On a beautiful Indian Summer Sunday, Cellist Jordan Hamilton offers a winter blessing for the hives—Enjoy!
The goal of the project is summarized below, as taken from the initial offering to participate sent out by BIP. I am having great fun with this, watching my bee’s growth graph going ever upward in weight gain. For the first time I am also having to learn how to use a cell phone—my son’s iphone—as the data recording and uploading device. Arghh! —this is not my strong suit.
The Bee Informed Partnership is dedicated to helping beekeepers make informed data-based management decisions. Monitoring weight changes in colonies has huge potential to help us understand disease and parasite population growth, as well as the timing of management practices. We are seeking some innovative beekeepers who are willing to help us develop and beta test the hive scale tools’ ability to develop a system that will provide the best regionally specific management practices based on real time data. We are collaborating with NASA’s Honeybee Net, under the direction of Wayne Esaias, to test this exciting effort.
Why hive scales?
Hive scales weigh individual colonies at regular intervals, keeping track of strong nectar flows, swarming, and other conditions that affect management decisions. Beekeepers may respond to rises in weight by putting supers on, inspecting colonies for swarm cells, and extracting full honey supers. Conversely, weight loss may indicate a need to feed colonies, robbing or indicate the colony has swarmed and is at increased risk of becoming queenless.
With new digital hive scales, beekeepers can track the weight of colonies without having to do a hive inspection. The scale we are using for our beta testing will utilizing Bluetooth with an Android device (e.g., Android phone or tablet), and a visit to the apiary is required to read the data. The data can be viewed on the device or be uploaded via cellular or WIFI communication. However, in the future these same scales when used with a data collector will allow for data to be automatically uploaded via cell phones or cell phone service data plans that allow for remote monitoring.
Armed with data from hive scales and other disease monitoring efforts, the Bee Informed Partnership hopes to make predictive models of honey flows and disease population growth. These models will help us develop an “alert system” that will make management recommendations based on real-time and regionally specific data.
As to my particular case, I don’t expect the disease/pest monitoring aspect will be so relevant to my bee population. The varroa mite has not been a great destroyer of my bees in the past and they seem to manage the pest well on their own. When Spring comes, it will be interesting to observe the growth of the brood nest and respond with management techniques to overcome swarming tendencies. One thing is sure—that time will be sooner than any other part of the country.
Bees pollinate much of our food supply, but a pesticide threatens their survival
BY RICHARD SCHIFFMAN
If you are an almond farmer in the Central Valley of California, where 80 percent of the world’s production is grown, you had a problem earlier this spring. Chances are there weren’t enough bees to pollinate your trees. That’s because untold thousands of colonies — almost half of the 1.6 million commercial hives that almond growers depend on — failed to survive the winter, making this the worst season for beekeepers in anyone’s memory. And that is saying a lot, because bees have been faring increasingly poorly for years now.
Much of this recent spike in bee mortality is attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious condition where all the worker bees in a colony simply fly off as a group and never make it back to the hive. Scientists have been studying this odd phenomenon for years and they still aren’t sure why it is happening.
But a slew of recent studies have pointed an accusing finger at a class of pesticides, the ubiquitous neonicotonoids (neonics for short), which include imidacloprid and clothianidin, manufactured by Germany’s agro-giant Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta. The neonics, the world’s leading insecticides, are applied on a whopping 75 percent of the farmlands in America, according to Charles Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Neonics are a so-called systemic pesticide. That means that they are taken up by the plant’s vascular system and get impregnated into all parts of the plant that an insect encounters, including the leaves, seeds, nectar and pollen. Corn and soybean seeds are typically coated with the pesticide before planting. Fruit trees and many vegetables are sprayed.
Few researchers believe that the neonics alone are to blame for the bees’ troubles, which appear to result from a perfect storm of contributing environmental factors. Pollinators have been called the canaries in the coal mine for ecosystem health. The declining numbers of both wild species and domesticated bee colonies worldwide is regarded as a troubling barometer of the state of the environment, reflecting habitat loss, the spread of agricultural monocultures, infestation by viral pathogens and bee parasites like the Varroa mite, climate change and even electromagnetic radiation, which seems to interfere with bees’ homing ability.
But the neonics, which contains a chemical related to nicotine that attacks an insect’s nervous system, have been demonstrated to kill bees — and especially the queens — when applied in high enough doses. And a growing body of research suggests that at sub-lethal concentrations, these agro-chemicals mess with their navigation, foraging and communication abilities, throw off their reproductive patterns, and weaken bee immune systems, making them susceptible to sudden colony collapse.
One study published by scientists at Purdue University in 2012 showed high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam in bees found dead near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives were observed exhibiting uncoordinated movement, tremors and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.
In yet another study conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health, which I reported on in Reuters last April, researchers actually re-created colony collapse disorder in several honeybee hives simply by administering small doses of a popular neonic, imidacloprid.
These and other recent studies led the European Union to call on Monday for a provisional ban on neonics for two years to see what impact this has on Europe’s endangered bees. The use of the pesticides had already been temporarily suspended in Germany, France and Italy.
The vote in Brussels was split (15 of the 27 EU countries voted for the ban). The British Newspaper the Observer said that there was “a fierce behind the scenes” campaign to prevent the ban. The paper reported that agricultural multinational Syngenta, facing what it called “serious damage to the integrity of our product and reputation,” threatened to sue individual European Union officials involved in publishing the damning report about the dangers of neonics. The U.K. voted against the ban, alleging that the science is inconclusive and that barring the pesticides would be hugely expensive and potentially cripple food production.
But the ban had lots of public support, including a petition signed by over 2.5 million Europeans. And it was universally applauded by environmentalists, who have been fighting for it for years. Andrew Pendleton of the U.K division of Friends of the Earth said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”
Pressure has been building in the U.S. to restrict the neonics. A coalition of beekeepers and environmental groups filed suit in March against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to ban the pesticides, saying that the agency didn’t consider the impact of the pesticides on vital pollinators. The American Bird Conservancy published in March a review of 200 studies on neonics, including industry research obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which concluded that the neonics are lethal to birds and other wildlife and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.
These threats to wildlife are significant, but the world’s attention is rightly focused on bees, which are responsible for pollinating nearly a third of our food supply. These industrious insects are in serious trouble. And if their decline continues unchecked, we humans may soon be in trouble too.
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by Sid Perkins via news.sciencemag.org
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.”
Gardener’s Glory is Cape Town’s urban honey brand. Raw, untreated, unfiltered honey from Southern Suburb gardens.
At yesterday’s Bee Rescue we had some awesome helpers:
Maggie & Colin Walsh and their son Iggie!
*HoneyLove story begins @ 25:58
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