Do bees have a use for smartphones? Sure: Bee researchers have found a way to harness a smartphone’s accelerometer technology to predict when the queen honeybee will leave her hive–thereby allowing keepers to thwart the loss of up to half their bees.
In a phenomenon known as “swarming,” the flight of a queen honeybee can lead to the loss of half of the hive. As the queen bee makes her exit, many of the bees follow their leader–and with the departure of both its queen and half of its workers, the remaining hive is severely weakened. But if beekeepers know when the queen bee will leave, they can attract the departing bees with another, strategically positioned hive.
The art of predicting when a queen honeybee will leave has a long history. “In the spring time, many clues … demonstrate the proximity to swarming, such as the presence of more or less mature queen cells,” the researchers explain in their paper. “In spite of this the actual date and time of swarming cannot be predicted accurately…” But that was before beekeepers harnessed the power of smartphone technology.
If one London art gallery is correct in predicting the future of police surveillance, we may have to redefine the meaning of ‘sting’ operation: one artist’s mock-interview with a (fake) beekeeping police officer describes how bees can be used to track down growers of illegal plants–and the scary thing is that this art video is only a hop and a skip from reality.
An exhibition called “High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture” at London’s Wellcome Collection features a short film by artist Thomas Thwaites, entitled “Policing Genes,” in which a mock police officer explains the latest in surveillance trickery. Essentially, the police officers tend bee hives, and when the bees return from their daily pollen-hunt, the officers not only check the bees for pollen from such plants as marijuana, but can also use software to decode the dance of the honeybee. And since pollen-laden bees dance to tell the other bees where they found the pollen, decoding the dance would tell the police the exact location of the illegal plants.
Having a bee brain might not be so bad after all, since new research shows that bees are faster than supercomputers when it came to solving one of those dreadful “word problems” from (probably very advanced) high school math class.
“There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers.”
The problem is called the traveling salesman problem, and the bees’ lives actually depend on solving it every day. The traveling salesman needs to visit a number of cities in the shortest amount of time, without repeating a visit. The traveling bumblebee needs to visit a number of flowers everyday, while expending as little energy as possible. Queen Mary University of London researcher Lars Chittka explained in the press release why studying bees’ habits is important:
Would you eat honey called Dulles Delight? LAX Natural? LaGuardia Lip-Smackers? Some Germans are enjoying Düsseldorf Natural, honey made from airport-dwelling bees. The Düsseldorf International Airport and 7 other airports have employed bees as “biodetectives”: inspectors test the bees’ honey for pollutants as an indirect way to monitor airport air quality.
As The New York Times reports, these bees come from a long line of other insect inspectors–including aquatic bugs for testing water quality. Though the airports still use more-traditional sensors to test for air pollutants, in 2006 they added these buzzing mini-inspectors to their testing fleet.
The German Orga Lab tests the honey, made from around 200,000 bees, twice a year for contaminants such as hydrocarbons and heavy metals. They hope to monitor changes over long stretches of time to see if the bees can pick up air quality differences.
Martin Bunkowski, an environmental engineer for the Association of German Airports, told The New York Times that the project is appealing because the insects’ job seems clear.
“It’s a very clear message for the public because it is easy to understand,” Bunkowski said.
Currently, the Düsseldorf honey is looking good–contaminants were far below official limits, and the honey was comparable in quality to that harvested in more scenic locales. Most importantly, since the local bee club gives the honey out for no charge, the sweet stuff is effectively duty free.
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Image: flickr /cygnus921
Trigona carbonaria is a bee without a stinger, one of the 10 or so out of 2,000 Australian bee species to lack the feature. This doesn’t appear to have been any concern… at least not until the hive beetle Aethina tumida showed up. This invasive insect may have reached the island continent along with a flock of athletes during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and as the name suggests, it like to invade beehives. But it hasn’t been very successful in this case, thanks to creative defensive tactics by the bees.
Since the worker can’t sting, they instead make the beetles into mummies. Workers swarm to the approaching beetle, which adopts the turtle defense–tucking in its head and legs, according to researcher Mark Greco, whose team used CT scans to see the action inside the hive. