Tag Archives: honeybees

Honeybee venom kills aggressive and resistant breast cancer cells

Dr. Ciara Duffy. Credit: Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

Researchers in Australia found that venom from honeybees rapidly destroyed breast cancer cells. The venom proved highly effective at reducing tumor growth even for the most aggressive and hard-to-treat forms of breast cancer. What’s more, compounds present in the venom enhanced the success of chemotherapy.

The dose makes the poison

Bee stings can be incredibly painful and, in some cases, can be even life-threatening. In the US, bee stings represent the “most lethal venomous animal encounter” due to the allergic (anaphylactic) shock they can cause.

But researchers at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, Australia, have found that honeybee venom can be a healing force that can save lives from cancer.

The team led by Dr. Ciara Duffy harvested venom from honeybee hives from Australia, Ireland, and England. The bees were first put to sleep with CO2, then kept on ice until the researchers extracted the venom and injected it into breast cancer tumors.

Experiments on mice showed that at specific concentrations, the bee venom killed 100% of triple-negative breast cancer cells, a kind of breast cancer that does not have any of the typical receptors commonly found in other forms of cancer. As such, it can be extremely difficult to treat.

The cancer cells were destroyed within 60 minutes with minimal effects on normal cells.

A compound called melittin seems to be responsible for the cancer-killing effect of the venom. Melittin breaks through the plasma membrane of cancer cells, forming holes or pores that lead to the cells’ death.

Research also showed that melittin disrupts the main messaging pathways that cancer cells use to communicate, grow, and replicate.

“We looked at how honeybee venom and melittin affect the cancer signaling pathways, the chemical messages that are fundamental for cancer cell growth and reproduction, and we found that very quickly these signaling pathways were shut down,” Dr. Duffy said in a statement.

“Melittin modulated the signaling in breast cancer cells by suppressing the activation of the receptor that is commonly overexpressed in triple-negative breast cancer, the epidermal growth factor receptor, and it suppressed the activation of HER2 which is over-expressed in HER2-enriched breast cancer,” she added.

The researchers also wanted to see what happened when melittin interacted with conventional chemotherapy drugs, such as docetaxel. Remarkably, the pores and holes drilled by the bee venom compound allowed the chemotherapy to easily penetrate the cancerous cells, substantially reducing tumour growth in mice.

“We found that melittin can be used with small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel, to treat highly-aggressive types of breast cancer. The combination of melittin and docetaxel was extremely efficient in reducing tumor growth in mice,” Dr. Duffy said.

Fortunately, melittin can be synthesized, so no bees have to be harmed in the future for a bee venom-based therapy. Speaking of its applications, the authors of the new study are cautiously optimistic, stressing that more research is required in order to validate this promising therapy.

In the future, scientists want to investigate toxicity and find the safest, most efficient dose before embarking on clinical trials.

The findings were reported today in the journal Nature.

How Colony Collapse Disorder Affects Honeybees and Humans

During the winter of 2006-2007, beekeepers around the country began reporting unusually high losses of their hives. Between 30 percent and 90 percent of honeybee hives disappeared virtually overnight.

As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported, a majority of worker bees in a colony would suddenly “disappear leaving behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.”

The strange occurrences had all the eerie mystery of a Wes Craven horror film, except it was insects that were dying, not people.

“As many as 50 percent of all affected colonies demonstrated symptoms inconsistent with any known causes of honeybee death,” the EPA said.

The widespread mysterious disease was labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for want of a more precise term. Fears grew that this was a dire omen — honeybees would become extinct and with them, the flowers and plants that rely on bees for pollination and procreation.

Honeybees Provide Necessary Pollination for Many Human Foods

As the Agricultural Research Service explained, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination. Commercial production of many high-value and specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables depend on pollination by honeybees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, color and, flavor.”

Without honeybees, we would be bereft of much of our vegetation, creating even more malnutrition and starvation in the world.

Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder Still a Mystery

There have been many theories about the cause of CCD, including the frequency in recent years of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and smoke, and of course climate change. According to an online article in Vox citing the National Climate Assessment, average annual rainfall across the U.S. has gone up by five percent since 1990. These natural disasters may have upset the bees enough to cause them to flee their hives.

