Bees like strawberry fields, new research

This video from Britain says about itself:

Customer testimonial from S&A, UK – Strawberry pollination. S&A have been using Natupol bees for more than 15 years and can no longer envisage producing a successful crop of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries without pollination of Koppert bumblebees. We all know that the number of naturally occurring bees is dropping and that it has become increasingly necessary to produce commercial bumblebees and other pollinators to meet the needs for food production worldwide. Research confirmed that bumblebees were more efficient pollinators than honeybees or any other previously used methods.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

Dance of the honey bee reveals fondness for strawberries

January 24, 2020

Bees are pollinators of many wild and crop plants, but in many places their diversity and density is declining. A research team from the Universities of Göttingen, Sussex and Würzburg has now investigated the foraging behaviour of bees in agricultural landscapes. To do this, the scientists analysed the bees’ dances, which are called the “waggle dance.” They found out that honey bees prefer strawberry fields, even if they flowered directly next to the oilseed rape fields. Only when oilseed rape was in full bloom were fewer honey bees observed in the strawberry field. Wild bees, on the other hand, consistently chose the strawberry field. The results have been published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

A team from the Functional Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology groups at the University of Göttingen established small honey bee colonies next to eleven strawberry fields in the region of Göttingen and Kassel. The scientists then used video recordings and decoded the waggle dances. Honey bees dance to communicate the direction and distance of attractive food sources that they have visited. In combination with satellite maps of the landscape, the land use type that they preferred could be determined. The team also studied which plants the bees used as pollen resources and calculated the density of honey bees and wild bees in the study fields.

Their results: honey bees prefer the strawberry fields, even when oilseed rape is flowering abundantly in the area. However, honey bees from the surrounding landscapes are less common in the strawberry fields when oilseed rape is in full bloom. “In contrast, solitary wild bees, like mining bees, are constantly present in the strawberry field,” says first author Svenja Bänsch, post-doctoral researcher in the Functional Agrobiodiversity group at the University of Göttingen. “Wild bees are therefore of great importance for the pollination of crops,” emphasizes Professor Teja Tscharntke, Head of the Agroecology group.

“With this study, we were able to show that small honey bee colonies in particular can be suitable for the pollination of strawberries in the open field. However, our results also show that wild bees in the landscape should be supported by appropriate management measures”.

Orchid bees’ smell, new research

This 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Euglossa viridissima. Neotropical orchid bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Euglossini) – part 1

During the summer of 2003, several male Euglossa viridissima Friese 1899 were trapped around Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by USDA employees in the fruit fly monitoring program and sent to the Florida State Collection of Arthropods for identification. To date, more than 50 males and several females have been reported. Neither the exact location of the introduction nor the current distribution in Florida is known. However, observations point to an accidental introduction around Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, Broward County–likely as a nest inside a wooden object (shipping pallet, bamboo furniture etc.)–followed by a southward spread to Dade County in 2004.

This video is the sequel.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

A single gene for scent reception separates two species of orchid bees

January 13, 2020

Summary: Orchid bees are master perfumers. Males collect chemicals to concoct perfumes unique to their specific species. Researchers link the evolution of sexual signaling in orchid bees to a single gene shaped by species’ perfume preferences.

A male orchid bee zips around the rainforest, a flash of iridescent green against an equally emerald background. The bee stops at various flowers, fungi and dead trees, collecting fragrant particles and storing them in pockets in its hind legs. Then, it perches on a tree trunk. But the bee doesn’t rest. Instead, it flitters about, using its wings to disperse a bouquet of perfumes into the air.

The aromatic efforts are all for the sake of attracting a mate.

“We know that many animals produce pheromones and they usually produce them through some metabolic pathway,” said Associate Professor Santiago Ramirez, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology. “But orchid bees are unique in that the majority of their pheromones are actually collected from plants and other sources like fungi.”

Orchid bees are master perfumers, and research suggests that the perfumes males concoct are unique to their specific species. For years, Ramirez, a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, and recent Ph.D. graduate student Philipp Brand, Population Biology Graduate Group, have studied orchid bee mating behaviors, unraveling the complex chemicals responsible for successful procreation. The research has given them an unprecedented view into the formation of new species. And the driver of divergence: environmental perfumes.

In a study appearing in Nature Communications, Brand, Ramirez and their colleagues link the evolution of sexual signaling in orchid bees to a gene that’s been shaped by each species’ perfume preferences.

“Our study supports the hypothesis that in the orchid bee perfume communication system, the male perfume chemistry and the female preference for the perfume chemistry can simultaneously evolve via changes in a single receptor gene,” said Brand, whose thesis was the basis for the study.

