The Humble Bee

bees
by Elizabeth Pennisi
for the American Association for the Advancement of Science

For years, cognitive scientist Lars Chittka felt a bit eclipsed by his colleagues at Queen Mary University of London. Their studies of apes, crows, and parrots were constantly revealing how smart these animals were. He worked on bees, and at the time, almost everyone assumed that the insects acted on instinct, not intelligence.
Chittka’s team has shown that bumble bees can not only learn to pull a string to retrieve a reward, but they can also learn this trick from other bees, even though they have no experience with such a task in nature. The study “successfully challenges the notion that ‘big brains’ are necessary” for new skills to spread, says Christian Rutz, an evolutionary ecologist who studies bird cognition at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom.
Many researchers have used string-pulling to assess animals, particularly birds and apes. So Chittka and his colleagues set up a low clear plastic table barely tall enough to lay three flat artificial blue flowers underneath. Each flower contained a well of sugar water in the center and had a string attached that extended beyond the table’s boundaries. The only way the bumble bee could get the sugar water was to pull the flower out from under the table by tugging on the string.
The team put 110 bumble bees, one at a time, next to the table to see what they would do. Some tugged at the strings and gave up, but two actually kept at it until they retrieved the sugar water. In another series of experiments, the researchers trained the bees by first placing the flower next to the bee and then moving it ever farther under the table. More than half of the 40 bees tested learned what to do.

Next, the researchers placed untrained bees behind a clear plastic wall so they could see the other bees retrieving the sugar water. More than 60% of the insects that watched knew to pull the string when it was their turn. In another experiment, scientists put bees that knew how to pull the string back into their colony and a majority of the colony’s workers picked up string pulling by watching one trained bee do it when it left the colony in search of food. The bees usually learned this trick after watching the trained bee five times, and sometimes even after one observation. Even after the trained bee died, string pulling continued to spread among the colony’s younger workers.
But pulling a string does not quite qualify as tool use, because a tool would have to be an independent object that wasn’t attached to the flower in the first place. And other invertebrates have shown they can use tools: Digger wasps pick up small stones and use them to pack down their burrow entrances, for example. But that two bees figured out how to pull the string with no help while other bees picked up on that ability, was impressive, says Ivo Jacobs, a cognitive zoologist at Lund University in Sweden who was not involved with the work. “This shows unexpected behavioral flexibility.”
Rutz is impressed, too, because the work involved almost 300 bees and clearly documented how string pulling spread from bee to bee in multiple colonies.
With additional experiments, Chittka hopes to figure out the neural basis of these abilities.
The findings hint at a form of culture in bees, Jacobs says. With their ability to learn where others are, find out what they are doing, and experiment on their own, the insects demonstrated that they can pass on knowledge—a key requirement of culture, considered to be a complex phenomena.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/10/hints-tool-use-culture-seen-bumble-bees

Grass Becomes Fireflies

pineconeattrib. LWR Wenckebach (1860-1937)

 

In ancient times the Japanese divided their year into 24 periods based on classical Chinese sources. The natural world comes to life in the even more vividly named 72 subdivisions of the traditional Japanese calendar.
The 24 divisions are each split again into three, for a total of 72  that last around five days each. The original Chinese names did not always match up well with the local climate, so in Japan they were eventually rewritten, in 1685, by the court astronomer, Shibukawa Shunkai.

(The dates in the following table are approximate and may vary by one day depending on the year. [My own fear is that climate change will have distorted seasons everywhere, and so the dates may vary more widely. –SecretGardener]
There are no standard readings in Japanese for the kanji names of the 72 , so other sources may give different readings.)

 

Risshun (Beginning of spring)
February 4–8: East wind melts the ice
February 9–13: Bush warblers start singing in the mountains
February 14–18: Fish emerge from the ice

Usui (Rainwater)
February 19–23: Rain moistens the soil
February 24–28: Mist starts to linger
March 1–5: Grass sprouts, trees bud

Keichitsu (Insects awaken)
March 6–10: Hibernating insects surface
March 11–15: First peach blossoms
March 16–20: Caterpillars become butterflies

Shunbun (Spring equinox)
March 21–25: Sparrows start to nest
March 26–30: First cherry blossoms
March 31–April: Distant thunder

Seimei (Pure and clear)
April 5–9: Swallows return
April 10–14: Wild geese fly north
April 15–19: First rainbows