The EPA, however, has focused on the following factors that could contribute to CCD:

  • The invasive varroa mite (a pest of honeybees);
  • New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema;
  • Exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control;
  • Stress bees experience due to transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services;
  • Changes to the habitat where bees forage;
  • Inadequate forage and/or poor nutrition;
  • Potential immune-suppressing stress caused by one or a combination of the factors above.

Declines in Bee Populations Have Occurred throughout History

Like much media reporting today, the truth about CCD is quite different than the Doomsday scenarios. According to Norm Benson of Science 2.0, sudden declines in bee populations are nothing new. They can be traced back to Ireland in 950 AD and recurred again in 992 and 1493.

“In 1853, Lorenzo Langstroth, the father of American beekeeping, described colonies that were found ‘to be utterly deserted,’” Benson reported. “The comb was empty, and the only symptom of life was the poor queen herself.” He also noted, “In 1891 and 1896, many bees vanished or dwindled to tiny clusters with queens in the month of May, hence the name: ‘May Disease.’”

Why the Public Should Know about Colony Collapse Disorder

Entomologists, however, can see some benefit to calling the public’s attention to insect population declines such as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Writing in The Washington Post, Michael S. Engel, a paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas, warned of the danger of singling out one group of organisms, such as honeybees, when discussing their impact on “the broader economy of nature.”

“Among all of life’s creatures, insects are some of the most vital, whether we notice their many services or not,” Engel pointed out. Just by “their staggering diversity and vast ecological connectedness,” insects are a fundamental, indelible part of virtually every ecosystem.

“Beyond pollination services, insects are also the food of many birds, mammals and fish,” Engel said. “Without insects, all of these would perish. Insects underpin, often unseen and ignored, the essential processes of our world.”

Bees Are Not Going Extinct and Crops Are Not in Trouble

Last year, Jon Entine, founder and executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, argued that the apocalyptic warnings were premature. “Honeybee populations haven’t ‘crashed’ in the United States or elsewhere. Honeybees are not going ‘extinct.’ Crops are not ‘in trouble,’” he insisted.

Using U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, Entine posted a graph on the GLP website showing that honey-producing bee colonies in the U.S. are holding relatively steady at about 2.5 million colonies between 1995 and 2017. In fact, according to USDA figures, the U.S. honeybee population hit a 22-year high in 2016 before dipping slightly in 2017.

But the death knell reporting about CCD was so pervasive, it was often accepted without question that “the crucial pollinators could be edging towards extinction, plunging our entire food system into chaos,” Entine says. “The only problem is that it isn’t true.”

Entine offers several examples of false reporting about CCD:

The University of Florida IFAS Extension sums up the current state of CCD: “Colony Collapse Disorder may not be a new disorder. In fact, many colonies have died over the past 50-60 years displaying symptoms similar to those of CCD. The disorder as described in older literature has been called spring dwindle disease, fall dwindle disease, autumn collapse, May disease and disappearing disease. We may never know if these historic occurrences share a common cause with modern-day CCD.”

Anything that jeopardizes insect success undermines our own, Engel reminds us noting that “An insect apocalypse is our apocalypse.” We need to heed his warning.

About the Author

David E. Hubler is a veteran journalist and author. Prior to joining American Public University, he worked as an editor/writer for several news organizations including the Voice of America, United Press International and American Cities Business Journals. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from New York University and a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. His most recent book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever” was published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

 

The European Union rules: total ban on bee-harming pesticides

In a landmark decision, the European Union (EU) has announced a near-total neonicotinoids ban. Neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, have long been shown to hurt bee populations.

Honey bee (Apis mellifera). Image credits: Charles Sharp.

Study after study has shown that pesticides (neonicotinoids in particular) hurt bee populations, as well as other insects, worms, and even birds. Although studies have consistently reported this issue, authorities have been slow to implement measures to protect honeybees, largely because the pesticides are so cheap and effective. Now, despite strong interventions and lobby from the industry, EU officials have instituted a ban on neonicotinoids which will come into force by the end of the year. While the EU has taken some steps to protect bee populations from the harmful effects of pesticides, it’s the first time such a wide-scale ban has been approved.

