Honeybees Enter Virtual Reality So Scientists Can Study Their Brains

The Scientist By Jeff Romeo February 14, 2019

honeybee virtual reality.jpg

Researchers at the Free University of Berlin have developed a method for directly recording the brains of honeybees as they navigate a virtual-reality environment. The team implanted electrodes into a region of the bee brain called the mushroom body, located in the front antennal lobe, to track neurological changes as the bees worked to complete a virtual maze, according to a study published last month (January 25) in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The experiment involved tethering honeybees to a Styrofoam ball “treadmill” and exposing them to a cone-shaped screen displaying images of their natural environment, while monitoring the electrical activity in their brains.

“The main strength of this study is the possibility offered by their setup to combine electrophysiological recording and a visual learning task,” says Aurore Avarguès-Weber, a behavioral scientist at the University of Toulouse who was not involved in the study.

Virtual reality (VR) has been used to study the behavior, physiology, and neuroscience of species from flies to rodents, but it wasn’t until recently that it had been successfully used to study bees. In 2017, Martin Giurfa, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Toulouse, became the first to create a VR environment for honeybees, using it to investigate the insects’ visual learning and their ability to transferknowledge learned in the real world into a virtual environment.

The development of an effective VR setup for honeybees “was a big achievement,” says Giurfa. He says that the new study, which he did not participate in, shows how this technology can be paired with neural recording equipment, as has been done for fruit flies and mice, to gain more insight into mechanisms for learning and memory.

See “Virtual Reality May Revolutionize Brain Science

To achieve this pairing, Hanna Zwaka, a postdoc with the research group headed by neurobiologist Randolf Menzel, and her colleagues first demonstrated that the bees were effectively fooled by the virtual environment. The bees were trained to navigate a classic maze, following a series of yellow and blue stripes to a sucrose reward. Then, the researchers put the insects in the VR setup and displayed on the screen the same colored stripes as the bees had seen in the real-life maze. Sure enough, the bees walked toward the appropriate visual stimuli to solve the maze. “It’s a simple 3-D video game for honeybees,” says Zwaka.

The virtual reality setup used to study honeybee learning. HANNA ZWAKA

The virtual reality setup used to study honeybee learning. HANNA ZWAKA

In a separate experiment, the group tested the bees’ ability to learn a maze solely in the virtual environment. This time, Zwaka and her colleagues implanted electrodes into the frontal lobe of their tiny brains to record changes in neurological signals. They specifically targeted the mushroom body, a region containing a variety of different neurons, as previous studies have demonstrated that the structure is involved in learning and memory.

Sure enough, the team documented significant changes in the mushroom body over the course of training. The type of responding cells shifted as the bees responded to stimuli, as did the number of cells firing and the response frequency, explains Zwaka. The authors suggest that these changes are a product of the visual learning that occurs as the bees get a handle on the virtual maze.

The bees never learned to follow the maze as consistently as they had in the first experiment, however. To Weber, this suggests that the observed neuronal changes don’t represent learning. “[The study lacked] convincing, significant learning performance,” she says. Weber believes that the heavy electrodes might have impaired the honeybee performance, weighing the bees down or making them uncomfortable. “More work seems necessary to validate their findings on the implication of mushroom bodies in visual learning,” she says.

Zwaka doesn’t know exactly why the bees trained in the virtual environment navigated the maze less consistently than those trained in the real world, but she wouldn’t necessarily call their performance “impaired.” The novelty of this recording setup means “there is no real performance you could compare it to. Maybe they don't perform exactly as we would expect during free flight.” But that does not mean that no learning occurred, she says.

She agrees that more research is needed to understand the results that the VR setup can produce. But she and her colleagues think it is one of the most promising techniques for investigating the neurological nature of learning in bees.

Better understanding of the honeybee brain could yield insights into human memory and learning, says Menzel, and the bee brains are easier to work with. “Under certain conditions, a small brain is much more convenient, and it’s more possible to go deeper into the cellular mechanisms and the network properties.” 

But, he adds, “these tiny brains are more complex than we could ever imagine.”

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/honeybees-enter-virtual-reality-so-scientists-can-study-their-brains-65474?fbclid=IwAR04sJynLKBtD-d4cLqQpN9hn1ZI4-92F-Z9HEVTA5BoZoKc6hgqilh6JMU

Earning a Bee's Wings

Washington State University-St. Louis (The Source) By Talia Ogliore February 20, 2019

In hives, graduating to forager a requirement for social membership

It is a classic coming-of-age story, in many ways.

A honey bee hatches and grows up deep inside a hive. Surrounded by 40,000 of her closest relatives, this dark and constantly buzzing place is all that she knows. Only after she turns 21 days old does she leave the nest to look for pollen and nectar. For her, this is a moment of great risk, and great reward.

It’s also the moment at which she becomes recognizable to other bees, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis. A study in the journal eLife reports that honey bees (Apis mellifera) develop different scent profiles as they age, and the gatekeeper bees at the hive’s door respond differently to returning foragers than they do when they encounter younger bees who have never ventured out before.

This work offers new insight into one of the most important interactions in the lives of social insects: recognizing self and other

Ben-Shahar

Ben-Shahar

Until this point, most bee researchers thought bees recognize and respond to a scent that is the homogenized scent of all of the members of their own colony. That’s how it works for some ants and other insects, at least. But new work from the laboratory of  Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, shows that nestmate recognition instead depends on an innate developmental process that is associated with age-dependent division of labor. The work was completed in collaboration with researchers from the lab of Joel Levine at the University of Toronto.

“It was always assumed that the way that honey bees acquire nestmate recognition cues, their cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles, is through these mechanisms where they rub up against each other, or transfer compounds between each other,” said Cassondra L. Vernier, a graduate student at Washington University and first author of the new study.

“You would expect, then, that even younger bees would have a very similar pheromonal profile as older bees. When in fact that is not what we saw,” she said.

Vernier compared the CHC profiles of bees on the day they were born and at 1 week, 2 weeks, and 3 weeks old. The 3-week-old bees had significantly different profiles than their younger siblings.

Graduate student Cassondra Vernier conducted lab experiments and observed hours of bee interactions at the entrance to the hive. She is shown here at Tyson Research Center, Washington University’s environmental field station. (Courtesy photo)

Graduate student Cassondra Vernier conducted lab experiments and observed hours of bee interactions at the entrance to the hive. She is shown here at Tyson Research Center, Washington University’s environmental field station. (Courtesy photo)

Vernier compared the CHC profiles of bees on the day they were born and at 1 week, 2 weeks, and 3 weeks old. The 3-week-old bees had significantly different profiles than their younger siblings.A 3-week-old foraging bee also has a very different job to support the hive than a younger bee — one who spends her time as a nurse caring for bee larvae and building the waxy honeycomb structures in the hive.

