Posts Tagged Bee

The Hive Mind

I visited the bees the other day. Sitting quietly, watching all their activity, I became aware of a steady increase in their buzzing. Several bees then flew in my direction and stung me on the forearm and right between the eyes. Ironically, despite spending my life attempting to help my fellow species, animals hate me, almost without exception. Who else can say they have been attacked by both a dolphin and a dugong?

Once I had iced my face and arm and popped an antihistamine I did start thinking about the bees that laid down their lives to protect the hive they felt, for some unknown reason, was in danger, and I wondered how that sort of mind works. Orson Scott Card tried to describe it in the aliens he created for the classic “Ender’s Game”. The buggers, as they were called in the book, relied totally upon their queen. When the queen was killed the rest of the colony died as well, not too dissimilar to bees.

The more I thought about it the more I realised that we are not actually all that different to the bees. We, too, possess a hive mind. We, too, lay down our lives for what we consider the good of the colony. That is presumably why so many willing combatants march off to war on such a regular basis, to save their hive from whatever religious, ethnic or economic danger they believe is threatening it.

We call it heroism, self-sacrifice or altruism but, ironically, if fewer people were prepared to lay down their lives for causes and we all acted more selfishly perhaps there would be fewer wars too (and fewer people running into burning buildings or huge surf in order to rescue their fellow man)? It is hard to imagine an army of cats banding together to defend the common good, the way bees do. In their world it is every cat for itself. And that seems to work perfectly well for them.

The marvel of evolution and natural selection is that just because one paradigm works, does not mean there is no room for other completely different, but just as successful, lifestyles.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Urban Bees Using Plastic To Build Hives


February 11, 2014 – News Release

Once the snow melts, Canada’s bee population will be back in business — pollinating, making honey and keeping busy doing bee things. For at least two urban bee species, that means making nests out of plastic waste.

A new study by a University of Guelph graduate and a U of G scientist reveals that some bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. The research was published recently in the journal Ecosphere.

The study has been reported on by media outlets around the world, including the Toronto Star, Sun News, CBS News, Yahoo! News, United Press International, and Canoe News.

It’s an important discovery because it shows bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world, says lead author Scott MacIvor, a doctoral student at York University and a 2008 U of G graduate.

“Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,” said MacIvor. Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment, he said.

“We found two solitary bee species using plastic in place of natural nest-building materials, which suggests innovative use of common urban materials.”

Figuring out that the bees were using plastic in place of natural materials took some detective work by U of G’s Andrew Moore, supervisor of analytical microscopy at Laboratory Services.

Moore analyzed a grey “goo” that MacIvor discovered in the nests of one kind of bee, Megachile campanulae, which uses plant resins to build its nests,

“Scott thought it might be chewing gum originally,” Moore said. His team uses a scanning electron microscope to take highly detailed pictures of items, x-ray microanalysis to determine the elements in the sample and infrared microscopy to identify polymers. They can distinguish the finest detail on the surface of an animal hair.
Turns out that M. campanulae was occasionally replacing plant resins with polyurethane-based exterior building sealant, such as caulking, in its brood cells–created in a nest to rear larvae.

The researchers also discovered another kind of bee, Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutter, was using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its brood cells. The glossy plastic replaced almost one-quarter of the cut leaves normally used to build each cell.

Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not incidentally collected plastic. Nor were leaves hard to find for the bees in the study.

“The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked – chewed up and spit out like gum – to form something new that they could use,” Moore said.

In both cases, larvae successfully developed from the plastic-lined nests.  In fact, the bees emerged parasite-free, suggesting plastic nests may physically impede parasites, the study said.

The nests containing plastic were among more than 200 artificial nest boxes monitored by MacIvor as part of a large-scale investigation of the ecology of urban bees and wasps, a project involving numerous citizen scientists.

The nest boxes are located in Toronto and the surrounding region in backyards, community gardens and parks and on green roofs. They are used by a variety of bee species.