“Imagine you have an ancestral species that uses certain compounds to communicate with each other,” said Ramirez. “If you have a chemical communication channel and then that chemical communication channel splits into two separate channels, then you have the opportunity for the formation of two separate species.”

A fragrant, front row seat to evolution

Of the 250 orchid bee species, Brand’s and Ramirez’s research focused on Euglossa viridissima and Euglossa dilemma, two separate species previously classified under a single scientific name. They diverged roughly 150,000 years ago. Physically and genetically, these two species are almost indistinguishable, but luckily, they primarily live in non-overlapping ranges in Central America and South America, with some overlap in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

“This is a neat distribution for the study of species formation because it reveals that the variation we observed is not just the product of geographic variation, and when the two species coexist, they still remain as separate species, even though they experienced hybridization in the recent past,” said Ramirez. “Each species is occupying a unique niche in chemical space.”

E. viridissima and E. dilemma are actually easier to tell apart by the chemical differences of their perfumes. Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, the researchers separated and analyzed each chemical compound in a male orchid bee’s enticing perfume. Between the perfumes of E. viridissima and E. dilemma, the difference came down to two molecules. E. viridissima’s perfume contains a molecule called 2-hydroxy-6-nona-1,3-dienylbenzaldehyde (HNDB), and E. dilemma’s contains a lactone called L97.

“We found the bees grouped into two clouds based on the presence of these major compounds, which strongly suggest that each of these corresponds to a separate species of orchid bee,” said Ramirez.

According to Ramirez, this means that these pheromone-like perfumes aren’t just different between the species but that they likely influenced their original divergence.

“It makes sense, right?” said Ramirez. “If you have a chemical signal that is different and therefore you’re not going to mate with those who have a different signal, then that will help maintain species separate from each other.”

Scent signals — follow your antennae

After analyzing the genomes of E. viridissima and E. dilemma, Ramirez and his colleagues highlighted differences in a cluster of olfaction-related genes. In orchid bees, these genes are expressed in their antennae, allowing them to detect airborne molecules. The researchers identified olfactory receptor gene 41 (OR41) as being different between the two species.

“That gene has accumulated a lot of changes between these two species, suggesting that those changes are responsible for the collection of different perfume compounds,” said Ramirez. “The idea here is that as these olfactory genes evolve and accumulate new mutations, they’re more sensitive to different molecules and therefore enable the bees to collect or not collect certain compounds.”

According to Brand, such differences in a single gene is extremely rare. “Usually divergent genetic regions — also called ‘genomic islands of divergence’ — include tens to hundreds of genes and it is very hard to pinpoint the gene under selection,” he said.

It’s the bee’s knees (or genes)

To figure out what molecules the two species of orchid bees detect using OR41, Brand and Ramirez used another airborne insect, the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster).

“We created these transgenic flies expressing orchid bee genes and it’s an ideal setup for dissecting exactly what the function of this gene is,” said Ramirez.

The team tested each species’ variant OR41 against single odors and blends of odors commonly found in the orchid bees’ environment.

When the team tested odors against E. viridissima’s OR41 variant, they found it responded to perfume mixtures found in waxes used for brood cell construction by females and to “several medium to long-chain fatty-acids” common in waxes. The variant didn’t respond to single compound odors.

E. dilemma’s OR41 variant responded consistently to the species-specific HNDB compound and E. dilemma perfume mixtures containing HNDB.

“The OR41 variant in E. dilemma evolved to become a highly specific receptor responding exclusively to its major species-specific perfume compound,” said Brand. “It is plausible that E. dilemma gained the ability to discriminate HNDB from other chemicals because of this.”

Brand has continued exploring insect chemosensory systems as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Associate Professor Vanessa Ruta, of The Rockefeller University. He’s working “to identify key genetic and neural mechanisms underlying the evolution of behavior.”

“I am focusing on reproductive behaviors such as courtship and mating and how these evolve and contribute to the origin and maintenance of novel species,” said Brand

“To me, fully integrating the traditionally separated fields of neurobiology and evolutionary biology is the next big step to learn how behaviors diverge and give rise to novel species,” he added.

Ramirez has also established the first-ever breeding population of orchid bees at a research facility at the University of Florida’s Ft. Lauderdale campus. Ramirez hopes to use the facility to continue studying bee behaviors and see if orchid bees are a viable option for in-depth research in chemical communication, animal behavior and pollination biology.

Bumblebee workers, caring for young, sleep less

This 2017 video says about itself:

Taking a close look at the behavior and biology of the BUMBLEBEES; experiencing their unique abilities and survival techniques.