The researchers wanted to separate out whether the differences they saw were based on age alone, or were somehow tied to the older bees’ foraging activities. Bees that exit the hive to collect nectar encounter lots of scents on flowers and other surfaces they touch. They also are exposed to different environmental factors such as sunshine and rain that could affect their body coatings.

So Vernier also compared the CHC profiles of foraging-age bees that were held in the hive and not permitted to forage with bees that were able to venture out. These two groups were also significantly different.

“What we found is that it’s actually a combination of both — of being at the age for foraging, and actually performing the foraging activities,” said Ben-Shahar.

Guards are gatekeepers; specific triggers still unknown

Importantly, not every bee notices the difference in scent profiles. Guard bees are the only ones who care to identify outsiders.

“They sit in the entrance and they have a very specific posture,” Ben-Shahar said of the guards. “They’re very attentive. Their forelegs are usually raised, and they’re very alert. Still, it is hard to know who they are until they react to somebody.”

Place a 1-day-old, 1-week-old, or 2-week-old outsider on the stoop in front of a guard, and she is likely to be able to waltz on through. But it’s a different story after 3 weeks of age — when guards bite, sting and/or drag outsiders away from the door.

“Nestmate recognition is something that is very context-specific. It involves an interaction between very specific bees within the colony,” Ben-Shahar said. “Most bees are completely oblivious. Most colony members don’t produce the signal that tells anyone if they belong or not, and they don’t care about the signal. They don’t react to it.”

As an important caveat, the new study does not directly address the mechanism by which cue specificity is determined in bees. Which specific components of the honey bee CHC profile represent the nestmate recognition cue remains unknown.

“Something environmentally related is causing expression-level changes in the CHC profiles of the bees,” Vernier said. “That’s our model for now.”

The bees in this study were kept in two different locations: Tyson Research Center, the environmental field station for Washington University in St. Louis, and an amateur beekeeper’s private residence in University City, MO.

Funding for the project was provided by the National Science Foundation under grants NSF DGE-1143954, IOS-1322783, IOS-1707221 and IOS-1754264.

https://source.wustl.edu/2019/02/earning-a-bees-wings/

World's Largest Bee Rediscovered in Indonesia

Discover Magazine By Alison Mackey February 26, 2019

worlds largest bee.jpg

What a bee! Lost to the science since 1981, the world’s largest bee (Megachile pluto) has been rediscovered on an island in Indonesia.

Its non-scientific name is Wallace’s giant bee, named for British entomologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection … and giant it is! With a 2.5 inch wingspan, this beast of a bee towers over its more familiar brethren. The female is pictured here — males of the species are smaller, something not uncommon for insect species.

The bees make homes for themselves inside termite nests, walling themselves off from the insects with resin and other materials. Their large jaws come in handy here, put to use scraping the resin from trees to be rolled into balls and flown back to their nests.

Natural history photographer Clay Bolt has the distinct honor of being the first person to photograph a living specimen of the giant bee in decades.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2019/02/26/worlds-largest-bee-indonesia-wallaces-giant-bee/

Massive Loss Of Thousands Of Hives Afflicts Orchard Growers And Beekeepers

NPR Heard on All Things Considered By Anna King February 18, 2019

Bret Adee, a third-generation beekeeper who owns one of the largest beekeeping companies in the U.S., lost half of his hives — about 50,000 — over the winter. He pops the lid on one of the hives to show off the colony inside.  Greta Mart/KCBX

Bret Adee, a third-generation beekeeper who owns one of the largest beekeeping companies in the U.S., lost half of his hives — about 50,000 — over the winter. He pops the lid on one of the hives to show off the colony inside. Greta Mart/KCBX

Almond bloom comes nearly all at once in California — a flush of delicate pale blooms that unfold around Valentine's Day.

And beekeeper Bret Adee is hustling to get his hives ready, working through them on a Central Valley ranch before placing them in orchards.

He deftly tap-taps open a hive. "We're gonna open this up, and you're going to see a whole lot of bees here," Adee says.

Under the lid, the exposed sleepy occupants hum away. He uses a handheld smoker to keep them calm and huddled around their queen.

This third-generation beekeeper works night and day with a crew of more than 35. Adee has been busy staging more than 100 semi truckloads of his honey bee hives in almond orchards over a 200 mile swath of the Central Valley.

When temperatures rise and the blooms open, his bees wake up and go to work. It's his hives' first yearly stop on a 6,500-mile tour across the nation.

But this almond bloom, Adee's scrambling more than usual.

Deadouts

Adee lost more than half of his hives over the winter — 50,000. And he's not alone.

"You know, in September, I thought we had the most awesome bees ever," Adee says. "The bees looked incredibly good."

Like Adee, many beekeepers across the U.S. have lost half their hives — they call one with no live bees inside a "deadout." Some beekeepers lost as many as 80 percent. That's unusual. And many of the hives that did survive aren't strong in numbers.

A healthy hive able to pollinate has at least eight frames mostly covered in bees on both sides. But the fear this year is that there will be many weaker hives put into California almond orchards for pollination because so many hives have died across the country.  Greta Mart/KCBX

A healthy hive able to pollinate has at least eight frames mostly covered in bees on both sides. But the fear this year is that there will be many weaker hives put into California almond orchards for pollination because so many hives have died across the country. Greta Mart/KCBX

For decades Adee says if he lost 5 percent he really got nervous. Now a 40 percent loss every few years is more common, he says. But this many lost hives across the country is concerning.

Every hive

California almond orchards have grown so much over the past 10 years, the bloom requires nearly every commercial hive available in the United States.

Almonds have grown from 765,000 acres to 1.33 million acres in the last decade. Bees travel from as far as Florida and New York to do the job. Without these hives, there is no harvest.

Almond bloom is just as important to the beekeepers. It's a chance to make nearly half their yearly income, and a place for the bees to work and grow early in the spring while healing up from winter.

This year, many beekeepers have had to tell their orchardists that they won't have enough bees this year to cover their entire contracts. And some orchardists are desperately calling beekeepers. Some report pollination prices going up.

