Recycling old genes to get new traits: How social behavior evolves in bees

Image of sweat bee in tunnel.

(Phys.org/Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) A team working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute found evidence to support a long-debated mode of evolution, revealing how evolution captures environmental variation to teach old genes new tricks: Sweat bees switch from solitary to social behavior, repurposing ancient sets of genes that originally evolved to regulate the development of other traits.

Alfalfa leafcutting bees like nests that face north

Image of alfalfa leafcutting bee looking for nest hole.

(Entomology Today) Alfalfa leafcutting bees are exceedingly demanding about picking a site in nest boxes used for commercial production that is not too hot and not too cold but where the temperature is just right for their eggs and larvae. New research shows that the right location in a nest box may be only a couple of inches away from the wrong one.

Smart single mother bees learn from their neighbors

Image of artificial nests for bees.

(Queen Mary University of London) A new study found that solitary female bees looked for signs of parasite infection in other species’ nests and used this information to select a safe place to bring up their own brood. The scientists found these species were surprisingly intelligent in their observations and able to notice other cues of parasite infection in the surrounding environment. For example, they were able to remember geometric symbols found next to parasitized nests, and avoid nests near these symbols in future breeding periods.

Honey bees are fond of strawberries, but solitary bees are always present

Image of strawberry field.

(Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) While honey bees might prefer strawberry fields over flowering oilseed rape, honey bees are less common in among strawberries when the oilseed rape is in full bloom. In contrast, solitary wild bees, like mining bees, are constantly present in the strawberry fields. “Wild bees are therefore of great importance for the pollination of crops… our results also show that wild bees in the landscape should be supported by appropriate management measures.”

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.

Gulf Coast bee, Delaware firefly move toward endangered species protection

Image of Gulf Coast solitary bee on yellow flower.

(Center for Biological Diversity) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will move forward with considering Endangered Species Act protection for the Gulf Coast solitary bee and Bethany Beach firefly. Both coastal species face increasing threats from climate-driven sea-level rise, unchecked coastal development and pesticides.

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.”

Study sheds light on ‘overlooked’ bee species

Image of solitary bee making nest.

(Phys.org/Angli Ruskin University) The U.K.’s first citizen science project focusing on solitary, ground-nesting bees has revealed that they nest in a far broader range of habitats than previously thought. “This information on nesting behaviour is highly valuable because it puts us in a better position to provide advice to land owners on how to manage their land sympathetically in order to protect these important, ground-nesting solitary bees.”