“Member states’ representatives have endorsed a proposal by the European Commission to further restrict the use of three active substances … for which a scientific review concluded that their outdoor use harms bees,” the European Commission said in a statement.

A partial ban has already been in place, and now, an expert panel of representatives from the European Union’s 28 member states has ruled the wider ban implementation. The approved ban falls over three substances: imidacloprid (which is developed by Germany’s Bayer CropScience), clothianidin (also created by Bayer CropScience, as well as Japan’s Takeda Chemical Industries), and thiamethoxam (from Switzerland’s Syngenta). All outdoor usages of the substances will be banned — they will be allowed only in closed greenhouses.

Much like the industrial companies, many farmers have also complained about the ban, claiming that it will serve to lower production. But the panel followed the scientific evidence, focusing on the environmental damage rather than on the production output and short-term economic benefits. Symbolically, this could usher in a new age, where sustainable practices and environmental safety are placed on the same pedestal as profits.

“The Commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority,” said EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

“Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups have been extremely supportive of the decision.

“It’s a significant indication that we need a different form of farming across Europe that farms with nature and not against it,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth.

“The ban on neonicotinoids could be a really important step towards a more general questioning of the use of pesticides and the harm they are doing to our environment.”

Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, significantly hurt bees, reducing their ability to fight off diseases and causing them to become disoriented. As a result, the pesticides have also been linked to colony collapse disorder and it’s quite likely that we’ve only uncovered some of the damage they’re causing. A recent, study revealed that 75% of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany in the past 25 years — with the exact causes of this ecological Armageddon being unclear. Unlike other pesticides which remain on the surface of the plant, neonicotinoids seep inside the plant. This means that while they are effective at killing off some pests, they are also having unwanted effects on the rest of the environment.

Bees provide irreplaceable environmental services. Pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and up to 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without pollinators, and especially bees to spread seeds, many plants (including food crops) wouldn’t be able to survive.

Startled bees let out an adorable ‘whoop’ when a hive-mate bumps into them

New research has found that bees make an adorable sound when surprised — a whoop-like vibration response which was previously believed to mean “stop” in bee-talk.

Image credits PollyDot / Pixabay.

Honeybees make a distinctive buzz that lets you know/terrifies you there’s one of the little critters flying around. But they can also use their wing muscles to produce pulses of vibration that are inaudible to humans — which they use to communicate.

But exactly what message it conveys is a matter or some debate. Researchers first proposed in the 1950s that this “whoop” sound was produced by hungry bees, as it was often followed by food exchanges. Later, evidence pointed to this sound as a kind of “stop” signal used by one bee to inhibit another’s waggle dance, possibly to warn against danger, such as a predator, lurking in a particular patch of flowers.

Whoop, whoop!

Martin Bencsik and his team from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, UK had a bee in their bonnet about this sound. So, they installed a host of accelerometers to monitor the vibrations inside two beehives (one in UK and the other in France) over the course of a year without disturbing the colony‘s behavior in any way. They filtered the data as to isolate this signal for analysis. Here’s what it sounds like, via New Scientist:

https://soundcloud.com/new-scientist/honeybee-whooping-signal

The team’s recordings showed that bees emit this sound much more often that we’d thought — and much more often than the previous explanations could account for. In some instances, the sound was recorded more than five times a minute in certain areas of the honeycomb — and bees don’t get that hungry, neither do they mosh-pit that hard. It also became more frequent at night and in bad weather, whereas waggle dances usually happen during mild days when bees are busy looking for forage patches.

“There’s no way a bee was trying to inhibit another one that frequently, and there’s no way a bee would request food that frequently” Bencsik said.

The researchers also found that they can make bees produce the sound by tapping on the hive’s wall. These observations suggested that the signal had another meaning than previously thought.

Bencsik’s team also placed special cameras inside the hive so they could monitor what was going on around the accelerometers. The footage revealed that most whoops coincided with bees bumping into the hive’s walls or into one another near the sensors, not only with waggle dances in progress or food exchanges.