Sneaky suckers

Experts say honey bees are dealing with many stressors: chemicals, loss of wildflowers, climate change, nutrition and viruses. But this year, a special problem might have taken down the honey bees more than usual.

A matrix of almond branches show off delicate early blooms near Lost Hills, Calif. Almonds have grown from 765,000 acres to 1.33 million acres in the last decade.  Greta Mart/KCBX

A matrix of almond branches show off delicate early blooms near Lost Hills, Calif. Almonds have grown from 765,000 acres to 1.33 million acres in the last decade. Greta Mart/KCBX

A tiny parasite called the varroa mite sucks at the bee's body, causing big problems.

Ramesh Sagili, a bee expert with Oregon State University, predicted these big bee losses because of mites earlier last year.

"It's a very lethal parasite on honey bees," Sagili says. "It causes significant damage not only to the bee, but to the entire colony. A colony might be decimated in months if this varroa mite isn't taken care of."

He says unusually early and warm spring weather last year made the bees start rearing baby bees early. That gave varroa mites a chance to breed and multiply too.

Varroa mothers crawl into the cells of baby bees and hide there until the bees close the cell up with wax. Then they lay an egg and rear their young on the baby bee.

Emotional sting

When the almond blooms fade, beekeepers will truck their hives across America — from the Northwest and Dakotas to the South and Maine, chasing spring.

Eric Olson, 75, of Selah, Wash., points out the fruiting wood on his cherry tree. Pruning helps to open the canopy so the fruit can ripen well, and cuts back on fast-growing branches called suckers that can sap the tree's energy away from the valuable fruit.  Anna King/Northwest News Network

Eric Olson, 75, of Selah, Wash., points out the fruiting wood on his cherry tree. Pruning helps to open the canopy so the fruit can ripen well, and cuts back on fast-growing branches called suckers that can sap the tree's energy away from the valuable fruit. Anna King/Northwest News Network

In Eric Olson's foggy and frosty Washington state cherry orchard, bloom is still a while off. His crew is busy pruning away the wood that would block light to the fresh fruit.

He's helps manage one of the largest beekeeping businesses in the Northwest.

He says their hives experienced a dramatic loss this year. But it's not as bad a when he lost about 65 percent of them.

"That's when I cried," says Olson, who served 20 years in the Air Force. "I was a pilot and I spent my time in combat situations. Never in my life was I as low as when we lost 65 percent of those bees."

Chasing spring

Still, spokespeople for the almond industry are saying it's all fine.

"Orchard growers who have long-standing relationships with beekeepers are not experiencing problems," says Bob Curtis, a consultant for the Almond Board of California. "Folks that are having trouble are the ones that don't make the contracts in the fall with beekeepers."

If Northwest growers line up beekeepers early, Olson says he expects there will be enough bees for the region's smaller fruit tree bloom. Still, he's worried for his orchardist friends.

"If I can't get bees in my cherries I'm in trouble," Olson says. "I don't have a crop. What do I do? I don't know."

Surveys later this spring will give a better idea of nationwide bee losses, but that might be too late for orchardists at the end of the pollination line.

This story comes to us from the Northwest News Network.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/02/18/694301239/massive-loss-of-thousands-of-hives-afflicts-orchard-growers-and-beekeepers

Plummeting Insect Numbers 'Threaten Collapse of Nature'

The Guardian By Damian Carrington February 10, 2019

The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review

Why insects are in decline, and can we do anything about it.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

Scarce copper butterflies. Photograph: Marlene Finlayson/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy

Scarce copper butterflies. Photograph: Marlene Finlayson/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy

Quick guide

Insect collapse: the red flags

Butterflies and moths

There has been a “severe reduction” in butterflies and moths in the Kullaberg Nature Reserve in Sweden compared to 50 years ago. Scientists found over a quarter of the 600 species once found had been lost. Butterflies were hardest hit, losing almost a half of species, including the large tortoiseshell and scarce copper. In England, two-thirds of 340 moth species declined from 1968-2003.

Bumblebees

Museum records enabled scientists to assess the fate of 16 species of bumblebees in the US midwest from 1900 to 2007. They found four had completely died out, while eight were declining in number, and blamed intensive agriculture and pesticides.

Dragonflies

Red dragonfly populations have fallen sharply in Japan since the mid-1990s, which scientists link to insecticides in rice paddies that stop the water-living nymphs emerging into adults. In the US, recent surveys across California and Nevada found 65% of dragonflies and damselflies had declined in the 100 years since 1914.

Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers and planthoppers often make up a large proportion of the flying insects in European grasslands. But scientists found their abundance in Germany plunged by 66% in the 50 years to 2010. Soil acidification, partly due to heavy fertiliser use, was the main cause.

Ground beetles

In the UK, dramatic declines in ground beetles have been seen in almost three-quarters of the 68 carabid species studied from 1994-2008. A few species increased, but overall one in six of all the beetles was lost in that time.

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

Surveying butterflies in Maine, US. Photograph: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Getty Images

Surveying butterflies in Maine, US. Photograph: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Getty Images

Bees have also been seriously affected, with only half of the bumblebee species found in Oklahoma in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since.

There are more than 350,000 species of beetle and many are thought to have declined, especially dung beetles. But there are also big gaps in knowledge, with very little known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crickets. Experts say there is no reason to think they are faring any better than the studied species.

A small number of adaptable species are increasing in number, but not nearly enough to outweigh the big losses. “There are always some species that take advantage of vacuum left by the extinction of other species,” said Sanchez-Bayo. In the US, the common eastern bumblebee is increasing due to its tolerance of pesticides.

global insects.jpg

Most of the studies analysed were done in western Europe and the US, with a few ranging from Australia to China and Brazil to South Africa, but very few exist elsewhere.

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades.

He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

German conservation workers inspect an urban garden for insects. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German conservation workers inspect an urban garden for insects. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said.

In the tropics, where industrial agriculture is often not yet present, the rising temperatures due to climate change are thought to be a significant factor in the decline. The species there have adapted to very stable conditions and have little ability to change, as seen in Puerto Rico.

Sánchez-Bayo said the unusually strong language used in the review was not alarmist. “We wanted to really wake people up” and the reviewers and editor agreed, he said. “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

Other scientists agree that it is becoming clear that insect losses are now a serious global problem. “The evidence all points in the same direction,” said Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK. “It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”

Matt Shardlow, at the conservation charity Buglife, said: “It is gravely sobering to see this collation of evidence that demonstrates the pitiful state of the world’s insect populations. It is increasingly obvious that the planet’s ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends.” In his opinion, the review slightly overemphasises the role of pesticides and underplays global warming, though other unstudied factors such as light pollution might prove to be significant.

