Making better worker bees

Image of liquid being poured into bee hive.

(Bloomberg Businessweek) Argentine startup Beeflow says it has more than doubled its tiny workers’ pollen-carrying capacity by feeding them custom compounds. The nutrients enhance the bees’ immune systems to handle colder conditions and also increase their attraction to the particular flower the farmer wants them to pollinate – blueberries, raspberries, or the all-important almonds. The 2-year-old company tested its insect fuel this season in the fields of a major California almond farmer and on raspberry crops for Driscoll’s, America’s largest berry grower. On deck: cherries and avocados.

Can a digital hive keep bees alive?

Image of beekeeper lifting hive frame.

(Verizon) Honey bee colonies are dying off in massive quantities. The troubling news has inspired a lot of people to help the insect population, including citizen scientists and amateur beekeepers. These new enthusiasts are bursting onto the scene without the experience and wisdom of professional beekeepers, many of whom come from families that have raised hives for generations. To make up for a lack of experience, the “newbees” are utilizing smartphone apps, Internet of Things connectivity, and data sharing to keep colonies as healthy as possible during a time when insects are battling pesticides, parasites and climate change.

Bee-harming pesticides make migrating songbirds sick too

Image of white-crowned sparrow in researcher's hand.

(CBC) White-crowned sparrows that ate a tiny dose of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid — equivalent to a just a few coated seeds and far below the lethal dose — lost their appetite, quickly lost weight at a time when they should be fattening up and delayed their migration to their breeding ground by several days. That delay could potentially reduce their success at breeding at a time when bird populations are falling across North America.

This bee gets punched by flowers for your ice cream

Animated image of a leafcutter bee in a hole.

(KQED) VIDEO Next time you eat ice cream, thank a bee. Without them, there would be no cones, milkshakes or sundaes. Every summer, alfalfa leafcutter bees pollinate alfalfa in an intricate process that gets them thwacked by the flowers when they release the pollen that allows the plants to make seeds. And these seeds are what make it possible to grow nutritious hay for dairy cows.

Study shows bee brains process positive and negative experiences differently

Image of honey bee on yellow flower.

(Phys.org) Scientists have known for a long time that vertebrates handle positive and negative events differently, storing and retrieving those memories in their brains differently, as well. To find out if the same is true for invertebrates, they exposed honey bees to positive or negative events and then studied gene expression in a part of their brain known as the mushroom body.

Swapping pollinators reduces species diversity

Image of Penstemon.

(University of Kansas) Flowers depend on bees, birds and other pollinators to reproduce, and they can adapt strategically to attract these creatures – sometimes altering their traits so dramatically that they lure an altogether new pollinator. But not all such strategies are created equal. Researchers demonstrate that abandoning one pollinator for another to realize immediate benefits could compromise a flower’s long-term survival.

Male honey bees inject queens with blinding toxins during sex

Image of honey bees mating.

(University of California – Riverside) They say love is blind, but if you’re a queen honey bee it could mean true loss of sight. New research finds male honey bees inject toxins during sex that cause temporary blindness. To ensure their genes are among those that get passed on, the male bees want to discourage the queen from mating with additional partners – and if she can’t see properly, she can’t fly and encounter other male bees.