“The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” MacIvor said.


Andrew Moore Laboratory Services 519-823-1268, Ext. 57234

Scott MacIvor 416-844-8093

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Islands become first UK haven for honeybees facing wipeout


Britain’s first honeybee reserve is to be set up on the Hebridean islands of Colonsay and Oronsay.

A Scottish Government order aiming to protect the species from cross-breeding and disease will come into force next January,

It will make it an offence to keep any species on the islands other than the British black honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera. The measure comes after a public consultation saw widespread support for a reserve.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the reserve should help preserve the black bee in the UK.

Mr Wheelhouse, who signed the order, said: “The Bee-Keeping Order illustrates how our non-native species legislation can be used to protect our native wildlife,” he said. There are currently around 50 colonies to be found on Colonsay and adjoining Oronsay.

The Government’s move is part of a ten-year Honeybee Health Strategy and has been welcomed by Colonsay beekeeper Andrew Abrahams. Abrahams has been working with bees on the island for more than 30 years and has campaigned for the islands to be recognised as a bee sanctuary.

“The reserve is important,” he said yesterday. “We’ve been working a long time to get it set up. The purpose is to conserve genetic material for the future before it’s all gone, to conserve the black bee which is the native bee of ­Scotland and of the whole UK.”

The black honeybee can vary in colour from black to brown and is hardy enough to survive the harsh climate of Scotland’s west coast. “It is adapted for Scottish conditions and to wet conditions and cooler conditions,” according to Dr Phil Moss, bee health convener of the Scottish Beekeeper’s Association,

Most of Britain’s native bee species – with the exception of a few pockets – were wiped out early in the 20th century by the Isle of Wight disease, caused by a parasitic mite. As a result, said Dr Moss: “There was a lot of importation of foreign bees from all over the world.”

These were then interbred with the native bee. Only pockets of native bees remained intact as a result. “Colonsay is reckoned to be one of the purest,” Dr Moss added.

The Scottish Beekeepers Association fully supports the reserve proposal, he said, seeing the move as an important step at a time when bee numbers are falling.

Britain’s bees are currently under threat from the varroa mite, first discovered in the UK in 1992. It has destroyed many colonies.

Colonsay was chosen as a reserve because its bees are free from the disease, and for its genetic purity. It was originally chosen as a site for an experimental breeding station back in 1941.

The decision to protect the black bee comes as countries across Europe have seen up to a quarter of honeybee colonies disappear in recent years. Pesticides, loss of habitat and disease have all been blamed. Bees are also under threat from global warming and changing climate.

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Short-haired Bumblebee Nests in Dungeness


17 September 2013 Last updated at 01:57 GMT

A species of bee reintroduced to the UK after becoming extinct has nested for the first time in a quarter of a century.

The short-haired bumblebee started dying out in Britain in the 1980s and officially became extinct in 2000.

A reintroduction project saw queen bees brought over from Sweden.

After two releases of queens at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent, offspring worker bees have been recorded there for the first time.

Short-haired bumblebees were once widespread across the south of England but declined as their wildflower rich grasslands disappeared.

Nikki Gammans, who leads the project, said: “This is a milestone for the project and a real victory for conservation.

“We now have proof that this bumblebee has nested and hatched young and we hope it is on the way to become a self-supporting wild species in the UK.

‘Fantastic reward’

“It’s been a long journey to get here, from creating the right habitat for them, collecting queens in the Swedish countryside, scanning them for diseases and then eventually releasing them at Dungeness.

“Seeing worker bees for the first time is a fantastic reward for all that hard work but we still have a long way to go to ensure this population is safe and viable.”

A first generation of queens, which were released last year, struggled in the summer’s cold, wet conditions.

But a second release of queens from Sweden bolstered the colony.

The reintroduction project has involved work with farmers to create flower-rich meadows in Dungeness and Romney Marsh which have also boosted the numbers of other threatened bumblebees.

Further releases are planned to help build the population at Dungeness.

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