Volunteers look for the wormwood moonshiner beetle in Suffolk, UK. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Volunteers look for the wormwood moonshiner beetle in Suffolk, UK. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford Universityin the US, has seen insects vanish first-hand, through his work on checkerspot butterflies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first studied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, largely due to climate change.

Ehrlich praised the review, saying: “It is extraordinary to have gone through all those studies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the particularly large declines in aquatic insects were striking. “But they don’t mention that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change,” he said.

Sánchez-Bayo said he had recently witnessed an insect crash himself. A recent family holiday involved a 400-mile (700km) drive across rural Australia, but he had not once had to clean the windscreen, he said. “Years ago you had to do this constantly.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature

Different Types of Honey Bees

The Different Types of Honey Bees

Introduction

Honey bees, like all other living things, vary among themselves in traits such as temperament, disease resistance, and productivity. The environment has a large effect on differences among bee colonies (for example, plants in different areas yield different honey crops), but the genetic makeup of a colony can also impact the characteristics that define a particular group. Beekeepers have long known that different genetic stocks have distinctive characteristics, so they have utilized different strains to suit their particular purpose, whether it be pollination, a honey crop, or bee production.

What Is a Bee Stock?

The term “stock” is defined as a loose combination of traits that characterize a particular group of bees. Such groups can be divided by species, race, region, population, or breeding line in a commercial operation. Many of the current “stocks” in the United States can be grouped at one or more of these levels, so the term will be used interchangeably, depending on the particular strain of bees in question.

Wide variation exists within stocks as well as among them. Any generalities about a particular stock should be treated with caution, since there are always exceptions to the rule. Nonetheless, the long and vast experience of beekeepers allows some oversimplifications to be made in order to better understand the different types of bees available. The following is a brief overview of some of the more common commercially available honey bee stocks in the United States.

Comparison of bees and their traits

Comparison of bees and their traits

The Italian Bee

Italian honey bees, of the subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica, were brought to the United States in 1859. They quickly became the favored bee stock in this country and remain so to this day. Known for their extended periods of brood rearing, Italian bees can build colony populations in the spring and maintain them for the entire summer. They are less defensive and less prone to disease than their German counterparts, and they are excellent honey producers. They also are very lightly colored, ranging from a light leather hue to an almost lemon yellow, a trait that is highly coveted by many beekeepers for its aesthetic appeal.

Despite their popularity, Italian bees have some drawbacks. First, because of their prolonged brood rearing, they may consume surplus honey in the hive if supers (removable upper sections where honey is stored) are not removed immediately after the honey flow stops. Second, they are notorious kleptoparasites and frequently rob the honey stores of weaker or dead neighboring colonies. This behavior may pose problems for Italian beekeepers who work their colonies during times of nectar dearth, and it may cause the rapid spread of transmittable diseases among hives.

The German Bee

Honey bees are not native to the New World, although North America has about 4,000 native species of bees. Honey bees were brought to America in the 17thcentury by the early European settlers. These bees were most likely of the subspecies A. m. mellifera, otherwise known as the German or “black” bee. This stock is very dark in color and tends to be very defensive, making bee management more difficult. One of the German bees’ more favorable characteristics is that they are a hardy strain, able to survive long, cold winters in northern climates. However, because of their defensive nature and their susceptibility to many brood diseases (such as American and European foulbrood), this stock lost favor with beekeepers well over a century ago. Although the feral bee population in the United States was once dominated by this strain, newly introduced diseases have nearly wiped out most wild honey bee colonies, making the German bee a rare stock at this time

The Carniolan Bee

The subspecies A. m. carnica, from middle Europe, also has been a favored bee stock in the United States for several reasons. First, their explosive spring buildup enables this race to grow rapidly in population and take advantage of blooms that occur much earlier in the spring, compared to other stocks. Second, they are extremely docile and can be worked with little smoke and protective clothing. Third, they are much less prone to robbing other colonies of honey, lowering disease transmission among colonies. Finally, they are very good builders of wax combs, which can be used for products ranging from candles, to soaps, to cosmetics.

Because of their rapid buildup, however, carniolan bees tend to have a high propensity to swarm (their effort to relieve overcrowding) and, therefore, may leave the beekeeper with a very poor honey crop. This stock requires continued vigilance to prevent the loss of swarms.

The Caucasian Bee

A. m. caucasica is a race of honey bees native to the foothills of the Ural mountains near the Caspian Sea in eastern Europe. This stock was once popular in the United States, but it has declined in regard over the last few decades. Its most notable characteristic is its very long tongue, which enables the bees to forage for nectar from flowers that other bee stocks may not have access to. They tend to be a moderately colored bee and, like the Carniolans, are extremely docile. However, their slow spring buildup keeps them from generating very large honey crops, and they tend to use an excessive amount of propolis—the sticky resin substance sometimes called “bee glue” that is used to seal cracks and joints of bee structures—making their hives diffi- cult to manipulate.

The Buckfast Bee

In the 1920s, honey bee colonies in the British Isles were devastated by acarine disease, which now is suspected to have been the endoparasitic tracheal mite Acarapis woodi. Brother Adams, a monk at Buckfast Abby in Devon, England, was charged with creating a bee stock that could withstand this deadly disease. He traveled the world interviewing beekeepers and learning about different bee strains, and he created a stock of bees, largely from the Italian race, that could thrive in the cold wet conditions of the British Isles, yet produce good honey crops and exhibit good housecleaning and grooming behavior to reduce the prevalence of disease. Bees of this stock are moderately defensive. However, if left unmanaged for one or two generations, they can be among the most fiercely defensive bees of any stock. They also are moderate in spring population buildup, preventing them from taking full advantage of early nectar flows.

The Russian Bee

One of the newer bee stocks in the United States was imported from far-eastern Russia by the US Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The researchers’ logic was that these bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan, have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating ectoparasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe, and they might thrive in the United States. The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resistance to varroa and found that it had. Numerous studies have shown that bees of this strain have fewer than half the number of mites that are found in standard commercial stocks. The quarantine phase of this project has been complete since 2000, and bees of this strain are available commercially.

Russian bees tend to rear brood only during times of nectar and pollen flows, so brood rearing and colony populations tend to fluctuate with the environment. They also exhibit good housecleaning behavior, resulting in resistance not only to varroa but also to the tracheal mite.

