Wallace’s giant bee rediscovered

This 21 February 2019 video says about itself:

Watch the world’s biggest bee in action | Science News

After searching Indonesia’s forests for days for Wallace’s giant bee, scientists found and captured a single female and observed her flying within a net tent. They then released her and watched as she flew home to her nest in a termite mound.

By Jeremy Rehm, 2:31pm, February 21, 2019:

The world’s largest bee has been rediscovered after 38 years

The walnut-sized female bee was found on an island in Indonesia

Everything about Wallace’s giant bee is goliath: It reaches an average body length of around 4 centimeters — about the size of a walnut — and has a wingspan of over 7.5 centimeters. Yet despite its eye-popping size, it’s been nearly 40 years since the world’s largest bee (Megachile pluto) was officially sighted in the wild.

So when Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University, had an opportunity to hunt for the elusive bee, he jumped at the chance. He and two other scientists, along with photographer Clay Bolt, set off in January for a two-week expedition to forests on two of only three Indonesian islands where the bee has ever been found.

It’s thought that the females build a home by using their formidable jaws to burrow into termite nests and line the tunnels with resin to ward off termites. So while trekking in the oppressive jungle heat, the team stopped at every termite nest spotted on the trunk of a tree and watched for 20 minutes for a telltale bore hole or a bee emerging.

“After several days of searching and looking at a lot of these termite nests and not seeing anything, I think we all kind of internally just accepted that we weren’t going to be successful,” Wyman says.

As the search was ending, the team decided to check one last nest only about 2.4 meters off the ground — and found the signature hole. Wyman, standing on a small platform, glanced inside and tapped the hole a few times with a stiff blade of grass. Moments later, a lone female Wallace’s giant bee emerged.

“We were just all over the moon,” Wyman says. “It was a great relief and incredibly exciting.”

The team captured the female and put her inside a tented enclosure to observe her before releasing her back to her nest. She buzzed and opened and closed her enormous jaws. And yes, she had a stinger to match her goliath size, one she presumably uses, though Wyman wasn’t willing to find that out firsthand. “She was the most precious thing on the planet to us,” Wyman says.

The nonprofit organization Global Wildlife Conservation, which included Wallace’s giant bee on its 25 Most Wanted lost species list, announced the bee’s rediscovery February 21. While there are no set plans to look for more bees, the team hopes the rediscovery sparks efforts to protect the habitat from deforestation. In a blogpost, Bolt noted: “Just knowing that this bee’s giant wings go thrumming through this ancient Indonesian forest helps me feel that, in a world of so much loss, hope and wonder still do exist.”

GOLIATH OF BEES A honeybee’s size pales in comparison to that of a the recently rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee, as seen in this composite image by Clay Bolt


Spring’s first bees on crocus flowers

This 15 February 2019 video shows the first bees of this year on crocus flowers.

Martien van Beekveld in the Netherlands made this video.

Bees in London, England

This 11 January 2019 video from London, England says about itself:

The incredible secret life of London’s bees – BBC

With enormous open spaces available, London’s bee population is thriving, discovering innovative and new ways to adapt to city living.

More than a billion people around the world commute into cities each day, and they are not alone. The world’s wildlife is commuting too. A steady flow of animals journey in and out of cities to find food and shelter or to start a family. Leaving the wilderness they must overcome the unique challenges that the urban world throws at them to benefit from the opportunities on offer. This episode explores whether the secret to an animal’s success in this fast-changing world is to keep one foot in the wild and one in the city, becoming a wild commuter.

Bees can count, new research

This 11 August 2017 video says about itself:

Bees can count from four to zero. Found by scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne [Australia].

They trained the insects to count shapes on a platform. The bees were encouraged to fly towards a platform carrying fewer shapes than another one.

They recognise a platform with no shapes as a smaller number than one with some shapes. Then when the platform had no shapes on it the bees could also understand this concept of the number zero.

From the Queen Mary University of London in England:

Bees can count with small number of nerve cells in their brains, research suggests

Insect-inspired miniature ‘brain’ simulated on a computer with just four nerve cells

December 21, 2018

Bees can solve seemingly clever counting tasks with very small numbers of nerve cells in their brains, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

In order to understand how bees count, the researchers simulated a very simple miniature ‘brain’ on a computer with just four nerve cells — far fewer than a real bee has.

The ‘brain’ could easily count small quantities of items when inspecting one item closely and then inspecting the next item closely and so on, which is the same way bees count. This differs from humans who glance at all the items and count them together.

In this study, published in the journal iScience, the researchers propose that this clever behaviour makes the complex task of counting much easier, allowing bees to display impressive cognitive abilities with minimal brainpower.

Previous studies have shown bees can count up to four or five items, can choose the smaller or the larger number from a group and even choose ‘zero’ against other numbers when trained to choose ‘less’.

They might have achieved this not by understanding numerical concepts, but by using specific flight movements to closely inspect items which then shape their visual input and simplifies the task to the point where it requires minimal brainpower.

This finding demonstrates that the intelligence of bees, and potentially other animals, can be mediated by very small nerve cells numbers, as long as these are wired together in the right way.

The study could also have implications for artificial intelligence because efficient autonomous robots will need to rely on robust, computationally inexpensive algorithms, and could benefit from employing insect-inspired scanning behaviours.

Lead author Dr Vera Vasas, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Our model shows that even though counting is generally thought to require high intelligence and large brains, it can be easily done with the smallest of nerve cell circuits connected in the right manner. We suggest that using specific flight movements to scan targets, rather than numerical concepts, explains the bees’ ability to count. This scanning streamlines the visual input and means a task like counting requires little brainpower.

“Careful examination of the actual inspection strategies used by animals might reveal that they often employ active scanning behaviours as shortcuts to simplify complex visual pattern discrimination tasks. Hopefully, our work will inspire others to look more closely not just at what cognitive tasks animals can solve, but also at how they are solving them.”

Brain size matters a lot when it comes to bees. They have only one million nerve cells in total, so they have precious little brainpower, and must implement very efficient computational algorithms to solve tasks. In comparison, humans have 86 billion nerve cells which are responsible for receiving information and sending commands.

To model the input to the brain, the authors analysed the point of view of a bee as it flies close to the countable objects and inspects them one-by-one.

The results showed the simulated brain was able to make reliable estimates on the number of items on display when provided with the actual visual input that the bee is receiving while carrying out the task.

Professor Lars Chittka, also from Queen Mary University of London and leader of the team in which the study was performed, added: “These findings add to the growing body of work showing that seemingly intelligent behaviour does not require large brains, but can be underpinned with small neural circuits that can easily be accommodated into the microcomputer that is the insect brain.”

Researchers set out to test whether bees could do math, building on a groundbreaking finding that bees understand the concept of zero. The new study shows bees can be taught to recognize colors as symbolic representations for addition and subtraction, and use this information to solve arithmetic problems. The revelation that even the miniature brain of a honeybee can grasp basic mathematical operations has implications for the future development of AI: here.

Save all bee species from pesticide death

This October 2018 video says about itself:

Welcome to Different Types Of Honey Bees – Species and Characteristics video. In this video we explain the different types of honey bees, their characteristics, interesting information about honey bees, facts about honey bees and much information about bees.

The content of this video is 1. Dark Dwarf Honey bee 2. Asian honey bee 3. Species of extinct honey bees 4. Giant honey bee 5. Honey bee from the Philippines 6. Koschevnikov’s Bee 7. European bee or Western honey bee 8. Dwarf honey bee

From the University of Guelph in Canada:

Stronger pesticide regulations likely needed to protect all bee species, say studies

December 11, 2018

Summary: Regulators worldwide currently use honeybees as the sole model species failing to account for potential threats posed by agrochemicals to the full diversity of bee species from bumblebees to solitary bees, which are probably more important for pollination of food crops than managed honeybees. They are potentially more vulnerable to pesticides given they nest in the ground and bumblebee queens have different life cycles that could increase exposure.

Pesticide regulations designed to protect honeybees fail to account for potential health threats posed by agrochemicals to the full diversity of bee species that are even more important pollinators of food crops and other plants, say three new international papers co-authored by University of Guelph biologists.

As the global human population grows, and as pollinators continue to suffer declines caused by everything from habitat loss to pathogens, regulators need to widen pesticide risk assessments to protect not just honeybees but other species from bumblebees to solitary bees, said environmental sciences professor Nigel Raine, holder of the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation.

“There is evidence that our dependency on insect-pollinated crops is increasing and will continue to do so as the global population rises,” said Raine, co-author of all three papers recently published in the journal Environmental Entomology.

With growing demands for crop pollination outstripping increases in honeybee stocks, he said, “Protecting wild pollinators is more important now than ever before. Honeybees alone simply cannot deliver the crop pollination services we need.”

