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

Beekeeping Class 101: Sunday, April 14, 2019

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Sunday, April 14th

REGISTRATION REQUIRED
 Register by Thursday April 11th to receive class location and details needed to attend class.

 PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

This class will take place in an apiary, therefore, protective equipment will be required.  If you do not have proper protective equipment you will NOT be able to participate in class and refunds will NOT be issued (all money collected for classes were a donation).

Class Topic: 

  • Get comfortable with handling your bees

  • Hive inspection techniques – what to look for on you first hive inspection after installing your package of bees or nuc of bees.

  • Be prepared for a quiz!  Do you remember what was covered in class last month?

https://www.losangelescountybeekeepers.com/beekeeping-class-101

Honey Bee Colonies More Successful By Foraging on Non-Crop Fields

USDA-ARS By Kim Kaplan March 20, 2019

An adult worker bee gathering pollen and nectar from a helianthus flower. Credit: USDA-ARS

An adult worker bee gathering pollen and nectar from a helianthus flower. Credit: USDA-ARS

Honey bee colonies foraging on land with a strong cover of clover species and alfalfa do more than three times as well than if they are put next to crop fields of sunflowers or canola, according to a study just published in Scientific Reportsby an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist and his colleagues.

Managed honey bee colonies placed from May until October next to land in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in North Dakota were more robust with better colony health including higher numbers of bees and increased ability to turn nectar and pollen into vitellogenin—a compound that plays a number of roles including serving as the base for producing royal jelly, which bees use to nurture larvae and turn larvae into queens.

Vitellogenin also is a critical food storage reservoir for honey bee colonies, and a colony’s success in the spring depends on total vitellogenin reserves carried by specialized bees over the winter. Vitellogenin prolongs the lifespans of queens and forager bees as well as strongly influencing key behaviors that increase colony survival such as determining how old bees are before they begin foraging and whether they tend to gather nectar or pollen.

After spending six months foraging on CRP land and then overwintering, more than 78 percent of the colonies were graded A, the highest level commanding the highest price for pollination services in January, meaning a colony has six or more frames well filled with bees, capped cells and bee brood (larvae).

With colonies kept near intensely cultivated fields and then overwintered under the same circumstances to the CRP apiaries, only 20 percent could be rated Grade A and 55 percent were less than 2 frames or dead.

Land in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program provides valuable forage for honey bees. Credit: USDA-ARS

Land in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program provides valuable forage for honey bees. Credit: USDA-ARS

“With California almond growers having paid an average of $190 per Grade A colony in the 2018 almond pollination season, the need for beekeepers to have access to land that has diverse and substantial nectar and pollen sources is obvious,” explained ARS research microbiologist Kirk E. Anderson. Anderson is with ARS’ Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Anderson and his team, including ARS molecular biologist Vincent Ricigliano, also profiled several molecular colony level biomarkers, looking for a way to simplify how researchers can measure how well a honey bee colony is doing in different foraging conditions while overcoming individual bee variation.

They found that higher levels of vitellogenin stores were the best predictor of colony size after winter. Higher levels also were associated with increased production of antioxidant enzymes—which reduce cell damage—and greater production of antimicrobial peptides, which contribute to disease resistance.

The researchers eliminated other potential common causes of colony decline except for forage resource, highlighting the importance of pollen and nectar quality provided by the area surrounding the apiary. While the link between the quality of forage and colony health is generally known, this study highlights the value of agriculturally marginal (CRP) landscapes for honey bee production in a region that hosts close to half the U.S. managed bee population (about 1 million colonies) during the summer.

“We’ve also shown that the benefits of high-quality forage such as that provided by CRP land carries right through the overwintering period and leaves bees in the best shape to build up their numbers before being needed to pollinate almonds in February and early March,” said Ricigliano.

Our results provide land managers and scientists with methods to evaluate the relationship between bees and the landscape. For beekeepers, it provides a basis for making decisions about where to put their apiaries for the summer and fall after crop pollination ends so that the colonies will be in a position to build up robust healthy numbers in time for the migration to California for almond pollination, Anderson added.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impac

https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2019/honey-bee-colonies-more-successful-by-foraging-on-non-crop-fields/

Sharing 'The Secret Life of Bees'

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey

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

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

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

The interpretative reading was about bees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

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

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

Los Angeles Zoo - Spring Fling

LA Zoo 2019 Spring Fling.jpg

Spring Fling

The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association will be hosting a ‘Honey Tasting’ (like a ‘Wine Tasting’) during the Los Angeles Zoo 2019 Spring Fling. For six weekends beginning Saturday, March 23 through Sunday, April 28, 2019. LACBA members will be on hand offering samples of a variety of local honeys. We’ll also be selling local honey as well as providing education about honey bees and answering questions. We will also have a 30 minute slot every day on the stage next to our Honey Bee Booth to talk about beekeeping. 

