these tasks might seem complex, they don’t really show a deeper level of learning, says Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London, an author of that study.

Loukola and his team decided the next challenge was whether bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to the reward.

They built a circular platform with a small hole in the centre filled with sugar solution, into which bees had to move a ball to get a reward. A researcher showed them how to do this by using a plastic bee on a stick to push the ball.

The researchers then took three groups of other bees and trained them in different ways. One group observed a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward.

The bees then did the task themselves. Those that had watched other bees do it were most successful and took less time than those in the other groups to solve the task. Bees given the magnetic demonstration were also more successful than those not given one.

When the bees were trained with three balls placed at different distances from the hole, with the two closest ones glued down, most of the successful bees that then did the task still moved the ball that was closest to the hole. This showed that they were able to make generalisations to solve the task more easily, rather than copying exactly what they had seen.

They also succeeded when faced with a black ball after being trained with a yellow one, showing they weren’t just attracted to the specific colour.

Flexible thinking

“They don’t just blindly copy the demonstrator; they can improve on what they learned,” says Loukola. He thinks this cognitive flexibility could help the bees forage successfully in changing natural environments. “This ability to copy others and improve upon what they observe, I think that’s really important.”

Loukola also thinks the behaviour fulfils the criteria for being defined as tool use, which is normally thought of as the preserve of only a few particularly intelligent animals, such as primates and crows.

Eirik Søvik at Volda University College in Norway agrees. He says that people tend to look for simple explanations when small-brained animals do something, but consider the same thing a complex phenomenon when it’s done by vertebrates.

In fact, he says, the same mechanisms may be at play in apparently complex behaviours of both insects and invertebrate – and tool use may not require as much brainpower as we thought.

“If you apply the same level of scrutiny to vertebrate experiments as to those done with insects, you quickly find that although something might at first appear complex, the same simple mechanisms we find in insects also are at play in vertebrates,” he says.

Bees’ cognitive abilities are of interest to artificial intelligence researchers, some of whom build computer models of insects’ brains to help learn how nature creates complex behaviour. Behavioural studies of insects are increasingly showing that you can do a lot with very limited hardware.

“The old-fashioned view is if an animal has a small brain, it’s not intelligent or smart,” says Loukola. “Our study shows it’s not true that small brains are not capable of this kind of cognitive flexibility.”

Søvik thinks the main limitation for research on insect cognition is human creativity.

“We just have not been very good at designing experiments that allow us to probe insect cognition very well,” he says. “That’s probably because it is so incredibly difficult to imagine how bees experience the world, and if you want to give them tasks they can succeed at, that is key. I think the authors here really succeed at taking the bees’ view of the world.”

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2360

Bee-Girl to LACBA: SO Much Love!

"SO much love going out to the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association for their donation to keep our programs going!! These folks know a thing or two about generosity and bee love!" Sarah Red-Laird, Executive Director, Bee-Girl Organization. 

(Note: It is through the efforts of members of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association who volunteered their time at the Bee Booth at the Los Angeles County Fair to raise money in support of honey bees, bee research and education. Thank you also to the LACBA membership who voted to provide funding for the Bee-Girl programs. Read more about Bee-Girl Organization

National Honey Board Accepting Bee Research Proposals

The following is brought to us by ABJ Extra.   August 27, 2014
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Firestone, Colo., Aug. 25, 2014 – The National Honey Board is requesting proposals for research dealing with honey bee colony production. 

The goal of this research is to help producers maintain colony health while assuring the maintenance of honey quality.  The NHB is encouraging proposals on Varroa research, but will consider proposals dealing with  Acarapis woodi, Nosema ceranae, and small hive beetle; the investigation into the causes and controls of Colony Collapse Disorder; and honey bee nutrition, immunology, and longevity. 

The NHB is open to projects that find new methods of maintaining health, as well as those that combine current methods to increase efficacy rates.  Other projects will be considered and research outside the U.S. is possible. 

The amount of funds available for a particular proposal will depend on the number and merit of proposals finally accepted.  The funds will be available for approved projects for the duration of the calendar year 2015 and may be carried into early 2016 if necessary; the duration of projects being funded should generally not exceed 12 months. 

Proposals must be received at the National Honey Board office by 5:00p.m. Mountain Time, November 17, 2014.  Proposals received after the deadline will not be considered. Instructions on how to submit a research proposal may be found on the NHB website at

The National Honey Board is an industry-funded agriculture promotion group that works to educate consumers about the benefits and uses for honey and honey products through research, marketing and promotional programs.

A World Without Honey Bees Would Not Be a World at All      3/27/14

AUSTRALIA: IT’S an initiative which has the support of Nicole Trunfio, Pete Evans, Jodi Gordon, Ruby Rose, Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges, and it’s something we should all be concerned about.

BEES. You may not realise it, but they’re crucial for our way of life. And they’re in serious danger of becoming extinct. 

