Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

In memory of Giorgio Celli (1935 - 2011)

It was thanks to Giorgio that the project investigating
the bee as an environmental sentinel for the presence of
pesticides, radionuclides, heavy metals, etc. became a
point of reference for the whole of Italy and a model for
the development of similar programmes internationally.
The project began about forty years ago and involved
various collaborators including Dr Claudio Porrini (the
most assiduous of them all and still today fully involved
in the issue of defending bees against the dangers resulting
from environmental pollution). Giorgio focused on the ethological side of apidology and in particular studied the visual perception of honey bees and bumble bees.
And Giorgio’s interests could not help but include
(starting from the ‘70s) the protection of the honey bee,
unfortunately still very much prone to suffering from
the harmful side-effects of pesticides, at both acute and
sublethal levels.

In his book “La mente dell’ape” [The honey bee’s
mind], published in 2008, he tackles the dramatic topic
of pesticides in an amiable and down to earth manner:
here again I will quote, word for word, what Giorgio
tells us through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes: “The
diffusion of molecules, old and new, that for over fifty
years have invaded the cultivated field, contaminating
the entire territory, is preparing the way for an ecological
catastrophe. Consider also that, like the cultivated
field, the hive too is subjected to numerous chemical
treatments, to combat unwelcome visitors to the bee’s
home. This flood of chemicals can only have brutal consequences
resulting from the simplification of biodiversity.
We notice the disappearance of bees because we
breed them, but how many other beneficial insects are
vanishing? In the spring we just see the occasional erratic
butterfly flying around”.

Bee swarms behave just like neurons in the human brain

By Alasdair Wilkins
Dec 8, 2011 2:20 PM
When it comes time for honeybee swarm to split off from their mother colony and find a new place to live, something remarkable happens. To communicate most effectively, they organize themselves exactly like the neurons of a complex brain.
Sometimes, a honeybee colony grows too large, and so a swarm breaks off in order to find a possible new home, usually somewhere like a secure opening in a tree. Different bees check out different possible new homes, and those that have found a suitable landing site communicate this to the others by dancing, repeating a simple figure eight pattern that the other bees can interpret in order to know the direction and distance of their potential new home.
Time is of the essence here, since the entire swarm is exposed and vulnerable to the elements, and they're also missing out on crucial honey harvesting time. The problem is that scouts will often come back having found multiple good sites, and so the swarm has to very quickly decide which of these options is the best one. They can't afford to spend too much time deliberating, but at the same a bad choice could wipe out the entire colony.
Researchers P. Kirk Visscher of UC Riverside and Thomas Seeley of Cornell have discovered a crucial way in which bees come to these decisions as quickly as possible, and it actually precisely mimics what goes on with neurons in the complex brains of humans and other primates.
While the house hunting bees continue their figure eight dance, a different set of bees known as sender scouts will sometimes give them a "stop signal", which is a short buzz punctuated by the sender butting her head against the dancer. This makes the dancing bee stop moving, and it allows the swarm to stop focusing on this repeated information and come to a better decision. Monkeys' brains send out similar signals to inhibit their neurons while making decisions. Visscher comments on this similarity:

"It appears that the stop signals in bee swarms serve the same purpose as the inhibitory connections in the brains of monkeys deciding how to move their eyes in response to visual input. In one case we have bees and in the other we have neurons that suppress the activity levels of units – dancing bees or nerve centers – that are representing different alternatives. Bee behavior can shed some light on general issues of decision making. Bees are a lot bigger than neurons for sure, and may be easier to study!"

This phenomenon, known as cross inhibition, serves precisely the same function with bees that it does in nervous systems. It's a way of avoiding decision-making deadlock when presented with a set of equally viable alternatives. Visscher explains:

"The message the sender scout is conveying to the dancer appears to be that the dancer should curb her enthusiasm, because there is another nest site worthy of consideration. Such an inhibitory signal is not necessarily hostile. It's simply saying, 'Wait a minute, here's something else to consider, so let's not be hasty in recruiting every bee to a site that may not be the best one for the swarm. All the bees have a common interest in choosing the best available site. This is critical, because the swarm must choose a single nest site, even if two sites of equal quality are available. This cross inhibition curtails the production of waggle dances for, and thus the recruitment of bees to, a competing site."