Kokuu (Grain rains)
April 20–24: First reeds sprout
April 25–29: Last frost, rice seedlings grow
April 30–May 4: Peonies bloom

Rikka (Beginning of summer)
May 5–9: Frogs start singing
May 10–14: Worms surface
May 15–20: Bamboo shoots sprout

Shōman (Lesser ripening)
May 21–25: Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves
May 26–30: Safflowers bloom
May 31–June 5: Wheat ripens and is harvested

Bōshu (Grain beards and seeds)
June 6–10: Praying mantises hatch
June 11–15: Rotten grass becomes fireflies
June 16–20: Plums turn yellow

Geshi (Summer solstice)
June 21–26: Self-heal withers
June 27–July 1: Irises bloom
July 2–6: Crow-dipper sprouts

Shōsho (Lesser heat)
July 7–11: Warm winds blow
July 12–16: First lotus blossoms
July 17–22: Hawks learn to fly

Taisho (Greater heat)
July 23–28: Paulownia trees produce seeds
July 29–August 2: Earth is damp, air is humid
August 3–7: Great rains sometimes fall

Risshū (Beginning of autumn)
August 8–12: Cool winds blow. The mountains begin to color.
August 13–17: Evening cicadas sing
August 18–22: Thick fog descends

Shosho (Manageable heat)
August 23–27: Cotton flowers bloom
August 28–September 1: Heat starts to die down
September 2–7: Rice ripens

Hakuro (White dew)
September 8–12: Dew glistens white on grass
September 13–17: Wagtails sing
September 18–22: Swallows leave

Shūbun (Autumn equinox)
September 23–27: Thunder ceases
September 28–October 2: Insects hole up underground
October 3–7: Farmers drain fields

Kanro (Cold dew)
October 8–12: Wild geese return
October 13–17: Chrysanthemums bloom
October 18–22: Crickets chirp around the door

Sōkō (Frost falls)
October 23–27: First frost
October 28–November 1: Light rains sometimes fall
November 2–6: Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow

Rittō (Beginning of winter)
November 7–11: Camellias bloom
November 12–16: Land starts to freeze
November 17–21: Daffodils bloom

Shōsetsu (Lesser snow)
November 22–26: Rainbows hide
November 27–December 1: North wind blows the leaves from the trees
December 2–6: Citrus tree leaves start to turn yellow

Taisetsu (Greater snow)
December 7–11: Cold sets in, winter begins
December 12–16: Bears start hibernating in their dens
December 17–21: Salmons gather and swim upstream

Tōji (Winter solstice)
December 22–26: Self-heal sprouts
December 27–31: Deer shed antlers
January 1–4: Wheat sprouts under snow

Shōkan (Lesser cold)
January 5–9: Parsley flourishes
January 10–14: Springs thaw
January 15–19: Pheasants start to call

Daikan (Greater cold)
January 20–24: Butterburs bud
January 25–29: Ice thickens on streams
January 30–February 3: Hens start laying eggs

 

https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00124/

 

In Our Hands Forests Sleep

lynx-la-balsaminaProbably from the botanical manuscripts of Federico Angelo Cesi (1585 – 1630), founder of the Accademia dei Lincei

 
Protea montana
 is a threatened species from the very highest peaks of the Western Cape of South Africa.
A fluffy seed coat allows it to be blown – after a fire has released it from the prison of a dead flower head – to a site where the same fluff allows it to corkscrew into the shallow soil and wait for winter rain.

For a thing so small, a seed bears a heavy burden: the future existence of its species.
If things go wrong for the seed, it could mean potential extinction.

Each plant species produces its own unique and beautiful seeds.
Beyond that beauty and uniqueness are the processes that place them into dormancy until the conditions are just right, distribute them, bring them out of their stasis and cause them to germinate.
Then each has its  pollination process allowing it to produce more seeds.

Mimetes stokoei
, the mace pagoda, has been declared extinct twice because there were no actual plants of this species growing anywhere on Earth.
What wasn’t considered at the time was that the mace pagoda had placed its entire future security as a species
on seed buried just under the surface of the soil, and was waiting for the right kind of fire to trigger germination.

Hope, so inextricably tied up in seeds, has led to them being one of our most important backup plans for the planet, and so humanity.
There are people out there all over the world busily collecting and storing seed; guardians of our future.
The wild relatives of our crops, endangered species, and culturally important varieties, are all important to seed-bankers.
In some countries, it’s the only way to preserve the sheer levels of genetic diversity there now.

