Some idiot torched hives with half a million bees in Texas

Over the weekend, someone set fire to two dozen bee colonies in Alvin, Texas belonging to the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association. The perpetrator also dumped some of the bee boxes into a nearby pond. The Beekepers Association and the police are offering rewards for information leading to the conviction of the idiot who did it. From KTRK-TV:

"We're looking at 500,000 to 600,000 that have been destroyed out of that environment," said (beekeeping supplier Steve Brackmann)...

"It takes a long time to establish a colony," Brackmann said. "It can take a year to get a full one, but the queens were probably killed, which means those that survived have nowhere to go."

One comment on Facebook referred to it as ecoterrorism, and Brackmann doesn't disagree with that. Bee populations are dropping rapidly across the country because of insecticides and herbicides which take away the plants on which bees forage.

More at the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association's Facebook page.

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Bees wearing wireless sensors create a "living Internet of Things platform"

While researchers continue attempts to build practical insect-size flying robots, engineers at the University of Washington have prototyped a backpack for real bees that outfits the insects with sensing, computing, and wireless networking capabilities. From UW News:

“We decided to use bumblebees because they’re large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system, and they return to a hive every night where we could wirelessly recharge the batteries,” said co-author Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering...

Because bees don’t advertise where they are flying and because GPS receivers are too power-hungry to ride on a tiny insect, the team came up with a method that uses no power to localize the bees. The researchers set up multiple antennas that broadcasted signals from a base station across a specific area. A receiver in a bee’s backpack uses the strength of the signal and the angle difference between the bee and the base station to triangulate the insect’s position...

Next the team added a series of small sensors — monitoring temperature, humidity and light intensity — to the backpack. That way, the bees could collect data and log that information along with their location, and eventually compile information about a whole farm...

“Having insects carry these sensor systems could be beneficial for farms because bees can sense things that electronic objects, like drones, cannot,” Gollakota said. “With a drone, you’re just flying around randomly, while a bee is going to be drawn to specific things, like the plants it prefers to pollinate.

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Count your bees with a Raspberry Pi and machine learning

Sure, you worry about your bees, what with colony collapse disorder, but they're hard to count! Read the rest

20,000 rescued bees decorate this woman's maternity photos

Emily Mueller and her husband have a business relocating bees from areas where they might be exterminated. So when she hired Kendrah Damis to snap some photos of her third trimester, Emily wanted to include 20,0000 of their closest friends in the pics. Read the rest

Watch this gentleman break the world duration record for wearing a bee beard

Sure, we've all worn a bee beard for a minute or two, but Canada's own Juan Carlos Noguez Ortiz just broke the Guinness World Record by sitting for more than an hour with a facehive going. Impressive! Read the rest

For twelve years, this family has let bees nest in their living room

In addition to benefiting from excellent feng shui, the family harvests about 15 kilograms of honey each year from their bee housemates, who showed up on the day of a wedding. Read the rest

Fresno cops find $1m worth of stolen bees in "beehive chop shop"

The Fresno, California Sheriff's Department raided a "beehive chop shop" and uncovered $1m worth of bees stolen in "great beehive heists" that have taken place across the bee-starved state. Read the rest

Mushrooms may help in the fight against bee colony collapse

It's mushrooms to the rescue in a major study to stop bee colony collapse disorder. One culprit, parasitic varroa mites, stood out as a major threat because they were developing tolerance for many pesticides. Read the rest

Robotic drone bee pollinates flowers

Japanese researchers demonstrated how a tiny remote-controlled drone could help bees pollinate flowers in areas where bees populations have been reduced due to pesticides, climate change, and other factors. Eijiro Myako and his colleagues at the Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology hope that eventually robotic bees could handle their share of the work autonomously. From New Scientist:

The manually controlled drone is 4 centimetres wide and weighs 15 grams. The bottom is covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel, then rub off on the next flower visited.

In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). Moreover, the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers...

“We hope this will help to counter the problem of bee declines,” says Miyako. “But importantly, bees and drones should be used together.”

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New honeybee sperm bank racing to halt bee decline

For years, entomologist Brandon Hopkins has argued for the establishment of a germplasm repository for cryopreservation of honey bee semen. Unfortunately, bee semen us very hard to collect and even harder to preserve, but Hopkins found better ways to extract and store their genetic material. Read the rest

Spider vs Bees

Fastbees.net posted video of a large fishing spider hunting bees. As long as it doesn't move too quickly, it can grab the relatively small insects and sneak off with them. But when it gets skittish: game over. [via] Read the rest

Quarter of bumble bee species may soon be endangered in US

Reuters reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing the rusty patched bumble bee among America's endangered species.

Though just one of many species of bumble bee, Bombus affinis's sharp decline is a worry to conservationists. About a quarter of bumble bee species face "a risk of extinction."

The agency attributes the decline to a number of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.

Bumble bees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.

Bumble bees’ annual economic value to farms is estimated at $3.5 billion, according to experts.

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Bees can sense a flower's electric field

New research shows that bees can recognize flowers by the plants' tiny electric field that differs between species. The electric field bends the tiny hairs on a bee's body, firing neurons located at the base of the hair. From the journal Science:

Such fields—which form from the imbalance of charge between the ground and the atmosphere—are unique to each species, based on the plant’s distance from the ground and shape. Flowers use them as an additional way to advertise themselves to pollinators...

Electric fields can only be sensed from a distance of 10 cm or so, so they’re not very useful for large animals like ourselves. But for small insects, this distance represents several body lengths, a relatively long distance.

"How bees sense a flower’s electric field" (Science)

"Mechanosensory hairs in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields" (PNAS)

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Bee pulls nail out of brick wall

Granted, the nail was loose, but it is remarkable to see a bee work it out of the hole. Two questions: what was the nail doing in the hole in the first place, and why was the bee so intent on getting it out?

[via] Read the rest

Insects are conscious, according to study

"Brain scans of insects appear to indicate that they have the capacity to be conscious and show egocentrico, apparently indicating that they have such a thing as subjective experience." That's the finding of study written by Andrew B Barron and Colin Klein, and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

From the Independent:

They found that in both, consciousness appeared to be associated with the “midbrain”. That part of the brain is the ancient core of the brain, which supports awareness for us and apparently for insects, too.

Though insects have tiny brains, they appear to serve the same function that the midbrain does for humans. They are able to tie together memory, perception and other key parts of consciousness, and use it to decide what to do - which is the same function that human’s brains do.

[via]

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CT scan of a bee's brain

This bee is clearly smarter than me. [via]

“Bees are known to perform very complex tasks considering the size of their brains and their simplicity compared to high-level organisms,” said Gill. “If we can focus on simple tissues and find the small changes that can have profound effects on behavior, it can give us a basis to start understanding how very small changes to that brain can do that.”

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Meet the psychedelic honey-hunters of Nepal

"One month a year, giant Himalayan bees, the biggest bees in the world, come to collect nectar from a poisonous flower, giving the honey they make certain medicinal, aphrodisiac, and hallucinogenic properties."

In this short documentary, filmmaker Raphael Treza meets with a Nepalese tribe to learn about this honey, and how they use it. During the making of the film, the translator eats too much of the honey and falls unconscious. Read the rest

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