This sound, they believe, is the sign of a startled bee.

Bumper bugs

Image credits Su Mx / Pixabay.

“We suggest that, in the majority of instances, it is bees being startled that produce the signal,” Bencsik adds.

Honeybee hives are busy places, crammed full of insects repairing, dancing, flying to and from forage patches. In such confined conditions, there are a lot of things that can scare a bee — a nest-mate falling on it after an impact with the hive wall, for example. The team’s theory explains the large incidence of this particular vibration seen in hives. It also offers an explanation for previous results.

It’s possible that earlier studies attributed the source of the vibration to the wrong bees because of the commotion — it’s impossible to tell exactly which individual the sound is coming from in the hum-drum of the hive. When trying to stop a waggle dance, a honeybee will butt into the dancer — the vibration could come from the surprised dancing bee, and not its inhibitor. Exchange of food is also initiated by headbutting, so the buzz picked up during this behavior can also be explained by Bencsik’s team theory.

“Scientists in the past have explored this signal in artificial circumstances where they ensured that the bees under investigation would be trying to inhibit other bees,” Bencsik explained.

“In our study we have not manipulated our bees in any way, and this has revealed totally unexpected results, yielding new interpretations but also yet more mystery around this brief honeybee vibrational pulse. We believe that in only a small number of instances is it used as an inhibitory signal and therefore have proposed a new name – the ‘whooping signal’.”

This would also explain why the sound was picked up more often at night and in bad weather: with more bees confined to the hive, they had a much better chance of bumping into one another.

The team says their findings can help beekeepers better gauge a hive’s status, by measuring the whoops emitted in response to a standardized tap of the hive.

“It shows promise that our methods can be used as a sensitive way of monitoring and assessing colony status for these hugely important pollinators.”

“I would imagine an unstressed colony would have less of a response and a colony that’s very stressed would be very reactive to a small stimulus,” Bencsik concludes.

Bees have previously been shown to exhibit certain pseudo-emotions, such as optimism, suggesting there’s more going on in their heads than we’d suspected. So personally, I like to think that they’re just really polite and ‘whoop’ is their equivalent of “sorry ’bout that.” I’m a beeliver, if you will.

The full paper “Long-term trends in the honeybee ‘whooping signal’ revealed by automated detection” has been published in the journal PLOS One.

When first made, the comb cells of the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera Ligustica) are circular (top), but after two days they already look more hexagonal (bottom). (c) Nature

Fluid dynamics shapes beautiful hexagon honeycombs, not the bees themselves

Honeybees are exquisite and majestic beings, which have always caught the imagination of people. Bees are typically associated with feminine energy, because they are ruled by queens, particularly with the roman goddess Venus. In some cultures, bees also represent wisdom. From a biological point of view however, bees could be definitely associated with motherhood. Without bees, a myriad of plants would die out due to lack of pollination. It’s clear that honeybees are of the utmost importance for the biosphere’s delicate balance.

There’s one more thing honeybees are cherished and appreciated by humans for: their display of biological engineering, namely for producing hexagon honeycombs. This may be the only thing people overly credit bees for, though. The perfect hexagonal honeycombs which have awed and inspired people for thousands of years may primarily result from the physics of surface tension, the honeybees themselves being responsible only for laying the foundations.

The findings come after researchers at University of Cardiff, UK,  led by engineer Bhushan Karihaloo, closely studied a colony of bees. After they flushed the colony out by smoking the hive, the researchers examined the honeycomb structures, some in their last stage of development, while other in their first incipient form. The scientists found that bees first produce cells that are circular in cross section, which eventually build up like a layer of bubbles. The wax, heated by  the bees’ bodies, then gets pulled into hexagonal cells by surface tension at the junctions where three walls meet. Both experiments and models have confirmed these findings.

When first made, the comb cells of the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera Ligustica) are circular (top), but after two days they already look more hexagonal (bottom). (c) Nature

When first made, the comb cells of the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera Ligustica) are circular (top), but after two days they already look more hexagonal (bottom). (c) Nature

Why hexagon of all shapes? Well, a geometric array of identical cells with simple polygonal cross sections can take only one of three forms: triangular, square or hexagonal. Of these, in this particular situation, the hexagon shape takes the least amount of wall area, thus using less wax. Nature , as always, is guided by efficiency.