 Our bees are dying at a rapid rate.

Charles Darwin once said that “The life of man would be made extremely difficult if the bee disappeared.”

So it’s safe to say that Darwin, if he was still alive, would be more than a little concerned to know that over fifty per cent of the world’s honey bee population have died.

Why should you care? Because bees are responsible for pollinating 70 per cent of the world’s horticulture and agricultural crops, so without them we simply would not have fresh fruit and vegetables — in fact, we would all starve within five years, because nothing could be pollinated.

“European honey bees are our main pollinator of our commercial crops,” explains bee pathologist Dr Denis Anderson. “If you took the bee out of our agricultural system, we just could not compensate for the pollination that bees do for our crops, particularly fruit and vegetable crops. Stone fruits, cherries, plums, peaches …. they just wouldn’t be pollinated. Watermelon, rockmelon, cucumbers — all those sorts of crops require pollination. We’d have to come up with other systems of pollinations, but we are so dependent on honey bees for this role, we wouldn’t be able to do it quickly enough.”

Dr Anderson found international acclaim in the year 2000, when he discovered the deadly Varroa destructor mite. The mite is single-handedly responsible for killing off over 50 per cent of the world’s bee population.

“The mite is an external parasite. It’s rather large and you can easily see it with your eye — it would be about 5mm in size. It lives on the outside of the bee, and it sucks its blood.,” says Dr Anderson.

“Being a mite it doesn’t have eyes, so it gets itself around by recognising chemicals which float in the air. It knows where it is just from the smell of things. At the moment, the mite gets a chemical signal from the bee that it responds to in some way — it will either ignore it, or it will know instinctively that it can start laying eggs. And so, the mite reproduces,” he explains.

The plight of the honey bees is something Dr Anderson has devoted his life to - and it’s also something more and more Australians are realising the importance of. For example, Western Australia shoe company honeybees are donating $2 for every pair of shoes sold to raise money for further research into the European honey bee and the Varroa mite - this is the initiative that has the support of model Nicole Trunfio, chef Pete Evans, actress Jodi Gordon, presenter Ruby Rose and health gurus Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges.

“Jump on board,” says Evans. “We’re trying to raise a million dollars to save the honey bees — and being a chef, where will the world be without the bees? They’re responsible for a third of the food we have on our plates.”

Makes you think differently about the little guys, right?

History of the honey bee

Australia’s honey bees are currently healthy, but according to Dr Anderson, this has more to do with luck than good management. Bees travel in swarms, and it only takes one bee carrying one Varroa mite to land on a boat that docks on Australian shores for a colony to be infected - and history is our deadliest example.

In America prior to 1988 there were five million hived colonies. The mite arrived in 1998, and by 1993 that number had diminished to 2.5 million — and it’s been falling ever since.

Mites have been in Europe since the late 1970s, and the country’s feral bee population is now believed to be extinct. They have also lost about 40 per cent of their hived colonies.

Our neighbours in New Zealand became infected by the Varroa mite in 2000, and it is estimated that 30-35 per cent of hived colonies have been eradicated because of it.

“Most countries get that initial shock when the mite first arrives,” says Dr Anderson. “It has this ability to spread very quickly, and all of a sudden your feral bee population disappears, you notice your hives are not going as well as they should, and you realise it’s the mites.”

At the moment, the mite can be controlled by chemicals, but chemicals only work to a certain extent — and they’re no good if you’re trying to sell organic honey or organic fruit and vegetables.

“The mites gradually develop resistance against whatever chemical formula you come up with, and you get on this chemical treadmill,” says Dr Anderson. “So even though we’re using chemicals, the mites are still winning the race. In addition, there’s just no way we can get these chemicals to the feral bee colonies. So, we want to develop a bee that is totally resistant to the mite.”

Considering what we already know about the Varroa mite, developing a strain of bees that is resistant to it is not as impossible as it seems.

“The mite was originally a parasite of the Asian honey bee, which is closely related to the European honey bee,” explains Dr Anderson. “During the middle of last century humans introduced the European honey bee into Asia, because it is a much better honey hoarder and it’s a better pollinator.

“For some time European honey bees were invisible to the Varroa mite. But then, one female mite got lucky and registered some kind of chemical signal that she liked on a European honey bee.

“The mite then spread from this one bee onto the other bees, and when the colony was shipped, the mite travelled out of Asia with it. And so, we’re trying to figure out what that initial signal was that the mite recognised. Once we can figure that out, there’s a good chance we can adjust the signal to make the mite blind to it. We can then produce a bee which has a modified form of that signal.”

“The big thing that’s missing with bee research around the world is what we call strategic research,” Dr Anderson says. “We have lots of practical and applied research — using chemicals and finding other chemicals when resistance is developed — but what is fundamentally missing is the long-term research into the mite.

“We’re trying to overcome the problem that we’re stuck with. And if we want to eat, if we want to survive, we have to come up with a long-term solution.”


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