Copyright: NAT GEO WILD

From ScienceDaily:

Bumble bee workers sleep less while caring for young

October 3, 2019

All animals, including insects, need their sleep. Or do they? That’s the question researchers reporting October 3 in the journal Current Biology are exploring in sleep studies of a surprising group of subjects: brood-tending bumble bee workers. Their studies show that worker bees tending pupae sleep much less than other bees do, even when caring for offspring that aren’t their own.

“Our findings show that sleep is more plastic and less rigid than is commonly accepted,” says corresponding author Guy Bloch of Hebrew University. They also highlight the value in studying sleep in diverse species in nature, not just a handful of “model organisms” in the lab, the researchers say.

Insect sleep looks much like sleep in people and other animals. They stop moving, take on a typical sleep posture, and become less responsive to noise or touch. When humans, rodents, or flies are sleep deprived, it compromises their health and performance.

But the new study suggests there may be ways around that in some cases. Bloch and colleagues had earlier shown that bees adjust their activities depending on their role in the colony, with foragers showing a strong circadian rhythm and “nurse” bees tending the brood around the clock. They wondered how that sleep loss affected them.

To find out in the new study, the researchers — including first author Moshe Nagari — combined video recordings, detailed behavioral analyses, sleep deprivation experiments, and response threshold assessments to characterize the sleep behavior of bumble bee workers. Their studies show that bumble bees tending young do indeed sleep much less. That’s true even when the brood don’t need to be fed and when the young are not their own.

The evidence suggests that substances produced by the pupae drive the reduction in sleep. Surprisingly, however, when the pupae and their substances were removed, those bees did not show the expected sleep rebound. It suggested that they weren’t sleep deprived in the expected way.

“The fact that the nursing bees sleep so little, even when caring for pupae that do not need to be fed was the most surprising,” Nagari says. “Before this study, we assumed that the main functions of activity around the clock without circadian rhythms in nurse bees is to provide improved feeding to the developing larvae, enabling them to grow rapidly.”

The findings add to emerging evidence showing that under some natural conditions, animals can give up sleep, the researchers said. For example, they noted that birds sleep less during their seasonal migrations. Some male birds and fruit flies will forgo sleep to give themselves more time to mate. And some cavefish have evolved to sleep less compared with related species of fish that live in open water habitats.

The findings in bees raise questions about whether the sleep loss comes at a cost in terms of health or cognitive performance.

“If there is no cost for sleep loss, it means that the brood-tending bees have mechanisms allowing them to significantly reduce sleep without a cost to the brain and other tissue,” Bloch says. “This of courses raises the question about what exactly are these mechanisms and what is the basic function of sleep.”

This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF).

Saving bees from Bayer pesticides and mites

This 28 August 2019 video says about itself:

How Close Are We to Saving the Bees?

Correction: Our Interview with Dr. Villalobos & scenes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa were filmed by Jonathan Keao, whose name was misspelled in the credits. We apologize for this error. Find more of Jon’s work here.

Beekeepers are losing 40-45% of their colonies each year, so scientists, farmers, and engineers are foraging for answers and creative solutions to save the bees. But how close are we?

A lack of bees would impact more than just our ability to access honey. Without bees, up to 1/3 of crops could be affected. A world sans bees could jeopardize our entire economy, health, and your second cup of coffee.

The last time you heard about bees in the news, it might have been connected with colony collapse disorder, or CCD. CCD was a series of strange, sudden disappearances of entire colonies––where workers left behind a queen, some young, and plenty of food.

And while scientists haven’t pinned down what the cause of CCD is, researchers agree it is a combination of the perilous Ps.

The perilous Ps (parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition) combined are a major threat to bee health.

While being able to monitor beehives in real time with sensors like Nectar is helpful in uncovering which one of the four Ps is potentially affecting the colonies, we also need to figure out how to prevent the problems from happening in the first place.

Some ideas include helping bees fight off different viruses by providing them with a super vitamin and improving bees’ nutrition.

Learn more about the perilous Ps, the technology being created to monitor hives, and what is being done to help save the bees, on this episode of How Close Are We?

On-the-job exposure to high levels of pesticides raised the risk of heart disease and stroke in a generally healthy group of Japanese American men in Hawaii, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the open access journal of the American Heart Association: here.

Wild bees news update

This 2013 video says about itself:

Squash Bee Identification: squash bees and honey bees

Squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) are found in Central and North America. In this short video, I provide tips on how to tell squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) from honey bees. I don’t mention it in the video, but an additional factor to consider is the shape of the bee’s abdomen. If you are looking at the bee from behind the honey bee’s abdomen is torpedo shaped while the squash bee’s abdomen looks a little flatter and wider – one might even say a squashed torpedo shape.

