Here is a quick rundown of bee facts from the latest research.
● According to a recent bee census by Michigan State University, there are 465 species living in the Great Lake State. Thirty-eight new species were found, including a ‘cuckoo’ that doesn’t pollinate or build its own colony, but lays its eggs in the hives of other bees.
● The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee hasn’t been seen in Michigan since 2000. It’s now listed as an endangered species.
● More bad news for bees: A new study has identified twenty-seven new viruses affecting bees, including one that shares similarities with a virus that infects plants, opening up the possibility of bees contracting the disease from plants, then spreading it to other plants through the pollination. Viruses exist in many species, from bumblebees to honeybees.
“We need to do more experiments to see if the viruses are actively infecting the bees — because the viruses could be on the pollen they eat, but not directly infecting the bees — and then determine if they are having negative effects on the bees and crops. Some viruses may not cause symptoms or only cause symptoms if the bees are stressed in other ways.” —Christina Grozinger
● Honey Bees stock up for the winter too. According to a study published in the Journal of Insect Physiology, they increase their potassium and calcium intake to help prepare for the colder months. They use mineral-rich water resources sometimes called ‘dirty water’ to supplement their plant diet. The magnesium level in pollen falls in the summer and autumn, so bees tend to seek it out in the water.
● A type of East African mountain honey bee has adapted to foraging in high altitudes by learning to preserve honey when flowers are scarce, and flying in cooler temperatures. They were previously believed to be quite different from their low-lying cousins, but genetic sequencing has found them to be similar.
● Fungicides are one of the leading causes of contamination in honey bee hives. Recent studies have found bees actually prefer fungicide laced syrup in some situations. They can even lose their sense of taste after being exposed to insecticides and herbicides, especially when young, inhibiting their ability to learn. This can happen even if they’ve never been away from the hive.
● Do bees have a sweet tooth? Many can taste the sugar in nectar for up to ten seconds — much longer than insects that possess only one kind of sugar-activated neuron — bees have two.
● Mushrooms could be key to reducing virus levels in honey bees. An extract from amadou and reishi fungi has been reducing infections from Lake Sinai Virus (which is found at high levels in collapsing colonies) and deformed wing virus. Unfortunately, limited quantities are preventing beekeepers from purchasing it for their own hives.
● Bees live well on traditional farms. One study conducted in Mexico’s Yucatán found that chillies and other fruits and vegetables, like avocados, were well pollinated on farms that had a diverse landscape. Even when slash-and-burn methods were used to create small clearings. After the crops are harvested, the areas are left for a few years to regrow. Bees were happiest when the pastures were bordered by woodland.
Some of the farming practices used today date all the way back to the Maya. This isn’t particularly surprising. Mayans were avid beekeepers, domesticating a species of rainforest bees called ‘Royal Ladies,’ which conveniently, don’t sting.
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