LACBA Members Volunteer Sign Up

Honeybees' Waggle Dance No Longer Useful In Some Cultivated Landscapes

PHYS.org Universitaet Mainz February 25, 2019

A honeybee performing a waggle dance. Credit: Christoph Grüter

A honeybee performing a waggle dance. Credit: Christoph Grüter

For bees and other social insects, being able to exchange information is vital for the success of their colony. One way honeybees do this is through their waggle dance, which is a unique pattern of behavior, which probably evolved more than 20 million years ago. A bee's waggle dance tells its sisters in the colony where to find a high-quality source of food. However, in recent years, people have begun to study the actual benefits of this dance language. Biologists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany have now shed some new light on the benefits and disadvantages of the bee dance.

"To our surprise, we found that bee colonies are more successful at collecting food if they are deprived of their dance language," reported Dr. Christoph Grüter, a behavioral ecologist at Mainz University. One possible reason may be human-induced habitat change. Together with his colleagues in Lausanne, Grüter conducted experiments over several years to examine the effect of the dance language on a colony's success.

There are about 10 species of honeybees that communicate through waggle dancing. However, the vast majority of bees, i.e., more than 500 species of highly social, stingless insects, have no dance language. Thus, Grüter was interested in the benefits the waggle dance brings to colonies, not least because, as a communication strategy, it is relatively time-consuming. Some waggle dances can last only a few seconds, while others may take up to five minutes.

In the experiments, the scientists manipulated the conditions influencing some of the bee colonies in order to confuse and disorientate the dancing bees. Performed under such conditions, the waggle dance no longer made sense to its bee audience. To create these conditions, light was prevented from falling on the honeycombs, and they were also turned into a horizontal position, preventing the bees from using gravity to orientate themselves.

Another particularly important aspect was to take into account their ability to memorize the location of food. "Bees foraging for food have an excellent memory and can recall a rich feeding spot for several days," explained Grüter. Thus, the research team had to prevent foragers performing the waggle dance for 18 days to ensure they could not use their memory to tell other bees where to fly to find the excellent sources of food. Foraging bees are older than other colony members. In their final phase of life, they no longer work in the hive, but go out to collect nectar and pollen. Typically, they are in the last 18 days of their life.

A colony of bees on a horizontal honeycomb. The researchers rotated the honeycombs to lie horizontally, making it impossible for the bees to orientate themselves with the help of light or gravity. The hive was placed on a balance to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

A colony of bees on a horizontal honeycomb. The researchers rotated the honeycombs to lie horizontally, making it impossible for the bees to orientate themselves with the help of light or gravity. The hive was placed on a balance to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Honeybees with no information from the waggle dance are more effective in challenging conditions

The team of biologists was surprised by their result that beehives without the dance information were more active and produced more honey than beehives that used dance language. "We were expecting to confirm that dance language was important, but our results were the exact opposite," said Dr. Robbie I'Anson Price, lead author of the study. "I suspect that the bees probably lose interest when confronted with a disoriented dance, and they go out to search for food on their own initiative," added Price. The differences are significant: Bees in colonies with no dance language went on foraging flights that were eight minutes longer and yielded 29 percent more honey over the entire 18-day period than bees using the waggle dance.

The conclusion is that some bees, such as the Buckfast bee, a 100-year-old cross-bred western honeybee used in this study, may do better without social communication. Grüter believes that the environment and the availability of food play an important role. If there is a large apple tree in full bloom nearby, then waiting for information on its location is probably a good strategy. If, on the other hand, there is only a sparse scattering of flowering plants on balconies or roadsides, it may be better to leave the hive sooner and forage independently. "In our opinion, the behavior we observed can be primarily explained in terms of how much time the bees save," said Grüter.

Colonies of bees on vertical honeycombs, the standard orientation of hives. The hives were placed on balances to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Colonies of bees on vertical honeycombs, the standard orientation of hives. The hives were placed on balances to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Bees might be able to learn how to assess the value of waggle dance information

By observing the bees, the scientists made the extraordinary discovery that the bees were apparently able to judge the relevance of the information content of a dance and hence would lose interest in disoriented dancing. "It looks as if after a while they become aware that something is wrong," postulated Grüter. "Our results raise the possibility that humans have created environments to which the waggle dance language is not well adapted," write the authors in their study, recently published in the renowned journal Science Advances.

The idea that bees may be capable of evaluating the quality of information in a dance is one that Grüter wants to investigate more closely in the future. He is also planning to repeat the experiments in the Mainz area under different conditions—in urban and rural areas and at different times of the year.

Christoph Grüter has been head of a research team at the Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz since 2015. Previously, he was head of a research group at the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. His group investigates how social insects organize and coordinate their collective activities, with communication in insect colonies playing a central role.

Explore further: How honeybees read the waggle dance

More information: R. I'Anson Price et al, Honeybees forage more successfully without the "dance language" in challenging environments, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0450

Journal Reference: Science Advances

Provided by: Universitaet Mainz

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-honeybees-waggle-longer-cultivated-landscapes.html#jCp

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