Honey bees accumulate microplastics. "I saw a bumblebee" project launches in Argentina. Mystery of bees' social behavior deepens. Secret aerial sex lives of honey bees revealed – with radar.

Honey bees are accumulating airborne microplastics on their bodies

As honey bees make their way through the world, they are ideally suited to pick up bits and pieces of it along the way. Bees are covered with hairs that have evolved to hold tiny particles that the bee collects intentionally or simply encounters in its daily travels. These hairs become electrostatically charged in flight, which helps attract the particles. Pollen is the most obvious substance that gets caught up in these hairs, but so do plant debris, wax, and even bits of other bees.

Now, another material has been added to that list: plastics.

According to a study of honey bees and microplastics in Denmark, 13 different kinds of synthetic fragments and fibers were found on the bees. This gives scientists a new way to monitor plastic pollution in the environment. But are the microplastics harmful to the bees themselves?

Here’s the story I recently wrote for National Geographic sharing what we currently know. Hope you’ll give it a read.


Community scientists can now join “I saw a bumblebee” project

(El Cordillerano, in Spanish) A group of students and researchers from the National University of Comahue and the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina has launched a community project called “I saw a bumble bee”. Its purpose is to monitor the status of native populations of bumble bees in Argentina and the advance of invasive species coming from Europe. Google Translate

Road verges provide opportunity for wildflowers, bees and trees

(ScienceDaily, University of Exeter) Researchers used Google Earth and Google Street View to estimate that verges account for 2,579 square km (almost 1,000 square miles) of land in Great Britain. About 27% of these verges are frequently mown, 41% is wilder grassland, 19% is woodland and the rest is scrub. The researchers say there are “significant opportunities” to improve verges by reducing mowing and planting trees.


Economics and value of pollination

(ScienceDaily, University of Maryland) A new review paper examines pollinators from both an economic and ecological perspective, providing insight into the complexities of valuing pollination. While native and wild pollinators play an important role, managed honey bee colonies are commercially trucked around the U.S. to meet the need for pollination services in agricultural products. Recent reports of parasites, disease, and other concerns in colonies call into question the resilience of the managed honey bee rental markets, as well as how those managed bees are interacting with native pollinators. This paper highlights the importance of characterizing the economic value of pollination services, including that of managed and wild pollinators, both for the sustainability of honey bee markets and the protection of overall ecosystem health.

More than half a million bees found dead after being left in UPS truck for weeks

(CBS Boston) More than a million honey bees were left on a hot UPS truck for weeks. By the time a beekeeper was called on Wednesday, most of them were dead. “Almost all of them could have been saved if they called someone right away.”


New York debates pesticide ban to protect bees

(Adirondack Daily Enterprise) In the last three weeks of legislative session, some state lawmakers are talking about the birds and the bees. Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the Senate and Assembly, are pushing to advance the Birds and Bees Protection Act, or bill No. S699B/A7429, to prohibit the sale of neonicotinoid or “neonics” pesticides, insecticides and coated seeds. The bill, which lawmakers say will move before the end of session June 10, would restrain the use of neonics on coated seeds, including corn, soybean and wheat.

European Parliament: A new system for bee stressor risk assessment

(European Food Safety Authority) A new scientific opinion, requested by the European Parliament's Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, sets out an integrated, holistic framework for assessing the combined effects of multiple stressors on honey bees, known as MUST-B. The MUST‐B opinion proposes a systems‐based approach that combines modeling and monitoring systems for the ERA of multiple stressors such as pesticides and other environmental chemicals, parasites and diseases, as well as factors such as availability of food, climate and beekeeping management practices. The model is based on a bee colony simulator, called ApisRAM, which assesses either single or multiple pesticides in interaction with other stressors and factors. ApisRAM is still in development, but it will be ready for use in pesticide risk assessment in the next two or three years.


New research deepens mystery about evolution of bees’ social behavior

(EurekAlert, Entomological Society of America) Largest-ever analysis of bees’ morphological diversity paints a complicated picture as to whether complex social behavior developed once or multiple times in separate evolutionary branches.

The secret aerial sex lives of honey bee drones revealed using radar technology

(IFLScience) Their main goal in life for a male honey bee is to achieve the act of aerial acrobatics that is mating with a queen bee in mid-air. It’s believed that pheromones are capable of luring in upwards of 10,000 amorous drones – but because this understanding was built on research using lures, scientists have wondered if the methodology was interrupting the bees’ natural behavior. Now, a new study published has become the first to track the flight paths of individual drones without lures to see what they really get up to when they go looking for love.

Honey bees can tell time by temperature, research finds

(Phys.org, Vanderbilt University) Honey bees are known to tell time by light and social cues. Now new research has shown that the circadian clocks of bees can be altered by another surprising factor: temperature cycles inside the hive.

Honey bee ‘Trojan horse’ virus relies on bees’ habit of cannibalizing their young

(Live Science) Deformed wing virus, which leaves bees with stubby, useless wings, bloated abdomens and sluggish brains before killing them off, takes advantage of one of the pollinators’ nastier habits: a tendency to cannibalize their young, a new study found.

Pollinating insects can help soybean yields

(Iowa State University) A new study indicates that insects like honey bees in many cases can do a better job of pollinating soybeans than the plants can do on their own. The research team combined and synthesized the data from previous studies and found that wild bees and honey bees can improve soybean yields upward of 20% when they help to pollinate the soybean plants. The study compared these results to improvements in crop genetic and management factors, which ranged between 8% and 15%.

Intensive monitoring for bees in North America: indispensable or improvident?

(Twitter, Zach Portman, PhBee @zachportman) “In the current paper, we argue against a large-scale surveillance approach to bee monitoring because it is not feasible and it will not provide the information we need in a timely manner, if at all. A vocal minority of bee scientists continue to call for large-scale passive trapping of bees (particularly using bowl traps), with little regard for the taxonomic bottleneck, the realities of limited funding and brainpower, and the well-known biases of passive traps.”

First-of-its-kind flower smells like dead insects to imprison ‘coffin flies

(EurekAlert, Frontiers) The plant Aristolochia microstoma uses a unique trick: its flowers emit a fetid-musty scent that seems to mimic the smell of decomposing insects. Flies likely get attracted to this smell while searching for insect corpses to mate over and lay their eggs in. When they enter a flower, they are imprisoned and first pollinate the female organs, before being covered with pollen by the male organs. The flower then releases them unharmed.


Honey bees open screw-top lid on bottle of Fanta

(Twitter, Lars Chittka @LChittka) “Haha - I always thought that honeybees are nowhere near as smart as our tool-using bumblebees, but this is pretty good ;-)”

Close-up portraits of bees capture each of their unique characteristics

(My Modern Met) Documentary camera and drone operator Josh Forwood specializes in capturing wildlife, science, and adventure footage. During quarantine, he built a bee hotel for solitary bees at his home in the U.K. As he observed the bees, he began to notice that after flying into their chosen hole, they would peer out and rest for a short period before flying off again. That’s when a new photo project was born. His portraits show the unique characteristics of each bee.


Pollen-sized technology protects honey bees from deadly insecticides

(Cornell Chronicle) Studies show that wax and pollen in 98% of hives in the U.S. are contaminated with an average of six pesticides, which also lower a bee’s immunity to devastating varroa mites and pathogens. “We have a solution whereby beekeepers can feed their bees our microparticle products in pollen patties or in a sugar syrup, and it allows them to detoxify the hive of any pesticides that they might find.”

One More Thing…

From Rosemary Mosco (Bird And Moon Comics) @RosemaryMosco via Twitter.