But wax is solid, right? Yes, and for the wax to flow, this is why the bees heat up the cells – to be more precise, to 45 oC or warm enough to flow like a viscous liquid. Not all bees heat up the wax, of course, otherwise the whole colony would collapse. A median ambient temperature of 25 degrees in the hive supports this idea. As an interesting fact, one of the greatest foreseeing minds, Charles Darwin, also had the idea that the bees might first make circular cells, which become hexagonal subsequently, but lacked evidence to support his proposal.

Still with knowing this, bees still can be seen as excellent engineers of the animal kingdom. For one, it’s they who lay out the ground work, and make sure physics takes its course by heating the wax. They also use their head as a plumb-line to measure the vertical, tilt the axis of the cells very slightly up from the horizontal to prevent the honey from flowing out, and measure cell wall thicknesses with extreme precision. Really, bees are so amazing!

The study was reported in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

Bees use caffeine to boost memory and remember plants better

Honeybees are extraordinary animals, and for years scientists have looked at them for inspiration to develop new technologies from artificial hive mind computers to explosive detectors. Bees have been truly gifted by nature, and we’re only starting to unravel the many abilities these fantastic insects possess. Recently, researchers at Newcastle University have found that bees enjoy a good “cup of java” just like any of us humans, after they found caffeine helps dramatically boost bees’ memory. This leads to a preferential treatment for plants containing caffeine.

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

There are many plants that contain caffeine, like those in the genuses Coffea and Citrus, a feature typically developed by the plants in order to fend off pestering insects. Fortunately for bees, the caffeine concentration in most of these plants doesn’t harm them, on the contrary.

“Remembering floral traits is difficult for bees to perform at a fast pace as they fly from flower to flower, and we have found that caffeine helps the bee remember where the flowers are,” study leader Geraldine Wright, a neuroethologist at Newcastle University, UK, said in a statement. “Caffeine in nectar is likely to improve the bee’s foraging prowess while providing the plant with a more faithful pollinator,” Wright added.

To test how caffeine affects bees, the researchers measured the concentration in each of the studied plants, including robusta and arabica, as well as Citrus plants like  grapefruit, lemons, pomelo and oranges. They found that caffeine was well within the tolerated threshold for bees.

Then, the scientists performed a Pavlovian conditioning experiment. Bees have a feeding mechanism in which they stick out feeding parts out of their mouth when in the vicinity of a sweet nectar. The researchers trained the bees to engage in feeding behavior when sensing a floury scent, and then rewarded them with either sugar or caffeinated sugar.

Even 24 hours later, three times as many bees remembered the scent that was paired with a caffeine reward as the plain sugar and twice, while twice as many bees remembered the flowers’ scent after three days. There’s always the possibility that caffeine might have made bees more responsive to scent, however the researchers ruled out this idea and concluded that cognition is the primarily affected.

“I think it’s the first example of nature manipulating memory in an animal,” neuroscientist Serena Dudek of the National Institutes of Health, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “We all have this impression that caffeine is made to be toxic to animals,” Dudek said, but “it’s surprising that these plants use caffeine not as a toxin but as an advantage in getting bees to remember better.”

To find out how exactly caffeine helped bees remember better, the researchers  recorded activity from bees’ Kenyon cells – somewhat homologous to our hippocampal neurons, responsible for creating and storing memories – and found these became more excited in response to caffeine stimuli. Too much caffeine, however, can be toxic to bees and apparently the insects have developed a sort of sensor that allows them to detect high concentrations and stay away.

Findings were reported in the journal Science.

queenbees-honeybees

How animals hold elections – democracy isn’t an exclusive human social trait

Elections in the States are currently topping headlines all over the world, as people debate over their favorite candidate and the direction this country is heading towards. Still, as always, elections seemed to be plagued by scandals, lies or manipulation. Yes, democracy is far from being perfect, the alternatives aren’t any better either. I don’t mean to stir into politics, especially on a science blog, however progress, one of the main aims of science along with absolute truth, is directly dependent on social structure. So, how can we improve democracy? It’s never a bad idea to return to the roots of things and see what we can pick up. No, I’m not talking about ancient Greece, but about nature!