For honeybees to choose a new home, a given site must attract a certain number of scout bees. Once it becomes clear that a "quorum" of scouts have settled on a single place, a piping signal goes through the swarm, telling the rest of the bees to prepare to fly. This is also where another round of stopping signals are sent to the dancing scouts, both those for and against the chosen site. Visscher explains:

"Apparently at this point, the message of the stop signal changes, and can be thought of as, 'Stop dancing, it is time to get ready for the swarm to fly.' It is important for the scouts to be with the swarm when it takes off, because they are responsible for guiding the flight to the nest site."

While we don't yet know just how precisely honeybees mimic our neurons, it's a fascinating reminder of how a lot of the same basic structures can be found throughout nature, even in two groups as completely dissimilar as a swarm of honeybees and the neurons of the primate brain. This is quite possibly the craziest example yet of convergent evolution, if nothing else.
Via Science Express. Image by kaibara87 on Flickr.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Up to 12 million bees found dead in Florida and no one knows why

Authorities have already ruled out disease, including the infamous “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), as the cause of a recent honeybee holocaust that took place in Brevard County, Florida. The UK’s Daily Mail reports that up to 12 million bees from roughly 800 apiaries in the area all dropped dead at roughly the same time around September 26 — and local beekeepers say pesticides are likely to blame. CCD is the term often used to describe the inexplicable mass die-off of honeybees around the world, which typically involves honeybees leaving their hives and, for whatever reason, never finding their way back home. Mass die-offs associated with CCD often occur at seemingly random locations around the world, and typically involve a gradual process of disappearance and eventual colony collapse — and the dead bees are typically nowhere to be found. But the recent Florida event involved hundreds of colonies from 30 different sites in a one-and-a-half mile radius literally dropping dead all at the same time and leaving their carcasses behind, which is why authorities have dismissed CCD as the cause. Based on the appearance of the dead bees, as well as the synchronous timing of their deaths, pesticide sprayings appear to be the culprit in this case. “I’m a pretty tough guy, but it is heart wrenching,” said Charles Smith of Smith Family Honey Company to News 13 in Orlando. His family’s company lost an estimated $150,000 worth of bees in the recent die-off. “Not only is it a monetary loss here, but we work really hard on these bees to keep them in good health.” The Florida die-off coincides with a recent county-wide mosquito eradication effort, during which helicopters flew over various parts of the county and sprayed airborne pesticides. Officials, of course, deny that this taxpayer-funded spraying initiative had anything to do with the bee genocide, though. “The fact that it was so widespread and so rapid, I think you can pretty much rule out disease,” said Bill Kern, an entomologist from the University of Florida (UF) toFlorida Today. “It happened essentially almost in one day. Usually diseases affect adults or the brood, you don’t have something that kills them both.” Many of the beekeepers who lost their hives in the mass killing raised their bees to sell to American farmers, who then used them to pollinate food crops. Because of their massive losses, many of these beekeepers could end up losing their entire beekeeping businesses.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

UPDATE ON THE BEE CRISIS (from: Queen of the Sun email posting)

With less media coverage, many people ask us at screenings if the crisis is getting better. Unfortunately, we can't say that it is.

This past year was yet again a very challenging year for bees. Nationwide, the USDA states that beekeepers have reported 31% losses over the winter, with a third of these reports directly attributed by beekeepers to Colony Collapse Disorder. These numbers are no better than the declines in the winters of 2006 and 2007.

The future of our food is very much at risk, and beekeepers face an uphill battle. Pesticides, genetically engineered crops, monoculture and climate changes are deeply affecting the bees health. Recently, Dan Rather spoke with scientists both insides and outside of the EPA and they revealed how the EPA's regulations have allowed pesticide companies to release dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides on to the market. He writes in a companion article:

"How neonicotinoid pesticides got onto the market illustrates the real deficiencies of pesticide regulation in this country, and the questionable role of industry in these decisions."

Major televised investigations like this help get the word out about theses issues, and we hope the work we are doing with Queen of the Sun makes a difference as well. The changes that must take place are massive, and we must look always to the small triumphs, not only within, but in our society at large and continue to breathe hope into this crisis.

Link to several videos about current bee and honey stories 11/2011

**South Africa's Overworked Bees

**Germany – Bees for Hire

**Hives Stolen From Florida Bee Farmer

**Honey Farms: Uniting Traditions with Modern Business

**Historic Honey Factory Celebrated