Bees of this stock exhibit some unusual behaviors compared to other strains. For example, they tend to have queen cells present in their colonies almost all the time, whereas most other stocks rear queens only during times of swarming or queen replacement. Russian bees also perform better when not in the presence of other bee strains; research has shown that cross-contamination from susceptible stocks can lessen the varroa resistance of these bees.

Other Notable Stocks

Many other honey bee stocks are worth noting:

The Minnesota Hygienic stock has been selected for its exceptional housecleaning ability, significantly reducing the negative effects of most brood diseases.

The VSH, or the "Varroa Sensitive Hygiene" stock (used to be named the SMR stock, referring to “Suppression of Mite Reproduction”), also was developed by the USDA honey bee lab in Louisiana by artificially selecting commercial stocks for mite resistance. While not an independently viable stock on its own (because of inbreeding), the VSH trait has been incorporated into other genetic stocks so that these stocks may also express this highly desired characteristic.

The Cordovan bee is a type of Italian bee that has a very light yellow color, which is more attractive to many beekeepers.

Numerous hybrid stocks are also available commercially:

The Midnite bee was developed by crossing the Caucasian and Carniolan stocks, hoping to maintain the extreme gentleness of both strains while removing the excessive propolis of the Caucasians and minimizing the swarming propensity of the Carniolans.

The Starline was developed from numerous strains of the Italian stock by Gladstone Cale of the Dadant Bee Company. It was once favored by commercial beekeepers because of its tremendous honey yields, particularly in clover, but the popularity of this stock has declined in recent decades.

The Double Hybrid is a cross of the Midnite and the Starline.

Conclusion

While a tremendous amount of variation remains within and among the different bee stocks, some generalities still can be made. Bee differences can be used to advantage by beekeepers, depending on what traits interest them, so using different stocks can be a powerful tool at the beekeeper’s disposal. There is no “best” strain of bee, as the traits favored by one beekeeper may differ significantly from another’s choice. Thus, it is best for each beekeeper to experience the characteristics of the different bee strains first hand and then form an opinion about which stock best fits his or her situation.

For more information on beekeeping, visit the Beekeeping Notes website.

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/the-different-types-of-honey-bees

David R. Tarpy
Professor and Extension Apiculturist
Department of Entomology, Campus Box 7613
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7613
TEL: (919) 515-1660
FAX: (919) 515-7746
EMAIL: david_tarpy@ncsu.edu

Jennifer J. Keller
Apiculture Technician
Department of Entomology, Campus Box 7613
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7613
TEL: (919) 513-7702
FAX: (919) 515-7746
EMAIL: jennifer_keller@ncsu.edu

NC State Extension
Author David Tarpy,
Professor and Extension Apiculturist
Entomology

A New Hope: Rare Bee Discovered in Alberta, Canada

ABJ Extra     April 17, 2018

One of the host bee species, Macropis nuda, collecting oil from a Lysimachia terrestris flower. Credit: Dr. Cory S. Sheffield

The Macropis Cuckoo Bee is one of the rarest bees in North America, partly because of its specialized ecological associations. It is a nest parasite of oil-collecting bees of the genus Macropis which, in turn, are dependent on oil-producing flowers of the genus Lysimachia.

In fact, the cuckoo bee - which much like its feather-bearing counterpart does not build a nest of its own, but lays its eggs in those of other species instead - is so rare that it was thought to have gone extinct until it was collected in Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 2000s. As a result, the Macropis Cuckoo Bee was brought to the attention of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada(COSEWIC).

Recently, an individual reported from Alberta, Canada, brought new hope for the survival of the species. In addition to previously collected specimens from Ontario, this record greatly expands the known range of the cuckoo.

Scientists Dr. Cory S Sheffield, Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Canada, who was the one to rediscover the "extinct" species in Nova Scotia, and Jennifer Heron,British Columbia Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, present their new data, and discuss the conservation status of this species in their paper, published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

"This species has a very interesting biology," they say, "being a nest parasite - or cuckoo - of another group of bees that in turn have very specialized dietary needs."

The hosts, bees of the genus Macropis (which themselves are quite rare) are entirely dependent on plants of the primrose genus Lysimachia. Moreover, they only go after those Lysimachia species whose flowers produce oil droplets, which the insects collect and feed to their larvae. Thus, Macropis bees require these oil-producing flowers to exist just like Macropis Cuckoo Bees need their hosts and their nests. Curiously, this reliance, as suggested by previous studies on related European species, has made the female cuckoos develop the ability to find their host's nests by the smell of the floral oils.

"This level of co-dependence between flower, bee, and cuckoo bee, makes for a very tenuous existence, especially for the cuckoo," the authors comment. "The recent specimen from Alberta lets us know that the species is still out there, and is more widespread than we thought."

In conclusion, the authors suggest that continuing to monitor for populations of rare bees, and documenting historic records, are crucial for conservation status assessments of at-risk species.

"Biodiversity Data Journal provides a great venue to share this type of information with our colleagues for regional, national, and international efforts for species conservation," they note.

Original source:
Sheffield C, Heron J (2018) A new western Canadian record of Epeoloides pilosulus (Cresson), with discussion of ecological associations, distribution and conservation status in Canada. Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e22837.https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e22837

Accidental Discovery Could Save Bees From Their Greatest Threat

Real Clear Science     By Ross Pomeroy     January 15, 2018

Agricultural Research ServiceGerman scientists primarily based out of the University of Hohenheim have stumbled upon a simple solution that could deal a blow to honeybees' greatest threat. They've found that a tiny dose of the compound lithium chloride kills Varroa destructor mites without harming bees.

The scientists detailed their incredible findings in the January 12th publication of Scientific Reports.

V. destructor, more commonly known as the Varroa mite, is a scourge of honeybees across the globe. Upon infiltrating a colony, the mites latch on to bees, sucking their hemolymph (essentially blood) and spreading the diseases they carry. According to the USDA, 42 percent of commercial hives in the U.S. were infested in summer 2017, and 40 percent of beekeepers said the parasite seriously harmed their colonies. By comparison, only 13 percent reported harm from pesticides.

Chemical compounds exist to combat the parasites but they are outdated and growing increasingly ineffective, the researchers write, adding that no new active compounds have been registered in the last 25 years.

The dearth of options prompted scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to experiment with a technique called RNA interference. In their study, they fed bees double-stranded RNA via a sugar solution to knockout vital genes in Varroamites. The mites ingested the lethal RNA via bees' hemolymph and subsequently died.