Government regulators worldwide currently use honeybees as the sole model species for assessing potential risks of pesticide exposure to insect pollinators.

But Raine said wild bees are probably more important for pollination of food crops than managed honeybees. Many of those wild species live in soil, but scientists lack information about exposure of adult or larval bees to pesticides through food or soil residues.

The papers call on regulators to look for additional models among solitary bees and bumblebees to better gauge health risks and improve protection for these species.

“Everybody is focused on honeybees,” said Angela Gradish, a research associate in the School of Environmental Sciences and lead author of one paper, whose co-authors include Raine and SES Prof. Cynthia Scott-Dupree. “What about these other bees? There are a lot of unknowns about how bumblebees are exposed to pesticides in agricultural environments.”

She said bumblebee queens have different life cycles than honeybee counterparts that may increase their contact with pesticides or residues while collecting food and establishing colonies.

“That’s a critical difference because the loss of a single bumblebee queen translates into the loss of the colony that she would have produced. It’s one queen, but it’s a whole colony at risk.”

Like honeybees, bumblebees forage on a wide variety of flowering plants. But because bumblebees are larger, they can carry more pollen from plant to plant. They also forage under lower light conditions and in cloudier, cooler weather that deter honeybees.

Those characteristics make bumblebees especially vital for southern Ontario’s greenhouse growers.

“Greenhouse tomato producers rely on commercial bumblebee colonies as the only source of pollination for their crops,” said Gradish.

The new studies stem from workshops held in early 2017 involving 40 bee researchers from universities and representatives of agrochemical industries and regulatory agencies in Canada, the United States and Europe, including Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

“I hope we can address shortfalls in the pesticide regulatory process,” said Raine, who attended the international meeting held in Washington, D.C.

“Given the great variability that we see in the behaviour, ecology and life history of over 20,000 species of bees in the world, there are some routes of pesticide exposure that are not adequately considered in risk assessments focusing only on honeybees.”

Results from a new study suggest that bees might be exposed to pesticides in more ways than we thought, and it could impact their development significantly. The study looks at the non-target effects of pesticides on ground-nesting bees, a group that actually makes up the majority of bee species: here.

Bees news update

This 2017 video is called BUMBLEBEES – The Secret World of Bees.

From the Unversity of Kent in England, 29 October 2018:

Data collected by Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) volunteers to assess the country’s changing bumblebee populations have been analysed in a new way for the first time at the University of Kent — and show mixed results about their decline, with cause for concern for two species.

Data was analysed for the five commonest species in the BBCT’s BeeWalk dataset. The two rarest species (Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum and Red-tailed Bumblebee B. lapidarius) out of the five have declined since 2011 while the two commonest ones (Common Carder bumblebee B. pascuorum and Tree Bumblebee B. hypnorum) have increased. The Tree bumblebee, first found in the UK in 2001, has spread rapidly across the country.

Britain’s 25 bumblebee species are some of the nation’s favourite creatures and are also vital for the pollination of crops, garden plants and wildflowers. However, they have suffered huge declines over the past century: two species went extinct in the past 80 years, and eight species are endangered. These species were known to have declined in distribution over the long term but little was known about how bumblebee populations have changed more recently.

Scientific report on this: here.

From the University of Exeter in England, October 29, 2018:

Up to 13% of US beekeepers are in danger of losing their colonies due to pesticides sprayed to contain the Zika virus, new research suggests.

Zika — which can cause severe brain defects in unborn children — is spread by mosquitoes, so the insects are being targeted in the southern US where Zika-carrying mosquito species live. The new research, by the University of Exeter and the University of California, Berkeley, was sparked by a 2016 media report on millions of honeybees killed by Zika spraying. Honeybees are not native to the US and most colonies are kept by beekeepers, who play a key role in agriculture by helping to pollinate crops.

Arizona State University researchers have found that larger tropical stingless bee species fly better in hot conditions than smaller bees do. Larger size may help certain bee species better tolerate high body temperatures. The findings run contrary to the well-established temperature-size “rule”, which suggests that ectotherms — insects that rely on the external environment to control their temperature — are larger in cold climates and smaller in hot ones. The research will be presented today at the American Physiological Society’s (APS) Comparative Physiology: Complexity and Integration conference in New Orleans: here.

Bees adjust their speed to keep turning forces constant, new research shows. The findings can be applied to robots and autonomous vehicles: here.