South African honey bees’ virgin birth


This April 2017 video from South Africa says about itself:

Bee warned, beekeeper Fanie Rautenbach says

The Western Cape is experiencing a drastic decline in the bee population which sends out a serious warning to agriculture that soon there will be no bees for pollination.

From the University of Sydney in Australia:

Virgin birth has scientists buzzing

Researchers discover a gene in honey bees that causes virgin birth

May 7, 2020

In a study published today in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Sydney have identified the single gene that determines how Cape honey bees reproduce without ever having sex. One gene, GB45239 on chromosome 11, is responsible for virgin births.

“It is extremely exciting,” said Professor Benjamin Oldroyd in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. “Scientists have been looking for this gene for the last 30 years. Now that we know it’s on chromosome 11, we have solved a mystery.”

Behavioural geneticist Professor Oldroyd said: “Sex is a weird way to reproduce and yet it is the most common form of reproduction for animals and plants on the planet. It’s a major biological mystery why there is so much sex going on and it doesn’t make evolutionary sense. Asexuality is a much more efficient way to reproduce, and every now and then we see a species revert to it.”

In the Cape honey bee, found in South Africa, the gene has allowed worker bees to lay eggs that only produce females instead of the normal males that other honey bees do. “Males are mostly useless,” Professor Oldroyd said. “But Cape workers can become genetically reincarnated as a female queen and that prospect changes everything.”

But it also causes problems. “Instead of being a cooperative society, Cape honey bee colonies are riven with conflict because any worker can be genetically reincarnated as the next queen. When a colony loses its queen the workers fight and compete to be the mother of the next queen,” Professor Oldroyd said.

The ability to produce daughters asexually, known as “thelytokous parthenogenesis,” is restricted to a single subspecies inhabiting the Cape region of South Africa, the Cape honey bee or Apis mellifera capensis.

Several other traits distinguish the Cape honey bee from other honey bee subspecies. In particular, the ovaries of worker bees are larger and more readily activated and they are able to produce queen pheromones, allowing them to assert reproductive dominance in a colony.

These traits also lead to a propensity for social parasitism, a behaviour where Cape bee workers invade foreign colonies, reproduce and persuade the host colony workers to feed their larvae. Every year in South Africa, 10,000 colonies of commercial beehives die because of the social parasite behaviour in Cape honey bees.

“This is a bee we must keep out of Australia,” Professor Oldroyd said.

The existence of Cape bees with these characters has been known for over a hundred years, but it is only recently, using modern genomic tools, that we have been able to understand the actual gene that gives rise to virgin birth.

“Further study of Cape bees could give us insight into two major evolutionary transitions: the origin of sex and the origin of animal societies,” Professor Oldroyd said.

Perhaps the most exciting prospect arising from this study is the possibility to understand how the gene actually works functionally. “If we could control a switch that allows animals to reproduce asexually, that would have important applications in agriculture, biotechnology and many other fields,” Professor Oldroyd said. For instance, many pest ant species like fire ants are thelytokous, though unfortunately it seems to be a different gene to the one found in Capensis.”

Flowers for city-dwelling honey bees, new research


This December 2016 video from England says about itself:

How do bees find food in the city? Urban Beekeeping and Hive Mind: | BBC Earth Unplugged

To celebrate the release of the Cities episode of Planet Earth II, Maddie Moate went down to East London to meet the beekeeper Chris from Barnes & Webb who manages a selection of beehives across the city. Maddie finds out how bees find food in urban environments and how, through the waggle dance, they are able to communicate with their fellow bees, where food can be found.

From Penn State University in the USA:

Important flowering plants for city-dwelling honey bees

April 28, 2020

Trees, shrubs and woody vines are among the top food sources for honey bees in urban environments, according to an international team of researchers. By using honey bees housed in rooftop apiaries in Philadelphia, the researchers identified the plant species from which the honey bees collected most of their food, and tracked how these food resources changed from spring to fall. The findings may be useful to homeowners, beekeepers and urban land managers who wish to sustain honey bees and other bee and pollinator species.