We don’t really know what the future holds, so we must cover all bases.
On the day when we need to put endangered species back into restored habitats, or bring back genetic diversity to our crops, we will have all that potential locked away in the form of a seed.

Ecosystem restoration projects across the globe depend entirely on seed, along with the people collecting them and those who know how to grow them.
With some forethought, often on the part of enlightened governments, people are coming together to make sure the possibilities of seeds are realised.
In Thailand, rainforest is being restored using seed bombs dropped from army planes.
In the USA the Native Seed Network and the Plant Conservation Alliance are bringing together a united force of native seed collectors, growers, and landscape restoration experts in an attempt, fostered by the Obama government through its National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration, to make sure all degraded habitats are restored using seed of local provenance as a matter of utmost urgency.

 

Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a plantsman and conservationist. He tweets as @fossilplants.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2017/jan/13/seeds-little-time-capsules-that-could-secure-our-future?CMP=share_btn_tw#comment-91392416

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

Carrie Gooseberries

gooseberries
Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943)

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE POMOLOGICAL WATERCOLOR COLLECTION RARE AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
,

Study Of A Cucumber, With Its Leaves

jacques-le-moyne-(de-morgues)-a-cucumber,-with-its-leaves-(study)
Jacques le Moyne de Morgues (1533 – 1588
)

 

Bucks County Landscape

Wm Lathrop
William Langson Lathrop (1859–1938)

 

Butterfly – Ten Percent Remain

Butterfly detail

Monarch populations down 90% in 20 yrs. They need help, @USFWSHQ. Add them to the threatened species list under ESA! http://bit.ly/ProtectMonarchs

Brambles

rubus isham
Artist: Schutt, Ellen Isham, 1873-1955
Scientific name: Rubus
Common name: brambles
Variety: Eaton
Geographic origin: Leslie, Ingham County, Michigan, United States

De Wonderen

de wonderenJan Sepp (1739-1811)

Monarch butterflies need milkweed. It is the only plant they can lay their eggs on and that the caterpillars can eat.

But the combination of genetically engineered corn and soy and weed killers like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has wiped out nearly all the milkweed that used to grow along the monarchs’ migratory routes, leaving the butterflies nowhere to lay their eggs

Every fall, for thousands of years, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies have taken to the skies, flying more than 2,500 miles across Canada and the U.S. to reach their winter home in the thick forests of tall oyamel fir trees that grow in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.

This winter, only 33.5 million butterflies made it to Mexico – the lowest level ever reported.

Like honey bees and other pollinators, monarch butterflies are now in crisis, with populations plummeting dramatically since the introduction of herbicide-ready corn and soybean crops in 1997.

They may disappear. Soon.

The huge increase in the usage of GMO crops and the toxic herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup that accompany them is a major culprit for the monarch’s disappearance, along with rapid deforestation in Mexico and extreme weather caused by climate chaos.

The world needs monarch butterflies. But they can’t survive without milkweed. And milkweed can’t survive weed-killing chemicals . . .

Tell the USDA and the EPA to adopt tough restrictions on pesticide-resistant crops and the toxic herbicides responsible for the rapid disappearance of monarchs.

No One Immune

insectsMatthäus Merian der Ältere  (1593 – 1650)

 

Our Bees, Ourselves
by Mark Winston, Op-ed contributor, The New York Times

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade.

Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.

The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides; together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.

These findings provide the most sophisticated data set available for any species about synergies among pesticides, and between pesticides and disease. The only human equivalent is research into pharmaceutical interactions, with many prescription drugs showing harmful or fatal side effects when used together, particularly in patients who already are disease-compromised. Pesticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.

Observing the tumultuous demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened. The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years, and the widespread collapse of so many colonies presents a clear message: We must demand that our regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined chemicals may affect human health before approving compounds.

Bees also provide some clues to how we may build a more collaborative relationship with the services that ecosystems can provide. Beyond honeybees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer some of the pollination service needed for agriculture. Yet feral bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — also are threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, which decimate the unmanaged plants that bees depend on for nutrition.

Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.

Such logic goes against conventional wisdom that fields and bees alike can be uniformly micromanaged. The current challenges faced by managed honeybees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners.

And this insight goes beyond mere agricultural economics. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.