If you want to use a key to identify your bees use the interactive key at or look for Sheffield, R. 1994. The bee genera of North and Central America. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington.

From the University of Guelph in Canada:

Wild ground-nesting bees might be exposed to lethal levels of neonics in soil

August 26, 2019

In a first-ever study investigating the risk of neonicotinoid insecticides to ground-nesting bees, University of Guelph researchers have discovered at least one species is being exposed to lethal levels of the chemicals in the soil.

Examining the presence of these commonly used pesticides in soil is important given the majority of bee species in Canada make their nests in the ground.

This study focused on hoary squash bees, which feed almost exclusively on the nectar and pollen of squash, pumpkin and gourd flowers.

Researchers found that the likelihood that squash bees are being chronically exposed to lethal doses of a key neonicotinoid, clothianidin, in soil was 36 per cent or higher in squash fields.

That means 36 per cent of the population is probably encountering lethal doses, which is well above the acceptable threshold of 5 per cent, in which 95 per cent of the bees would survive exposure.

“These findings are applicable to many other wild bee species in Canada that nest on or near farms,” said U of G School of Environmental Sciences professor, Nigel Raine, who holds the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation and worked on the study with PhD student and lead author Susan Chan.

“We don’t yet know what effect these pesticides are having on squash bee numbers because wild bees are not yet tracked the same way that honeybee populations are monitored. But we do know that many other wild bee species nest and forage in crop fields, which is why these findings are so concerning.”

Published in Scientific Reports, the study began with Chan collecting soil samples from 18 commercial squash fields in Ontario. Pesticide residue information from these samples and a second government dataset from field crops was used by Chan and colleagues Prof. Ryan Prosser, School of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Jose Rodríguez-Gil to assess the risk to ground-nesting squash bees.

The research comes as Health Canada places new limits on the use of three key neonicotinoids, including clothianidin, while it decides whether to impose a full phase-out of these pesticides. Neonics have been linked to concerns about honeybee colony health, with research showing these bees can ingest dangerous amounts through nectar or pollen.

“Current risk assessments for insecticide impacts on pollinators revolve around honeybees, a species that rarely comes into contact with soil,” said Raine. “However, the majority of bee species live most of their life in soil, so risks of pesticide exposure from soil should be a major factor in these important regulatory decisions.”

“Until now, no one has examined the risk to bees from neonics in soil despite the fact these pesticides are applied directly to seeds planted into the ground, or sprayed directly onto soil at planting, and can persist for months after application,” said Chan.

“Only about 20 per cent of the neonicotinoid insecticide applied to coated seeds is actually taken up into the crop plant; the rest stays in the soil and can remain there into subsequent seasons.”

Squash bees are at particular risk because they prefer the already-tilled soil of agricultural fields for their elaborate underground homes. And as they build their nests, they move about 300 times their own body weight worth of soil.

Since the bees don’t eat soil, it’s difficult to know exactly how much pesticide residue enters the bees. But the researchers calculated that even if they are conservative and assume only 25 per cent of the clothianidin enters the bee, the risk of lethal exposure in pumpkin or squash crops is 11 per cent — still above the widely accepted threshold of 5 per cent.

The team also examined the exposure risk in field crops, since many ground-nesting bee species live near corn and soybean fields, which use neonics as well. They found that 58 per cent of ground-nesting bees would be exposed to a lethal dose of clothianidin while building their nests even if only 25 per cent of the clothianidin in the soil enters the bee.

“Pumpkin and squash farmers face a dilemma in that they want to protect pollinators, such as the squash bee, because they are vital to crop production, but at the same time need to protect their crops from pests,” said Chan.

“New approaches are needed that allow farmers to control pests and protect pollinators simultaneously. My advice to farmers is if you find an aggregation of squash bees nesting on your farm, protect these key pollinators from exposure to neonicotinoids by either not using them at all, or at least not using them near the aggregation. Creating pesticide-free places to nest will help your population of squash bees to grow over time.”

More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone. They are also threatened. Scientists demand more research on the ecology of these insects: here.

New bee species discovery in the Netherlands

Anthidium septemspinosum bee, photo by Theo Zeegers

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Scientist Theo Zeegers has discovered a bee species, new in the Netherlands. He found it during fieldwork in Ede.

According to the entomologist – who studies insects – the discovery is quite special. …

Zeegers discovered the bee on an industrial estate in the Gelderland province town. “A remarkable place, but in a roadside along the ditch bank where many flowers grow.” He saw the creature among a number of European wool carder bees, which are common in the Netherlands. “There was such a weird beast in between them, that was the new species.”

In total there are now 361 species of bees in the Netherlands.

See also here.