“We know that cities can support a surprising diversity of bee species; however, cities are complex environments, and traditional floral surveying methods can be hard to implement,” said Christina Grozinger, Distinguished Professor of Entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. “By analyzing the pollen that honey bees brought back to their colonies and how the weights of these colonies changed every hour, we were able to identify the flowering plants that provide the most nutrition for bees in Philadelphia, and understand how these resources change across the seasons.”

The researchers installed 12 apiaries, each containing three honey bee colonies, at locations throughout Philadelphia. Each colony was equipped with a pollen trap for capturing incoming pollen and a scale for logging its weight once per hour. The team visited each apiary monthly to collect pollen samples. They sequenced the DNA from the samples to determine which plant genera were present in each sample. Their findings appeared on April 27 in the journal Ecosphere.

“Ours is the first study to combine two novel techniques — continuous colony weight monitoring and pollen DNA metabarcoding — to answer simultaneously the questions of ‘what’ and ‘how much’ with respect to the flowers that are available to foraging insects,” said Douglas Sponsler, postdoctoral scholar in entomology, Penn State. “Colony weight patterns tell us when resources are plentiful and when they are scarce. Pollen DNA metabarcoding tells us which plants are available at a given time and how the floral community changes through the year.”

The team found that the availability of floral resources in Philadelphia follows a consistent seasonal pattern — floral resources are plentiful in spring, scarce in summer, and briefly plentiful again in late summer and early fall before becoming scarce for the remainder of the year.

Specifically, trees like maples, oaks and willows were the most important spring pollen sources. During the summer when resources were scarce, crepe myrtle, Japanese pagoda tree and devil’s walking stick emerged as important species. In summer and fall, woody vines, such as Virginia creeper, English ivy and autumn clematis, dominated the pollen samples.

“Vines are not traditionally regarded as major foraging resources for pollinators, and what we discovered in our study system may be a novelty of urban ecosystems,” said Sponsler. “Vines such as the ones we found thrive on the vertical surfaces of built environments, and many of them have been introduced by humans as garden plants.”

According to the researchers, the study highlights at least three actionable findings.

  • Bees need flowering trees, so urban forestry should be a top priority in urban land management.
  • Many of the plants that were important in the study are associated with once-disturbed habitats that now harbor rich floral resources, so weedy areas should be valued.
  • While native plant species are usually the best for supporting bees and other pollinators, ornamental plant species can provide important nutritional resources as well, particularly in periods when other plants are not blooming.

“Care should be taken to avoid plants with a strong potential to become invasive,” said Sponsler. “But as far as ornamentals go, summer-blooming species like Japanese pagoda tree and crepe myrtle might alleviate seasonal shortages of floral resources. In the eastern U.S., native species like eastern redbud, American linden and some varieties of hydrangea are good options for ornamental plantings.”

Groziner noted that although caution should be taken in extrapolating the findings to cities beyond Philadelphia, the overall consistency of the team’s findings with comparable datasets suggests that the patterns seen in the data are likely the same as would be found in similar locations. Grozinger noted that several other studies from their group have found that ornamental plants can provide good nutrition for bees, and often provide season-long blooms. More information on creating gardens for pollinators can be found on the Penn State Master Gardeners Pollinator Garden Certification Program site.

“Our data can inform urban land management, such as the design of ecologically functional ornamental plantings, while also providing practical guidance to beekeepers seeking to adapt their management activities to floral resource seasonality,” Grozinger said.

Honeybees can count to six


This 2014 video says about itself:

Honeybee‘s Counting Book Volume 6. Jeanette Vuuren

This is the audiobook for HONEYBEE’S COUNTING BOOK, Volume 6 of the Honeybee Series and consists of approximately 55 pages which include honeybee words, phrases, sentences and full-color illustrations. It is an educational book for ages 3 to 5, and provides the opportunity for readers to learn the basic honeybee words, at the same time practicing numbers names and symbols from one to ten. This book also includes extra practice for counting from one to ten, as well as Honeybee’s Silly Rhyme which includes the basic information about honeybees.