Inspired by those results, the German researchers sought to replicate them by repeating the experiment with slightly tweaked methods. Indeed, mites infesting bees that were fed sugar water with the designed RNA rapidly died, but so did mites in a control group given another RNA that should have been ineffective. The astonishing results prompted the researchers to suspect that the lithium chlorideused to produce the RNA – and thus present in the sugar water – was actually killing the parasites. A battery of subsequent examinations confirmed their hypothesis.

The scientists then carried out numerous experiments testing lithium chloride against Varroa mites, including ones that approximated field studies. They found that feeding honeybees minuscule amounts of lithium chloride (at a concentration of no more than 25 millimolar) over 24 to 72 hours wiped out 90 to 100 percent of Varroa mites without significantly increasing bee mortality. (Below: The figure shows the surviving proportion of bees and mites fed lithium chloride compared to those not fed lithium chloride.) Ziegelmann et al. / Scientific Reports

According to the researchers, lithium chloride could be put to use very quickly as it is easily applied via feeding, will not accumulate in beeswax, has a low toxicity for mammals, and is reasonably priced. However, wider studies on free-flying colonies testing long-term side effects are required first, as well as analyses of potential residues in honey.

Francis Ratnieks, a Professor of Apiculture at the University of Sussex, expressed skepticism about the new finding.

"We can kill 97% of the Varroa in a brood less hive with a single application of oxalic acid, which takes five minutes to apply and is already registered and being used by beekeepers," he told RCScience via email. "I think it will be difficult in practice to apply lithium salts to colonies to kill varroa and get the same level of control... There are also the wider issues of registration and potential contamination of the honey with a product that would not normally be there."

It should be noted that studies have shown oxalic acid to be inconsistent at managing mites during the summer months as well as in colonies with capped broods

Regardless, the Hohenheim researchers are pressing forward. They're already speaking with companies to get a lithium chloride treatment refined, approved, and in the hands of beekeepers.

"Lithium chloride has potential as an effective and easy-to-apply treatment for artificial and natural swarms and particularly for the huge number of package bees used for pollination in the United States," they conclude.

Source: Bettina Ziegelmann, Elisabeth Abele, Stefan Hannus, Michaela Beitzinger, Stefan Berg & Peter Rosenkranz. "Lithium chloride effectively kills the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor by a systemic mode of action." Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 683 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-19137-5

*Article updated 1/15 to include Professor Ratnieks' statement and to include information about oxalic acid.

*An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that the researchers are based out of the University of Hoffenheim. They are from the University of Hohenheim.

https://www.realclearscience.com/quick_and_clear_science/2018/01/15/accidental_discovery_could_save_bees_from_their_greatest_threat.html

Related articles/info:
http://scientificbeekeeping.com/home/news-and-blogs/

http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?341995-Lithium-chloride-as-miticide&s=cf01c15735e4ecac52336121d381e000

https://badbeekeepingblog.com/2018/01/17/have-you-lithium-chlorided-your-bees-yet/

Insectageddon: Farming Is More Catastrophic Than Climate Breakdown

The Guardian   By George Monbiot    October 20, 2017

‘Flying insects are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive.’ Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdownair pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the “moth snowstorm” that filled the headlight beams of our parents’ cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthy’s lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.

Well, I hear you say, we have to feed the world. Yes, but not this way. As a UN report published in March explained, the notion that pesticide use is essential for feeding a growing population is a myth. A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.

To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

1 We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.

2 We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.

3 We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.

4 We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.

5 We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.

Read at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations?CMP=share_btn_fb

Related: Warning Of 'Ecological Armageddon' After Dramatic Plunge In Insect Numbers

EPA Honors Fifth-Grader from Everett, Washington for Protecting Bees and Other Pollinators

Environmental Protection Agency News Releases from Region 10   June 14, 2017

St. Mary Magdalen School 5th grader Elizabeth Sajan’s project “Bee Happy We Happy” helps protect bees and other pollinators and encourages her Everett, Washington community to promote bee health by planting bee-friendly flowers, keeping “weeds,” becoming a beekeeper, reducing pesticide use, and including water sources in a garden. Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Elizabeth Sajan, a 5th grade student at St. Mary Magdalen School in Everett, Washington, for her outstanding work to promote and protect bees and other pollinators in her local community. Elizabeth’s project is among 15 student projects from 13 states to receive the 2016 President’s Environmental Youth Award for their environmental education and stewardship achievements.  EPA presented the award at a ceremony today at St. Mary Magdalen School.

“Today, we are pleased to honor these impressive young leaders, who demonstrate the impact that a few individuals can make to protect our environment,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These students are empowering their peers, educating their communities, and demonstrating the STEM skills needed for this country to thrive in the global economy.”

As part of the 5th grade science curriculum, Elizabeth learned about pollination and the importance of bees. The topic struck her curiosity and after encouragement from her teacher, Elizabeth embarked on an independent project to educate herself and her community about bee health and beekeeping.

“I am so proud of Elizabeth for taking a topic we were learning about in class and transforming this topic into a passion,” said Julie Tyndall, Fifth Grade Teacher at St. Mary Magdalen School. “She educated the community about the importance of bees as pollinators, how it will affect our lives if bees disappear, and what we can do to help bees thrive in our communities.” 

During her project “Bee Happy We Happy,” Elizabeth did extensive research including reviewing articles, Washington State University Extension videos on pollination and pollinator protection, a TED talk, visiting a local nursery to understand cultivation, and reaching out to organizations and scientists as direct sources. Her research included sources such as the community horticulture wing of the department of pest management of Washington State University Extension, a chemical engineer in Oregon, and a biotechnologist in pharmaceuticals, which helped her to understand chemicals being used in modern agriculture and managing balanced biodiversity. 

Following her research, to engage her community, Elizabeth created an awareness flier, and set out to distribute it across her school and community. Elizabeth shared actions that her community members could take to promote bee health, such as planting bee-friendly flowers, keeping “weeds,” becoming a beekeeper, reducing pesticide use, and including water sources in a garden. She presented to her classmates and principal, and provided fliers to homeroom teachers to discuss with their science classes. At her local grocery, she engaged customers at the door by giving out her flier and discussing her concerns about bee health and how individuals could make a difference in protecting pollinators. Elizabeth plans to continue to get the message out to her family, friends and community to develop more “bee helpers” in her community. 

