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Bees Buzz Each Other, but Not the Way You Think

by Sid Perkins via news.sciencemag.org

Electric bees? Honey bees may use electrical fields that accumulate on their bodies when they fly or move about to communicate with each other within the hive, a new study suggests.
Credit: Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The electric fields that build up on honey bees as they fly, flutter their wings, or rub body parts together may allow the insects to talk to each other, a new study suggests. Tests show that the electric fields, which can be quite strong, deflect the bees’ antennae, which, in turn, provide signals to the brain through specialized organs at their bases.

Scientists have long known that flying insects gain an electrical charge when they buzz around. That charge, typically positive, accumulates as the wings zip through the air—much as electrical charge accumulates on a person shuffling across a carpet. And because an insect’s exoskeleton has a waxy surface that acts as an electrical insulator, that charge isn’t easily dissipated, even when the insect lands on objects, says Randolf Menzel, a neurobiologist at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.

Although researchers have suspected for decades that such electrical fields aid pollination by helping the tiny grains stick to insects visiting a flower, only more recently have they investigated how insects sense and respond to such fields. Just last month, for example, a team reported that bumblebees may use electrical fields to identify flowers recently visited by other insects from those that may still hold lucrative stores of nectar and pollen. A flower that a bee had recently landed on might have an altered electrical field, the researchers speculated.

Now, in a series of lab tests, Menzel and colleagues have studied how honey bees respond to electrical fields. In experiments conducted in small chambers with conductive walls that isolated the bees from external electrical fields, the researchers showed that a small, electrically charged wand brought close to a honey bee can cause its antennae to bend. Other tests, using antennae removed from honey bees, indicated that electrically induced deflections triggered reactions in a group of sensory cells, called the Johnston’s organ, located near the base of the antennae. In yet other experiments, honey bees learned that a sugary reward was available when they detected a particular pattern of electrical field.

Altogether, these tests suggest that the electrical fields that build up on bees due to their flight or movement are stimuli that could be used in social communication, the researchers report online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The team’s findings “are very significant,” says Fred Dyer, a behavioral biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “I hadn’t heard about the possibility that honey bees could use electrical fields.”

One of the honey bees’ forms of communication is the “waggle dance.” When the insects have located a dense patch of flowers or a source of water, they skitter across the honeycomb in their hive in a pattern related to the direction of and the distance to the site. Fellow worker bees then take that information and forage accordingly. The biggest mystery about the dance, Dyer says, is which senses the bees use—often in the deep, dark recesses of their hive—to conduct their communication. “People have proposed a variety of methods: direct contact between bees, air currents from the buzzing of their wings, odors, even vibrations transmitted through the honeycomb itself,” he says.

But the team’s new findings introduce yet another mode of communication available to the insects, Dyer says. He notes that the group found that antenna deflections induced by an electrically charged honey bee wing are about 10 times the size of those that would be caused by airflow from the wing fluttering at the same distance—a sign that electrical fields could be an important signal.

“They show that the electrical fields are there and that they’re within the range of what the animal can sense,” Dyer says. “Their claim of evidence is quite compelling.”

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“Bay Area’s ‘urban’ bees like native, diverse plantings”

By Lou Fancher via mercurynews.com

Bay Area's 'urban' bees

Dr. Gordon Frankie said native bees have preferences, and knowing what they like can improve the health of your garden.

“If they have a choice, they’ll go after native plants,” said Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley. He and Steve Gentry, a founding member of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association, teamed up for a recent Lafayette Library Foundation Science Cafe presentation.

Frankie’s point — that local gardeners hoping to attract Agapostemon texanus or Xylocopa varipuncta, two local native bee species, should include native plants in their gardening plans. And mulching should be done lightly because 70 percent of all native bees nest in the ground and can’t burrow through materials heavier than soil.

A project at Frog Hollow Farm and other Brentwood farms is demonstrating the impact of placing native plants between crop rows.