From the University of Cologne in Germany:

Bees recognize that six is more than four

March 2, 2020

Summary: A new study at the University of Cologne proves that insects can perform basic numerical cognition tasks. Their neuronal network can also be used to perform successful machine learning.

Writing in iScience, zoologists have shown that insects have the cognitive abilities to perform so-called numerosity estimation, allowing them to solve simple mathematical problems. Zoologist Professor Dr Martin Paul Nawrot and doctoral student Hannes Rapp from the ‘Computational Systems Neuroscience’ research group at the University of Cologne demonstrated these abilities in a computational model inspired by the honeybee.

‘Experiments showed that insects such as honeybees can actually “count” up to a certain number of objects. For example, bees were able to compare sets of objects and evaluate whether they were the same size or whether one set was larger than the other’, said Hannes Rapp, explaining the underlying question of what is known as numerical cognition. For example, the bee recognized that six diamonds are more than four circles.

So far, it has been unclear how the neuronal network for this cognitive ability is constructed. Earlier theoretical models had assumed a firmly implemented circular circuit with four involved neurons for the four arithmetical operations ‘equal to’, ‘zero’, ‘more than’ and ‘less than’, explained Professor Nawrot. ‘However, our computer model showed that not four, but only one neuron is sufficient. The action potential of a single neuron varies depending on the math problem — and this can be trained on the neuron. As a result, the researchers identified a comparatively simple model with which a neural network can learn to solve numerical cognition tasks.

According to Nawrot, this model also helps the neural networks of an artificial intelligence to learn: ‘A lot of money has already been invested into training artificial neural networks to visually recognize the number of objects. Deep learning methods in particular enable counting by the explicit or implicit recognition of several relevant objects within a static scene’, Nawrot added. ‘However, these model classes are expensive because they usually have to be trained on a very large number of patterns in the millions and often require cloud computing clusters. Our honeybee-inspired approach with a simple model and learning algorithm reduces this effort many times over.’

Many cities are introducing green areas to protect their fauna. Amongst such measures are flower strips, which provide support to flower-visiting insects, insect- and seed-eating birds. According to the first quantitative assessment of the speed and distance over which urban flower strips attract wild bees, one-year-old flower strips attract 1/3 of the 232 species recorded from Munich since 1997: here.

Honey bees could help monitor fertility loss in insects due to climate change: here.

Honey bees that guard hive entrances are twice as likely to allow in trespassers from other hives if the intruders are infected with the Israeli acute paralysis virus, a deadly pathogen of bees, researchers report: here.

Wild honeybees nesting in European trees


This 2016 video says about itself:

Bee Hunting: Finding a Wild Colony of Honey Bees

One method of locating a colony of wild bees is called beelining. In this video, we will join Prof. Tom Seeley as he tries to locate a wild colony of bees. He catches bees foraging on goldenrod and aster, feeds them concentrated sugar solution and determines the direction that they fly as they return to their colony. By painting identifying marks on some bees, he is able to measure their round trip time to get an estimate of the distance to the colony. With direction and distance established, he moves closer. Then, watching the bees, sees that they are living in a dead tree.

From the University of Würzburg in Germany:

Tree cavities for wild honeybees

December 11, 2019

Summary: The forests in Europe provide habitat for around 80,000 colonies of wild honeybees. That is why more attention should be paid to preserving the nesting sites for these threatened insects, according to researchers.

Wild populations of the western honeybee Apis mellifera were widely assumed as extinct in Europe. “However, recent fieldwork studies reveal that wild honeybees still exist in forests: Their colonies mainly nest in tree cavities,” says Dr. Fabrice Requier from the Biocenter of Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany.

So far, wild honeybees have only been observed in northern Poland and Germany (the Hainich forest and the Biosphere Reserve Swabian Alb). Research groups from Germany, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic, led by the JMU, have now asked themselves where there might be other suitable habitats in Europe.