Animals too share group decisions

Humans aren’t the only beings that employ a democratic social structure. Surprised? While most social animals employ a sort of despotic, alpha male chain of command in their social structure, some rely on shared decision making. Red deer herds, for instance, don’t change their grazing grounds or move about anywhere for that matter until 60% of the heard’s members had gotten up – in a way, it’s like they vote with their hoofs.

Chimpanzees, our closest biological relatives, sharing roughly 98 percent of our genome, need support from the females in order to reach the top of hierarchy. Yes, in some cases the more despotic chimpanzee males of the group rise to power through brute force, but most of the time they end up exiled or even killed by their group. Researchers studying chimpanzee social dynamics found that most leaders were actually quite small, and were of the supporting type – grooming their allies, sharing meat and so on. Similar behavior has been found in baboons as well.

Decision making by group  consensus has been observe in birds as well. Flocks of pigeons, for instance, have complex social hierarchies in which even low-ranking birds can vote on the flock’s next flight. However, maybe the most fascinating display of shared group decision can be found in insects, particularly in honeybees.

How would a presidential debate look like with a honeybee queen election model?

Now, you may think that in a honeybee colony the queen bee is all dominant and is responsible for all decision making. In reality,  essentially queen bees are just egg-laying machines, leaving the grunt work of running the hive to workers and drones.  Thomas Seeley, an entomologist at Cornell University, described in 2011 how scout bees perform a waggle dance to pitch future nesting sites, where dozens may compete in trying to sway the colony’s decision. Thus when the time has come for the colony to move, the masses are swayed towards a particular site where the number of dances is high enough. Funny enough, scouts that stubbornly insist on dancing for an obviously less popular site and sort of headbutted. A most interesting display of debate. Seeley also wrote a most interesting book on the subject, which I personally recommend, called Honeybee Democracy.

David Tarpy, an entomologist at NC State University, is more interested in queen bees than grunts, and studied how these are elected. Typically, when a swarm moves to a new colony site, the old queen bee flocks along with the grunts, but some stay behind. In this case, the colony now needs a new queen, which emerges from one of the larvae left behind that was fed with the royal juice needed to turn them into queens. If the remaining hive is too small, the first potential queen to emerge from her royal cell kills all of the other potential queens waiting to emerge. Far from being an acceptable model for humans, despite history has seen its fair share…

queenbees-honeybeesIf the hive is big enough, when the first potential queen emerges, workers prevent her from killing the other potential queens. The worker bees trick the queen bees and only allow two queen bees to surface at one time. These two face each other off, and the winner is left to fight the next emerging queen, and so on until one tops. The losing queen bees are killed and thrown out of the hive. Don’t be mistaken, however, this isn’t some brutal cage fight where the biggest, meanest, toughest insect wins.

Tarpy and colleagues staged some elections after they removed queens from their larval cells at different stages so that some were more mature than others and hence would be able to produce more eggs later on. He staged 66 elections, 27 of which were between two high-quality, high-egg-potential candidates; 16 were between one high-quality and one low-quality queen; and 23 were between two low-quality queens. The bigger, physically stronger of the queens always won. When the workers are allowed into the mix, however, the winner tends to be no bigger than the loser. Somehow the workers are influencing the dynamics of the election.

Not too many animals employ shared consensus decisions, despite scientists believe it to be more profitable for groups than accepting the ‘unshared’ decision of a single dominant member. The core of this behavior, it seems, lies in information. A shared decision is better when more information and ‘more heads’ are employed in the process. What happens when that information is inaccurate, however? Humans have made democracy so complex simply because we in term are complex as well.  We’ve evolved sophisticated communication like speech or writing, but instead of facilitating decision making however, humans often make it even more complicated. Yes, humans are  far from sharing the honeybee hive-mind. Democracy works for honeybees and other animals, despite their primitive nature, because the information each individual provides is accurate or if not accurate, it is provided with the best intentions.

