How you and me and flowers and bees get charged up with static electricity

Image of girl with static electricity in hair.

(North Country Public Radio) The field of electric ecology: The surface of the earth, and the flowers growing from it, tend to have a more negative charge. Bees are moving and flying around, and tend to be more positive. So just like your hair with a balloon, the hairs on a bumble bee or honey bee tend to bend towards a flower in the presence of its static field. This helps guide the bee into the flower. Honey bees even seem to carry an indication of the flower’s charge back to their hive, helping to communicate the location of target flowers to hive mates.

Tall hemp attracts more bees

Image of hemp plants from below.

(Boulder Weekly) The Cornell team collected bees at 11 hemp farms in central New York in the summer of 2018. Their findings show that hemp plants at least 2 meters tall attract nearly 17 times the number of bee visits compared to short plants. The number and species of bees increased proportionally with plant height, with 16 different bee varieties making cannabis pit stops.

Seeking the building blocks of pollinator conservation

Image of bumble bee visiting milkweed.

(Great Lakes Echo) Great Lakes researchers are seeking fundamental knowledge about pollinators like bumble bees and butterflies, hoping to reverse their decline. “Part of this project is to create a baseline for future comparison. We’ve been resampling places where pollinators were sampled 50 years or 100 years ago and trying to see how the populations have changed.”

Bee gut microbes have a division of labor

Image of purple flower.

( Genome Institute) Honey bees rely on their gut microbiota to produce these enzymes to break down the complex structures in pollen. But scientists have wondered exactly how the microbial community carries out its helpful metabolism. Now, an international team of researchers has identified the major metabolic roles of constituent microbes. And their results also highlight some interesting microbial (and evolutionary) differences between honey bees and bumble bees.

Wild pollinators get the job done in the pumpkin patch

Image of two bumble bees in pumpkin flower.

(Entomology Today) Commercial pumpkin growers routinely rent honey bees so they have enough insects to pollinate their crops, but a new study found that wild bumble bees and squash bees could easily handle the pollination required to produce a full yield of pumpkins. “When we multiplied the number of visits times how much pollen they were depositing, we were blown away to find that bumble bees and squash bees combined were doing more than 10 times the pollination that was necessary.”

Bumble bees exposed to Chernobyl-levels of radiation consume more nectar

Image of bumble bee in testing container.

(British Ecological Society) Researchers found that exposure to chronic low-dose radiation, similar to levels found in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, negatively affects bumble bee energy use by increasing their metabolic rate and food consumption. “An increase in nectar consumption for an individual bee could have important ecological consequences…”

Nectar is a sweet reward filled with toxic deterrents

Image of bumble bees on training flower.

(Bowdoin) Nectar, the sweet reward that entices bees to visit flowers, is a complex substance made up of several ingredients, including sucrose, fructose, amino acids, yeasts—and toxic compounds that normally deter insects from eating plants. One researcher is exploring this contradiction and what it might mean for the health of bees.

The EPA has approved the first-ever bee-distributed pesticide for the US market

Image of bumble bee on flower.

(Ars Technica) In August, the EPA approved the first-ever bee-distributed organic pesticide for the US market—a fungus-fighting powder called Vectorite that contains the spores of a naturally occurring fungus called Clonostachys rosea (CR-7). CR-7 is completely harmless to its host plant and acts as a hostile competitor to other, less innocuous fungi. It has been approved for commercial growers of flowering crops like blueberries, strawberries, almonds, and tomatoes.