Urban areas are ideal for bees, Frankie claimed, because of the diverse food supply they offer. The Oxford Tract Bee Garden he and his team of researchers planted allows them to monitor and categorize bees’ attraction to native and nonnative plants. A 10-city survey across California is providing a detailed picture of the bee population. San Diego, he said, is the worst city for attracting bees.

“It’s their gardening culture: No one is using diverse, floral plants,” Frankie said.

On the other end of the spectrum, a 30-by-30-foot garden in Ukiah had 68 bee species, and Santa Cruz is a hotbed beehive community. (The Bay Area is fifth on that list.)

Gentry, known by local residents as “Bee Man” — although he is considering an upgrade to “Emperor of Bees” — began the popular event’s 60-minute talk with a bucket.

“All of these products from bees are helpful to humans,” he declared, pulling hunks of beeswax and jars of honey, pollen and actual bees from the container. “Their history goes back thousands of years.”

Within five minutes, Gentry had advocated (beeswax is used for lubricants in cosmetics, candles, wax-resist dyeing and food preserving), acknowledged (“We have some hindrance about eating insects, but watch a bear break into a bee’s nest. He’ll eat the whole thing,” he said), and advertised (pollen is the new superfood, with protein, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, according to Gentry).

He also shared a 30-year-old epiphany he had while watching a black bear and her two cubs demolish a rotted tree while feasting on termites.

“I wasn’t the first person to see natural things. Forty thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers watched bears, bees and insects, too. The timeline is long,” he said.

Skipping through honeybee history, from Middle Eastern origins to monks in monasteries needing dependable light sources to small farmers before World War I who kept just enough hives to feed their families and pollinate their crops, Gentry landed on the contemporary world’s bee dilemmas.

“Industrialization changed farms. They became bigger, and now, large pollination contracts and commercial beekeeping are driving the business. (More than a million) hives are brought into the central Southern California valley for pollinating almonds each year.”

Frankie, whose business is less about keeping bees and more about watching them, asked the Science Cafe audience of gardeners, beekeepers and general science fans a series of questions.

Delighting at stumping his listeners, he said 1,600 bee species were attracted to California’s 5,000 flowering plants, drawing a hefty percentage of the United States’ 4,000 total bee species.

“Notice, you are not on their list,” he said. “Bees are vegetarians. They’re not after you or your burgers. Wasps are the ‘meat bees’ after your burgers.”

Generating a local buzz
The University of California Press will publish Gordon Frankie’s findings in a forthcoming book, “Native Bees and Their Flowers in Urban California Gardens.” Bee appreciators who don’t want to wait can find information at http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/index.html and diablobees.org.

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WATCH: Urban Bee Keeping by Green Renaissance

Gardener’s Glory is Cape Town’s urban honey brand. Raw, untreated, unfiltered honey from Southern Suburb gardens.

[via greenrenaissance.co.za]

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ARTICLE via The Onion: Beard of Bees

Bee Beard

BURLINGTON, VT—Complaining of patchiness and uneven color, area man Matthew Cruickshank, 34, told reporters Monday that he has always had trouble growing a full beard of bees. “For some reason, when the bees come in they just won’t connect my mustache to my goatee, and they seem to thin out halfway up my cheek,” said Cruickshank, examining a beeless patch of skin on his neck and noting how one random gray bee always appears in the middle of his chin. “It’s strange because my dad always had a full, thick beard of bees his whole life. I guess some guys are just lucky that way.” Cruickshank added that although he grooms his beard of bees frequently, it often becomes itchy and uncomfortable, especially at night when he’s trying to sleep.

[via theonion.com]

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Honey Dipper Bottle

Honey Dipper Bottle

Honey Dipper Bottle via onekingslane.com

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WATCH: Making a bee hotel

An animation showing you how easy it is to make a bee hotel. These will encourage solitary bees to your garden which are brilliant pollinators! Do it!

Filmed on a Nikon 300s by Alex Lanchester over 4 days in a dark shed!