So, a good community-driven, shared decision happens when its members have access to accurate information and are able to assess the situation for the greater good. The take away is pretty clear, democracy will only shine and reflect the principles and values it holds in theory when information ceases to be maliciously scattered by others for their personal gain in manipulating the masses. We might be far away from this model, but nature proves that it works.

Your input is important; share your thoughts on this post in the comment section below.

Verroa infected honeybees (as seen on the bodies), carry a lethal strain of the deformed wing virus, supposedly responsible for the death of billions.

Devastating disease spread by Varroa mite infection causes honeybee massacre

Honeybees are one of the most crucial members of the ecosystem, pollinating crops and plant cultures all around the world. Various studies conducted in the past couple of years have shown an alarming dwindling of the world bee population, with some locations being hit more aggressively than others. The main factor linked to this bee genocide seems to be pesticides sprayed on crops, whose chemicals are assimilated by the bees, who also spread them to the hive, leading to a devastating chain reaction. Pesticides are not alone, though – apparently parasitic mite has helped a virus wipe out billions of honeybees throughout the globe, according to a recently published study in the journal Science.

Verroa infected honeybees (as seen on the bodies), carry a lethal strain of the  deformed wing virus, supposedly responsible for the death of billions.

Varroa infected honeybees (as seen on the bodies), carry a lethal strain of the deformed wing virus, supposedly responsible for the death of billions.

The scientists chose to study honeybee populations in Hawaii, to estimate the effects of Varroa mite infections, which help spread a particularly lethal strain of an otherwise common disease called the deformed wing virus. Being an isolated location, thousands of miles from the nearest coastline, Hawaii has been sheltered from many of the world’s plagues and diseases; once with the introduction of trade and European settlers, however, this changed forever. It seems the Varroa was accidentally brought from California just five years ago, however, surprisingly enough, there are also plenty of Varroa-free colonies. This allowed for the perfect laboratory setting for the researchers, who were free to choose samples and compare between infected and uninfected colonies.

The Varroa mites act like tiny incubators, releasing the deadly disease directly into the bees’ blood, in the process leading to “one of the most widely-distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet,” according to the team of researchers, lead by Dr Stephen Martin from the University of Sheffield.

For the past two years, the scientists monitored Hawaiian colonies, screening both Varroa infected and uninfected bees alike. There are numerous viruses naturally present in the bodies of honeybees, however the mite “selected” one lethal strain of one specific virus.

“In an infected bee there can be more viral particles than there are people on the planet,” Dr Martin explained.

“There’s a vast diversity of viral strains within a bee, and most of them are adapted to exist in their own little bit of the insect; they get on quite happily.”

But the mite, he explained, “shifts something”.

After a honeybee becomes infected by the Varroa mite, the majority of the innocuous virus strains disappear making way for the lethal strain of the deformed wing virus. As this happens, each viral particle invades a cell and takes over its internal machinery, turning the bee’s own body against itself. Why exactly does this strain thrive so well in mite-infected bees is still unclear, however one thing seems pretty certain.

“So the only way to control the virus is to control the levels of the mite,” said Dr Martin.

Several beekeeping associations have already heralded this research for proving the link between Varroa mites and the devastating destruction of honeybee colonies.

“These findings underline the need for further research into Varroa.

“There remains a clear and urgent need for an effective, approved treatment,” said Dr David Aston, chairman The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA).

source:  BBC

Honeybee

Honeybee dying population linked to pesticide

We’ve reported in the past about the frightening, ever growing cases of honeybee population dye-offs of the past few years, and while no immediate or long term plan has been effective thus far, it seems at least that scientists are identifying the causes. It’s been known for some time that some classes of pesticides are harmful to bees, but a new study recently publicized by scientists at University of Padova draws an ever stronger link between the two.

Honeybee Bees are absolutely crucial to the world’s ecosystem, as they pollinate crops, making them absolutely crucial. In the past few decades dwindling honeybee populations have reached alarming lows, in some extreme cases beekeepers claiming their whole hive culture dying off – a phenomenon called  Colony Collapse Disorder.

