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

The Song of Sleep

Crane Fly and Ants
Joris Hoefnagel, illuminator (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600)
Georg Bocskay, scribe (Hungarian, died 1575)

 


By Jason G Goldman

“Almost all other animals are clearly observed to partake in sleep, whether they are aquatic, aerial, or terrestrial,” wrote Aristotle in his work, On Sleep and Sleeplessness.
In The History of Animals, he wrote: “It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.”

Researchers can now humanely peer into the electrical and chemical activities of brain cells in animals while they sleep. In 2007, MIT scientists Kenway Louise and Matthew Wilson recorded the activity of neurons in a part of the rat brain called the hippocampus, a structure known to be involved in the formation and encoding of memories. They first recorded the activity of those brain cells while the rats ran in their mazes.
Then they looked at the activity of the very same neurons while they slept and discovered identical patterns of firing during running and during REM.
In other words, it was as if the rats were running the maze in their minds as they slept. The results were so clear that the researchers could infer the rats’ precise location within their mental dream mazes and map them to actual spots within the actual maze.

University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked into the brains of zebra finches and discovered something similar.
These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.

Later, when the birds were asleep, Dave and Margoliash looked again at the electrical activity in that part of their brains. The firing of those neurons wasn’t entirely random. Instead, the neurons fired in order, as if the bird was audibly singing the song, note for note. It might be said that the zebra finches were practising their songs in their sleep.


http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140425-what-do-animals-dream-about

 

Ants are good sleep research subjects, as they live underground. Most ants get exposed to sunlight only very irregularly, so a sleeping rythm based on a photo period like ours would not be very useful. Because of their social and subterranean lifestyle, one might expect that sleep periods of ants are more dependent on the tasks at hand than on light/dark periods.

This is indeed what Deby Cassill and collaborators found. Queens of the fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) have an average of 92 sleep periods per day, lasting for about 6 minutes each (for a total of 9.4h of sleep per day). Workers are very different from this, as they had 253 sleep episodes on average per day, each lasting about 1 minute, for a total of 4.8h sleep per day, meaning they sleep more often, but less long. At any time of the day, about 80% of the work force was actually working instead of sleeping, which is an efficient pattern.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the phase where we ‘blink’ our eyes often, and it’s the phase where our dreams are the most vivid; the dreams we actually remember occur during this sleep phase.
Ant queens show a similar behaviour when they’re fast asleep. Instead of their eyes, they twitch their antennae, resulting in so called ‘Rapid Antennal Movement’ (RAM) sleep.

 

Cassill DL, Brown S, Swick D, Yanev G (2009) Polyphasic wake/sleep episodes in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Behaviour 22:313-323
https://antyscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/what-do-ants-dream-of/

 

A Modest Love

dragon fly blue kJan van Kessel I (1626 – 1679)
A Cockchafer, Woodlice and other Insects, with a Sprig of Auricula
Detail


A Modest Love

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
The fly her spleen, the little sparks their heat;
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
And bees have stings, although they be not great;
Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love, in beggars as in kings.

Where rivers smoothest run, deep are the fords;
The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is in the fewest words;
The turtles cannot sing, and yet they love:
True hearts have eyes and ears, no tongues to speak;
They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.

Sir Edward Dyer (1543 – 1607)

 

Butterfly

blue butterflyThomas Say (1787-1834)
American entomology, or Descriptions of the insects of North America:
illustrated by coloured figures from original drawings executed from nature

As a boy, Thomas Say, born into a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, often visited the family garden, Bartram’s Garden, where he could take butterfly and beetle specimens to his great-uncle William.
A self-taught naturalist, he became an apothecary, and helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812.
He served as librarian for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, curator at the American Philosophical Society, and professor of natural history at the University of Pennsylvania
In 1816, he met Charles Alexandre Lesueur, a French naturalist, malacologist, and ichthyologist who soon became a member of the Academy and served as its curator until 1824.

To collect insects, Say made expeditions to the frontier, in spite of the risk of attacks by American Indians and the hazards of traveling in wild countryside.
In 1818, Say accompanied his friend William Maclure, then the ANSP president and father of American geology; Gerhard Troost, a geologist; and other members of the Academy on a geological expedition to the off-shore islands of Georgia and Florida, then a Spanish colony.

In 1819–20, Major Stephen Harriman Long led an exploration to the Rocky Mountains and the tributaries of the Missouri River, with Say as zoologist.
Their official account of this expedition included the first descriptions of the coyote, swift fox, western kingbird, band-tailed pigeon, rock wren, Say’s phoebe, lesser goldfinch, lark sparrow, lazuli bunting, and orange-crowned warbler.

