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.

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.

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.

Wildflowers near watermelon fields attract wild bees

Collage of images of pollinators.

(Times and Democrat) A Clemson University graduate student has found growing strips of wildflowers near watermelon fields can help attract pollinators, such as native insects and honey bees. During her study, Miriam “Mimi” Jenkins found most of the watermelon plant pollinators were native bees – tiny sweat bees – despite the nearby hives.

There’s a new group of workers spreading organic pesticide on crops: bees

Image of bee boxes next to field.

(Fast Company) Bees are great at retrieving tiny cargo: their main job is to visit flowering plants in order to gather pollen and nectar for their hive. Now Bee Vectoring Technologies just received EPA approval for an organic fungicide that bees can carry directly from hive to crop. The company has used this system in commercial-size test fields to reduce gray mold on strawberries while increasing yields by at least 10%, and eliminate gray mold and the more nefarious monilinia blight in blueberries. The company projects that it can reduce pesticide use by 50 to 75 percent at conventional farms that are willing to widely adopt the new practice.

Researchers determine pollen abundance and diversity in five major pollinator-dependent crops

Image of researcher looking at container of honey bees in field.

(Oregon State University) The study found that almond, cherry and meadowfoam provide ample pollen to honey bees, but highbush blueberry and hybrid carrot seed crops may not. In addition, California almonds don’t provide as much pollen diversity as other crops. The findings are important because a diet low in pollen diversity hurts a colony’s defense system, which consequently increases disease susceptibility and pesticide sensitivity.