The study at hand focuses on a particular class of pesticides, long suspected to be harmful to a number of insects, namely neonicotinoids. This particular kind of pesticides are considered highly efficient because they cause paralysis in insects, but with little to any toxic effect on other animals. Since the technique was introduced in the late 1990s, in some parts of Europe, widespread deaths of honeybees have been reported, fact correlated by the study.

The scientists involved in the research believe it’s highly likely that bees flying near treated crops are met by clouds of insecticide created by automated planting machines, which  expel a burst of air with high concentrations of pesticide-coated particles.

Along with other pesticides, tracheal and Varroa mites, the Nosema fungus and a variety of viruses, neonicotinoids have found to be harmful to bee populations, fact which lead them to be banned in most European nations. One of the first to ban them is Germany, which already reporting progress in their honeybee colony numbers, along with Italy as well. Oddly enough, the Environmental Protection Agency in the US doesn’t seem to recognize any correlation between the pesticide and honeybee deaths, allowing their use without any kind of restrictions or limits.

“To EPA’s knowledge, none of the incidents that led to suspensions [in Europe] have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder,” the agency said.

Disposed Paper cups “Death traps” for honey bees in urban ecosystem: Indian study

HYDERABAD (South India): Believe it or not. Paper cups disposed off by coffee and fruit juice bars have become ‘death traps’ for honey bees which account for 80 per cent of pollination of crops in India.

The bees, in their pursuit for honey in flowers, get attracted to the sugar residue in the cups and collapse as they could not go back to their colonies.

This is latest finding reported in the “Current Science”, a fortnightly journal published by The Current Science Association in collaboration with the Indian Science Academy.

“There are about 1.3 billion and 800 million cups of coffee and tea respectively consumed daily around the world by using millions of disposable cups. This may lead to bee collapse in future and reduction in agricultural productivity throughout the world,” the journal reported.

Even though bee collapse has been reported in many countries in the past, there is no scientific data and even awareness on this issue in developing counties like India.

What we observed could be one way of bee collapse in India, claims lead author of the study Dr S Chandrasekaran from the School of Biological Sciences in Madurai Kamaraj University (Tamilnadu State-South India).

His team had undertaken the research for a year from May 2010 outside five commercial coffee bars in rural and urban areas of Tamilnadu which use disposable cups of about 1225 cups per day.

The bees while competing for collecting sugar fell into the cups   containing the residual beverage (coffee/tea/milk) and were unable to fly. This lead to the death of 168 bees a day per shop.

 

“We recorded 25,211 dead bees in the coffee bars studied in 30 days. The mean death rate varies with the depth of the waste bin with cups, quantity of residual beverages, location of the sampled bars and visiting time,” the researchers claimed.

 

Maximum mortality (23%) was recorded between 10 : 00 and 14 : 00 hrs in the cups with 3–6 ml beverage remains found at a depth of 20– 40 cm in waste bins. The bees trapped at the bottom (60 cm) of the bin almost successfully escaped to the middle zone only.

 

Latter the cups are sent to the recycling yard, where about 680 bees a day are killed manually in order to escape stinging. Our observation also revealed that bees need large quantities (~ 300 cups) of sugar-coated cups and longer duration.

 

The increasing trend in urbanization and subsequent increase in beverage bars may aggravate the mortality of bees that inhabit in and around urban and semi urban ecosystems.

 

A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report recently said,“ without bees, there will be no more food. Bees are one of nature’s primary pollinators, and over 70 percent of the world’s food supply relies on them to grow.

“Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. “Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people.”
Apart from contributing to production of food crops through pollination, the bees and its products such as the saliva and wax it generates provide wonderful medicines (aphrodisiac, anti-bacterial and rejuvenator) to humanity. Nothing of the bee is a waste including its poison and body mass.

 

A wonderful polychrest remedy in Homoeopathy, Apis Mellifica, is prepared out of the crushed body mass of the bee. It is a remarkable drug in its potentised form used for many ailments related to kidney, heart, throat and joints besides allergies, insect stings and nettle rash.