The four teams analysed the tree cavity densities of 106 forest areas across Europe and inferred for the first time an expected population size of estimated 80,000 wild honeybee colonies in European forests. This is reported in the journal Conservation Letters.

Where there are hotspots for wild honeybees

The researchers have also identified the hotspots where wild honeybees find a particularly large number of nesting sites. On the one hand, these are unmanaged forests, for example in national park areas. Surprisingly, hotspots also include forests in which the nesting trees exist not so densely, such as the extensive coniferous forests in Sweden and Finland.

The scientists’ conclusion: it is worthwhile to include the conservation of trees with cavities in forest management, even in commercial forests. This is entirely in line with the EU strategy to halt the decline of honeybees and other pollinators.

Male honeybees temporarily blind queens during sex


This 29 June 2019 video says about itself:

Sex Determination in Honeybees | Queen, Drone & Workers | Haplodiploidy

In honeybees (or honey bees), sex is normally determined by the fertilization or non-fertilization of eggs .In haplodiploid systems, male progeny normally develops from unfertilized eggs, which are haploid and have just one set of chromosomes. The fertilized honey bee eggs, which are diploid and have two sets of chromosomes, differentiate into queens and worker bees.

From the University of California – Riverside in the USA:

Male honeybees inject queens with blinding toxins during sex

September 10, 2019

They say love is blind, but if you’re a queen honeybee it could mean true loss of sight.

New research finds male honeybees inject toxins during sex that cause temporary blindness. All sexual activity occurs during a brief early period in a honeybee’s life, during which males die and queens can live for many years without ever mating again.

UC Riverside’s Boris Baer, a professor of entomology, said males develop vision-impairing toxins to maximize the one fleeting opportunity they may ever get to father offspring.

“The male bees want to ensure their genes are among those that get passed on by discouraging the queen from mating with additional males,” said Baer, senior author of the study that discovered these blinding findings published today in the journal eLife. “She can’t fly if she can’t see properly.”

The toxins identified by the team are proteins contained in male bees’ seminal fluid, which is a substance that helps maintain sperm. Earlier work by Baer’s team also discovered honeybee seminal fluid toxins that kill the sperm of rivals. All honeybees make these proteins, though some may make more of it than others.

Baer first became interested in bees’ seminal fluid years ago as a doctoral student. During early projects, he noticed that if bumblebee queens were injected only with the fluid and not the sperm during insemination, the queens stopped mating and became increasingly aggressive toward males. He wanted to understand why.

Roughly 10 years ago, Baer and his international team began analyzing which proteins could be found in honeybees‘ fluids.

“We found at least 300 of these ‘James Bonds’, little secret agents with specific missions,” he said.

The team was not entirely surprised to find a protein that attacks the sperm of other males, as this behavior can be found in other insects. But they were surprised to find the protein that impacts genes responsible for vision in the queen’s brains.

To test whether the protein had this effect, Baer’s team presented inseminated queens with a flickering light, and measured her response to it via tiny electrodes in her brain. The vision and corresponding flight-impairing effects kick in within hours, but Baer notes that it is likely reversible in the long term because queens do tend to fly successfully later in life when they establish new colonies.

Studying the seminal fluid proteins required an interdisciplinary team of entomologists, biologists, biochemists, and more to identify them and examine their effects on the queens.

This team included Baer’s wife and co-author, Barbara Baer-Imhoof, a UC Riverside pollination specialist. As part of this project, Baer-Imhoof conducted experiments in which she installed tiny tags on queen bees’ backs read by scanners at the hive entrances.

“The tags were similar to those at the self-checkout counter in grocery stores,” Baer-Imhoof said. The experiment showed queens had difficulties finding their way back to their colonies if they had been inseminated.

A molecular understanding of honeybee mating habits could eventually be used to improve breeding programs and help insects that pollinate many of the foods we eat.

“More than a third of what we eat depends on bee pollination, and we’ve taken bees’ services for granted for a very long time,” Baer said. “However, bees have experienced massive die-offs in the last two decades. Anything we can do to help improve their numbers will benefit humans, too.”