In 1823, Say served as chief zoologist in Long’s expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
He traveled on the “Boatload of Knowledge” to the New Harmony Settlement in Indiana (1826–34), a utopian society experiment founded by Robert Owen.
He was accompanied by Maclure, Lesueur, Troost, and Francis Neef, an innovative education reformer.
There he later met Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, another naturalist.

Say married Lucy Way Sistare, whom he had met as one of the passengers to New Harmony, near the settlement.
She was an artist and illustrator of specimens, as in the book American Conchology, and was elected as the first woman member of the Academy of Natural Sciences

Say was a modest and unassuming man, who lived frugally, like a hermit, in New Harmony. He abandoned commercial activities and devoted himself to his studies.
He died, apparently from typhoid fever, when he was 47 years old.

The quality of the plates, in his book on American insects, and the clarity of Say’s description won him immediate fame abroad, and he was made a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London.
Say named some 1,500 new species – many of his discoveries (such as the American dog tick) were crucial for the future study and control of disease in humans, livestock and crops


W
http://www.abaa.org/book/844565199

 

Silent Spring

SilentJan van Kessel (baptized 5 April 1626 – 17 April 1679)

By http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/27/rachel-carson-silent-spring-anniversary

Near a brook in south-east England, the bird-spotter JA Baker stumbled on a grim little scene in 1961. “A heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. As I approached, I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly. I gave it peace and saw the agonised sunlight of its eyes slowly heal with cloud.”

The bird’s plight was clearly unnatural. But its fate was not unique. That year, large numbers of dead birds were found strewn across the countryside. On the royal estate in Sandringham, for example, the toll included thrushes, skylarks, moorhens, goldfinches, sparrowhawks, chaffinches, hooded crows, partridges, pheasants, and wood pigeons. Nationally, more than 6,000 dead birds were reported to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a massive leap on previous years. “We were inundated,” says the RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper.
The UK was not alone. For years, reports in the US indicated that numbers of birds, including America’s national bird, the bald eagle, were dropping alarmingly. Something was happening to the birds of the western world.

For most of 1961, Rachel Carson had locked herself in her cottage in Colesville, Maryland, to complete her book, Silent Spring. It would provide an unequivocal identification of the bird killers.
Powerful synthetic insecticides such as DDT were poisoning food chains, from insects upwards.
“Sprays, dusts and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes – non-selective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, to still the song of the birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film and to linger on in the soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects,” she wrote.

Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907. She studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and later Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. She was a brilliant marine biologist and a superb writer whose prose was exquisite in its precision and lyricism. She began writing for the Baltimore Sun and in 1936 was made editor-in-chief for publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Silent Spring was a brave effort. Even legitimate criticism of government policy was a risky act in the US then. “Science and technology and those who worked in these fields were revered as the saviours of the free world and the trustees of prosperity,” says another biographer, Linda Lear. “Rachel Carson exposes these experts to public scrutiny and makes it clear that at best they had not done their homework and at worst they had withheld the truth.”

DDT was banned not just because it was accumulating in the food chain but because mosquitoes were developing resistance to it, say science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway.
Nevertheless, groups still blame Carson for the current blight of malaria.

She denounced the links that had been established between science and industry. “When a scientific organisation speaks,” she asked, “whose voice do we hear – that of science or of the sustaining industry?” The question remains as pertinent today as it did in 1962.

Martin Harper of the RSPB says, “It took 10 years to get DDT banned after its effects had been demonstrated. And similarly today, when warned about a chemical’s danger, governments wait until research results are unequivocal. Then they suggest industry takes voluntary action. Only when that fails does it issue a ban, years too late.”
As Carson wrote: “Chemical war is never won and all life is caught in its violent crossfire.”

“In the 60s, we were only just waking up to the power that we had to damage the natural world,” says Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth. “Silent Spring outlined a clear and important message: that everything in nature is related to everything else.”

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

Day Fly

hill fly

“an inoffensive race; born to pass thro’ their little stage of being, the prey to a thousand enemies; but hurtful to no creature”


John Hill (1714?-1775)

from A Decade of Curious Insects 

 

Autographa Gamma

goes mothJan Augustin van der Goes (c. 1690)
Autographa Gamma Moth

 

 

A Name for All 

Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page
And still wing on, untarnished of the name
We pinion to your bodies to assuage
Our envy of your freedom—we must maim
Because we are usurpers, and chagrined—
And take the wing and scar it in the hand.
Names we have, even, to clap on the wind;
But we must die, as you, to understand.
I dreamed that all men dropped their names, and sang
As only they can praise, who build their days
With fin and hoof, with wing and sweetened fang
Struck free and holy in one Name always.


Hart Crane  (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932)

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.

Spin

spider

Jan Augustin van der Goes
c. 1690