Building a better bee – with LEGO

LEGO blocks were my favorite toy growing up. I rarely built according to the directions that came with the sets. Figuring out how to use the various pieces to create the spaceships and mechs I saw on TV and in comic books was my jam. It was three-dimensional problem solving and hands-on storytelling at its finest.

Even though my LEGO have been stored away in the basement for years, I still enjoy seeing the sets that continue to roll out. And just recently I discovered that LEGO fans can submit their own ideas for possible official production.

“Now it’s your chance to unleash your creativity and show that you are a true master builder,” reads the official LEGO Ideas submission page. “Can you come up with an idea that wows your fellow LEGO fans and persuades our review board to give it the green light?”

I discovered this because my wife sent me a link to one particular product idea: a LEGO Solar Farm. And the reason she sent it to me is because the proposed set includes honey bee hives and pollinator-friendly ground cover.

Overall, I think the idea is pretty cool. However, there are a couple things I don’t like about the set:

• The set represents bees in a frustratingly one-dimensional way of managed bees.

• It puts more plastic in the world – which is true of every LEGO set. But the company has said it will be 100% sustainable by 2030. And apparently about 2% of the current pieces are made from a bio-based plastic.

What I do like about the set:

• It puts bees and flowers and ecological connections front and center in the creative play process.

• It includes soil! Look at that thick brown layer of blocks beneath the green grass plates.

• The creator hails from Minnesota – arguably the most bee-friendly state in the U.S.

By coincidence, Joe Wilson, professor of biology at Utah State University and co-author of The Bees in Your Backyard, also has some thoughts to share this week about two other current LEGO sets that include bees: the Brickheadz Bumble Bee and the Minecraft Bee Farm. The sets, not surprisingly, are stereotypical and cartoonish in how they present bees. But Joe (and his son) offer some simple and clever ideas for how LEGO could expand this presentation and make it more accurate.

And for anyone else who has their own ideas on how to build a better bee-centric LEGO set, unleash your creativity and submit those ideas!


No honey, no hives, but solitary bees have important lives in India

(Mongabay) One of the best-kept secrets of the bee-world is that over 90% of bee species do not live in hives and do not make any honey. That percentage shoots up in India, where of the 700 or so bee species, only five are social bees. Except for one introduced social honey bee species – Apis mellifera – all the bees found in India (solitary and social) are native bees.

The Irish Times view on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan: restoration roadmap

(The Irish Times) “The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, just five years old, has been remarkably successful, especially given notorious failures, north and south of the Border, to conserve biodiversity. Who knew that the passion of so many people could be ignited by small insects many of us had previously barely noticed?”

U.S. and Canada setting up for showdown with ‘murder hornets’ as 2021 nesting season starts

(USA Today) Scientists from Washington, British Columbia and U.S. federal agencies joined forces in a virtual press conference Wednesday to declare open season on the Asian giant hornet, an invasive species that was first found in the U.S. and Canada in 2019. The agencies are collaborating on their plans to track, trap and eradicate any Asian giant hornets they find in 2021. The joint announcement comes as the predatory insects are setting up nests this spring.


Bees and robots: High-tech, vertical strawberry farm in N.J. raises $50 million in Series A round

(Forbes) In 2018, Oishii, a vertical strawberry farm in Kearny, N.J. that depends on both bees and artificial intelligence, introduced New Yorkers to the Omakase Berry. The fragrant Japanese variety became the darling of Michelin-star chefs and the patrons of tony Eli’s Market on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At $50 for a box of eight, this was luxury branding at its best. But Oishii CEO Hiroki Koga believes that everyone should have access to delicious, sustainably grown strawberries and other quality produce.

Why are hundreds of thousands of honey bees dying in New Zealand town?

(Star News) Seven beekeepers met to investigate what was happening to the bees that have perished in huge numbers over the past three years in February. The beekeepers have several theories about what is killing the bees but have not yet found any conclusive evidence.


Two new bills offer hope for declining monarch populations

(Xerces Society) Two new bills intended to bring much-needed funding for conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly are being introduced into Congress today. Together, the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act will provide millions of dollars to support conservation projects. The legislation comes at a critical time: In the west, the monarch migration is on the verge of disappearing and the eastern population may not be far behind.

Interior scraps Trump wildlife rollbacks in energy zone

(E&E) The Biden administration is formally nixing a Trump-era proposal that would have rolled back wildlife protections to increase energy development inside a California renewable energy zone. The Interior Department announced last month it planned to ax the proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to remove millions of acres that are protected for sensitive wildlife habitat from the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). But Interior today published a formal notice of termination in the Federal Register that kills the proposed changes.


Mason bee larvae drum with their butts, which may confuse predatory wasps

(Science News) A light crackling sound floats above a field in northern Switzerland in late summer. Its source is invisible, tucked inside a dead, dried plant stem: a dozen larval mason bees striking the inner walls of their herbaceous nest. While adult bees and wasps make plenty of buzzy noises, their young have generally been considered silent. But the babies of at least one bee species make themselves heard, playing percussion instruments growing out of their faces and rear ends. The larvae’s chorus of tapping and rasping may be a clever strategy to befuddle predatory wasps.

Testing the relationship between floral shape evolution and pollination switches

(Twitter, Andrew Hipp @AndrewLHipp) “This nuanced study of floral evolution in Salvia... illustrates the contingency of adaptation--form evolves in response to selection, but lagged by ancestry--and multiple routes to ostensibly common pollination modes. Elegant, fascinating.”

Boosting insect diversity may provide more consistent crop pollination services

(University of Reading) First global study of pollinator service stability over time finds fewer fluctuations in diverse communities.

Bees will become ‘disorientated and stressed’ by bright lights and noise if Australian mine given the go ahead

(ABC News) One of Australia’s largest beekeeping businesses fears bright lights and noise at a proposed gold mine nearby could result in millions of bees becoming disorientated and stressed. While only a small small amount of research had been carried out into the impact a mine development could have on bee behavior, an expert believed concerns were valid.

Not just CO2: Rising temperatures also alter photosynthesis in a changing climate

(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) A recent review explores how higher temperatures influence plant growth and viability despite the greater availability of atmospheric CO2, a key component of photosynthesis. Excessive heat can reduce the efficiency of enzymes that drive photosynthesis and can hinder plants’ ability to regulate CO2 uptake and water loss. Structural features can make plants more – or less – susceptible to heat stress. Ecosystem attributes – such as the size and density of plants, the arrangement of leaves on plants or local atmospheric conditions – also influence how heat will affect crop yields.

One More Thing…

From Hakai Magazine: What to do with Nomans Land?

Nomans Land, Massachusetts, is unusual for the heavily populated New England coast. The island could have ended up like a miniature version of Martha’s Vineyard – the upscale vacation destination that sits just five kilometers to the north. Instead it’s brimming with spotted turtles and myriad migratory birds – a de facto wildlife sanctuary with little human presence. And there’s a good reason for that: from 1943 to 1996, the island served as a bombing range for the US Navy. In spite of previous cleanup efforts, Nomans Land remains littered with unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) that has rendered it closed to the public.

But despite half a century of destruction, life has flourished on the island. And now, area residents are embroiled in a question that is at once philosophical and practical: what to do with Nomans Land.