President’s Environmental Youth Awards information:  https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award

https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-honors-fifth-grader-everett-washington-protecting-bees-and-other-pollinators

Bees Under the Macro Lens - In Pictures

The Guardian  Insects Unlocked/Cover Imagese Aljandro Santillana   July 20, 2017

Summer’s here, and so are bees. These new macro images by Alejandro Santillana are being showcased in the Insects Unlocked project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Bee Photo: Alejandro SantillanaA female sweat bee. Photo: Alejandro SantillanaThe female leaf-cutter bee with pollen she has collected. Photo: Alejandro Santillana

A large female carpenter bee. Photo: Alejandro Santillana

A male parallel leaf-cutter bee. Photo: Alejandro Santillana

View more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/jul/20/bees-under-the-macro-lens-in-pictures

Beekeepers Feel The Sting Of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt    All Things Considered  June 27, 2017

Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive.

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPR. That was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/06/27/534128664/beekeepers-feel-the-sting-of-california-s-giant-beehive-heist

Related: /home/2017/6/23/two-men-charged-in-major-beehive-theft-targeting-central-val.html

Beekeepers Feel the Sting of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt   Heard on All Things Considered   By Ezra David Romero     June 27, 2017Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Heard on All Things Considered:

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPRThat was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/06/27/534128664/beekeepers-feel-the-sting-of-california-s-giant-beehive-heist

These Bees Nest in Sandstone

Global Possibilities    By Casey Coates Danson     May 30, 2017

By  in EARTHSKY.ORG

"Rock is apparently no match for Anthophora pueblo bees. Scientists have found their sandstone nests scattered across dry lands in the U.S. Southwest."

Sandstone nest of an Anthophora pueblo bee. Image via Michael Orr.Bees are known for building elaborate nests, typically in trees or in the ground, but I was still surprised when I came across an article in Eos describing a new species of bee that builds its nests in hard sandstone. The bee, which has been named Anthophora pueblo in honor of the ancestral Pueblo peoples who built cliff dwellings in sandstone, is an inhabitant of dry lands in the Southwestern United States.

Frank Parker, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist, first discovered the bees at two sites in the San Rafael Desert of Utah nearly 40 years ago. He took samples of the sandstone nests and even raised some young bees until they emerged as adults, but his work was never published. Recently, Parker’s research caught the attention of Michael Orr, a doctoral student at Utah State University, who discovered five new sandstone nests in places such as California’s Death Valley and Mesa Verde, Colorado. Orr and Parker’s research on these five new nest sites in addition to the two earlier ones was published in Current Biology on September 12, 2016.

Close-up view of a female Anthophora pueblo bee. Image Credit: Michael Orr.Apparently, the conditions need to be just right for the bees to build their sandstone nests—the sandstone cannot be too hard and a water source has to be located nearby. In areas where the sandstone was very hard, the bees actually preferred nesting in other materials like silt, but in areas where the sandstone was softer, the bees preferred nesting in the sandstone. The scientists think that the bees may use water to help dissolve the sandstone and excavate tunnels throughout their nests.

A looming question about this odd type of bee behavior is to determine why this species expends the extra energy it takes to construct sandstone nests. The sandstone nests could be less susceptible to destruction by flash floods, or they could be more resistant to invasions by pathogens and parasites, the scientists say. There clearly is some sort of benefit gained by building a sandstone nest.

Orr commented on this puzzling dilemma in a statement:

"Sandstone is more durable than most other nesting options and any bees that do not emerge from these nests in a year are better protected. Delayed emergence is a bet-hedging strategy for avoiding years with poor floral resources—especially useful in the drought-prone desert."

Since completing his study, Orr has discovered dozens of new sandstone nests in Utah, California, Colorado, and Nevada. The conservation status of this new species will need to be determined, as it is an uncommon species that could be susceptible to disruptions such as droughts.

Wild Horse Creek, Utah, a site where Anthophora pueblo bees were found. Image Credit: Michael Orr.Other co-authors of the study included Terry Griswold and James Pitts. Financial support for the research was provided by Utah State and a James and Patty MacMahon Graduate Student Research Award.

Bottom line: Scientists have described a new species of bee that builds its nests in hard sandstone.

Deanna Conners

Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.

http://www.globalpossibilities.org/these-bees-nest-in-sandstone/

The 10 Most Amazing Honey Bee Facts Ever

Glory Bee    May 2, 2017

The 10 Most Amazing Honey Bee Facts Ever

You don’t have to be a beekeeper to appreciate the honey bee! This fascinating insect is one of Nature’s most social creatures, and also one of the most unique living organisms on our planet. In the past three decades, honey bees have been dying off. No one is sure of the exact cause for their disappearance. Pesticides, genetically modified crops, parasites and changing climate patterns are all being considered as contributing factors, but more scientific research is needed.

Knowledge is power. The more people learn about the honey bee, the more they will be motivated to take action and protect our pollinators. Here are ten amazing honey bee facts to share with your family and friends to help them truly appreciate the hard-working honey bee. Discover more ways to help honey bees at SAVEtheBEE.org.

HONEY BEE TRIVIA

  1. Honey Bees have 5 eyes- 2 large compound eyes and 3 small simple eyes.
  2. Honey Bee queens lay 1,500 eggs A DAY.
  3. A single bee makes 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. A typical little 12-ounce honey bear squeeze bottle takes 864 bees to make all the honey that goes inside it.
  4. Bees flap their wings 190 times a second. (That’s over double the 70 times a second the hummingbird flaps its wings)
  5. A honey bee flies 15 miles per hour.
  6. Honey bees keep the inside of their hives at 93 degrees Fahrenheit. (If it’s cold outside, all the bees vibrate their bodies and create body heat to warm up their hive to 93°, and when it’s hot outside, they flap their wings like fans to create a breeze and cool it off.)
  7. Honey bees never sleep!
  8. It takes approximately 1,100 bee stings to be fatal to a healthy adult human.
  9. Honey bees are the ONLY insect that produces food for humans to eat.
  10. Honey bees pollinate approximately 80% of all vegetables, fruit and seed crops in the USA.

    https://glorybee.com/blog/the-10-most-amazing-honey-bee-facts-ever/

These Photos Show the Stunning Diversity of North America’s Native Bees

Slate.com    By Jordan G. Teicher


Metallic green bee, Augochloropsis metallica, collecting nectar and pollen from a
black-eyed susan.  South Carolina.