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Happy St. Gobnait’s Day!

St. Gobnait

St. Gobnait – Patron Saint of Bees and Beekeepers
The tall statue pictured above is of St. Gobnait in southwest Ireland (erected in the 1950s).
She appears with a nun’s habit standing on a bee hive surrounded by bees. [Featured art by sleekitbeastie]

 

“Saint Gobnait’s Day is Feb 11th is still celebrated by the community of Ballyvourney, in County Cork. During a Mass at the well, everyone takes water from it.

Gobnait (Gobnet, Gobhnet, Gobnaid, Gobnata, or Gobnatae), was born in County Clare, Ireland, sometime in the 5th or 6th century. Gobnait is Irish for Abigail (“Brings Joy”). As the patron saint of beekeepers, her name also has been anglicized as Deborah, meaning ‘Honey Bee’…

One of the miracles attributed to Saint Gobnait was that she protected a parish by unleashing a swarm of bees… She had a strong relationship with bees and used the properties of honey in the treatment of illness and healing of wounds.”

[via nbba.wordpress.com]

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ARTICLE: San Francisco beekeeping

via baynature.org

Eye-level with the eucalyptus canopy of Golden Gate Park, Charlie Blevins stands on his San Francisco rooftop and begins to “suit up.”

He slips on a white jacket, then pulls a spacesuit- like hood over his head that masks his face with a netted veil. A pair of thick, white gloves drawn on and Blevins is ready for “inspection.” He gently pulls a honeycomb frame from the hive.

This is from one of 35 beehives that the San Franciscan beekeeper maintains in the backyards and rooftops of Bay Area properties. Is the queen laying eggs? Is the colony in tip-top shape? Are honey stores adequate? Blevins, a cheery and warm-hearted man in his late 50s, asks himself these questions as he checks each hive for signs of disease.

“You can tell a lot about the egg-laying pattern of the queen. If the queen is not laying, then the hive will die. Bees only live six weeks,” said Blevins.
Honeybee populations are in deep trouble around the world, but in places like San Francisco, urban beekeepers are doing their part to restore the enterprising Apis to their crucial role as ecosystem pollinator. Urban beekeeping is an outgrowth of the local food movement, which has inspired countless farms in urban pockets and has stoked the dream of sustainable cities. Behind every urban beehive is the beekeeper.

Queen Bee

Read the original article here: San Francisco beekeeping: the thrill of the hive

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Bees and Math

Bees and Math

“Bees…by virtue of a certain geometrical forethought…know that the hexagon is greater than the square and the triangle, and will hold more honey for the same expenditure of material. — Pappus of Alexandria

Bees have not studied tessellations theory. However, some of their behavior patterns can be explained mathematically. One such phenomena which mother nature instilled in the bee is the nature to use the least expenditure of energy and materials. The bees somehow know that the square, the triangle and the hexagon are the only three self-tessellating regular polygons. Of the three, the hexagon has the smallest perimeter for a given area. So, when bees are constructing hexagonal prism cells in the hive, they use less wax and do less work to enclose the same space than if tessellating space with prisms of square or triangular bases. The honeycomb walls are made up of cells which are 1/80 of an inch thick, yet can support 30 times their own weight. A honeycomb of 14.5”x8.8” can hold more than five pounds of honey. That also explains why they are so heavy. The bees are creating hexagonal prisms in three rhombic sections, and the walls of the cell meet at exactly 120 degree angles. What is even more amazing, is the fact that the bees work simultaneously on different sections forming a comb with no visible seams. It is built vertically downward, and the bees use parts of their bodies as measuring instruments. In fact, their heads act as plummets.”

[view original post here]

http://thedeltacs.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/three-shapes.jpg

Click above to see some fun kids activities – one of which helps to illustrate why bees build hexagons via thedeltacs.com.

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PATTERN: Bee Bonnet

PATTERN: Bee Bonnet Hat and Leg Warmers with lace via etsy

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