In 2014, Clay Bolt, a self-described natural history photographer, started photographing bees in his Bozeman, Montana, garden after reading about colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon devastating honey bee populations around the world. Curious about what he’d captured, he found the bees in his photos weren’t honey bees, which are native to Europe, but rather two different species of native North American bees. In North America alone, Bolt was surprised to learn, there are more than 4,000 native bee species.

“As I began to do more research, I realized that so little was known about our native species, and so at that moment I realized that I could use my photography to begin to tell some of those stories,” he said. 

Continue reading and view more amazing images: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2016/05/02/clay_bolt_photographs_native_north_american_bees_for_his_project_beautiful.html

The World's Mantra

Natural Beekeeping Trust - The World's Mantra  By Carol Ann Duffy

"Where the bees live, such places are holy places, whole and sound. Look out for them and tell the bees that we love them. Ask them what came first, the banishing of the spirits from the living world or the crushing of our own, they surely will have an answer. And if you offer them a hive, in summer time, be sure that it is a beautiful hive, in a beautiful place. Let the hive proclaim the beneficence of the being that inhabits it. Let them face the rising sun. Go there often. Go in peace. If that’s not possible because your soul is in turmoil, tell it to them, but don’t breathe on them as you will make them afraid. Bees will make all things better. Each day we can be born again among the bees; without the bees we are nothing." ~ From: Poetry: Hive & The Bees, Carol Ann Duffy, Picador

To enjoy in its entirety visit: http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/mantra

Save the bees! Wait, was that a bee?

TEDxTalks   Joseph Wilson / TEDx USU    December 1, 2016

There is a growing movement around the world to “save the bees.” Unfortunately, misunderstandings about what a bee is and what a bee’s needs are can lead to misguided efforts to save them. Much of the movement has focused on honey bees or bumble bees but has ignored the other 95% of bee species, many of which are important pollinators in our wild lands and in agricultural settings. In order to truly save the bees, we first need to understand them.

Joseph Wilson grew up in Utah and was biologically inclined from birth. At the age of two, he declared to his parents that when he grew up, he wanted to be a lion. While he didn’t quite achieve that goal, his studies at Utah State University provided the training to be the next best thing: a professor of biology. His research focuses primarily on the evolution and ecology of bees and wasps. Joseph says that the lives of these insects provide as much drama, mystery, and humor as any prime time TV show—but without the commercials.

Along with a colleague, Joseph recently authored a book, “The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees.” He has been invited to share his knowledge on NPR, Canada Public Radio, and at speaking events across the country.

Joseph loves that his research enables him to travel around the country with his wife and three children, collecting and photographing the beautiful bees and wasps that live all around us.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVDXD3oyMJg&sns=fb

Bumblebees Learned to Pull Strings for Reward

Associative Mechanisms Allow for Social Lerning and Cultural Transmission of String Pulling in an Insect - Published October 5, 2016 PLOS Biology: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002564

Bumblebees Learned to Pull Strings For Reward
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKH3D2SBG4M

Researchers trained bumblebees in a stepwise manner to pull a string to access a reward (sucrose). Other bumblebees learned by observing trained demonstrators from a distance. Only a small minority solved the task spontaneously. The experiments suggest that learning a nonnatural task in bumblebees can spread culturally through populations

Credit:
Associative Mechanisms Allow for Social Learning and Cultural Transmission of String Pulling in an Insect  Sylvain Alem, Clint J. Perry, Xingfu Zhu, Olli J. Loukola, Thomas Ingraham, Eirik Søvik, Lars Chittka

http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002564

Primitive Signs of Emotions Spotted in Sugar-Buzzed Bumblebees

science Daily     By Emily Underwood     September 30, 2016

After a treat, insects appeared to have rosier outlooks

BUZZED Bumblebees seem to get a mood boost from sweets, a new study shows.

To human observers, bumblebees sipping nectar from flowers appear cheerful. It turns out that the insects may actually enjoy their work. A new study suggests that bees experience a “happy” buzz after receiving a sugary snack, although it’s probably not the same joy that humans experience chomping on a candy bar.

Scientists can’t ask bees or other animals how they feel. Instead, researchers must look for signs of positive or negative emotions in an animal’s decision making or behavior, says Clint Perry, a neuroethologist at Queen Mary University of London. In one such study, for example, scientists shook bees vigorously in a machine for 60 seconds — hard enough to annoy, but not hard enough to cause injury — and found that stressed bees made more pessimistic decisions while foraging for food.

The new study, published in the Sept. 30 Science, is the first to look for signs of positive bias in bee decision making, Perry says. His team trained 35 bees to navigate a small arena connected to a plastic tunnel. When the tunnel was marked with a blue flower, the bees learned that a tasty vial of sugar water awaited them at its end. When a green flower was present, there was no reward. Once the bees learned the difference, the scientists threw the bees a curveball: Rather than being blue or green, the flower had a confusing blue-green hue.

Faced with the ambiguous blossom, the bees appeared to dither, meandering around for roughly 100 seconds before deciding whether to enter the tunnel. Some didn’t enter at all. But when the scientists gave half the bees a treat — a drop of concentrated sugar water — that group spent just 50 seconds circling the entrance before deciding to check it out. Overall, the two groups flew roughly the same distances at the same speeds, suggesting that the group that had gotten a treat first had not simply experienced a boost in energy from the sugar, but were in a more positive, optimistic state, Perry says.

In a separate experiment, Perry and colleagues simulated a spider attack on the bees by engineering a tiny arm that darted out and immobilized them with a sponge. Sugar-free bees took about 50 seconds longer than treated bees to resume foraging after the harrowing encounter.

The researchers then applied a solution to the bees’ thoraxes that blocked the action of dopamine, one of several chemicals that transmit rewarding signals in the insect brain. With dopamine blocked, the effects of the sugar treat disappeared, further suggesting that a change in mood, and not just increased energy, was responsible for the bees’ behavior.

The results provide the first evidence for positive, emotion-like states in bees, says Ralph Adolphs, a neuroscientist at Caltech. Yet he suspects that the metabolic effects of sugar did influence the bees’ behavior.

Geraldine Wright, a neuroethologist at Newcastle University in England, shares that concern. “The data reported in the paper doesn’t quite convince me that eating sucrose didn’t change how they behaved, even though they say it didn’t affect flight time or speed of flight,” she says. “I would be very cautious in interpreting the responses of bees in this assay as a positive emotional state.”

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/primitive-signs-emotions-spotted-sugar-buzzed-bumblebees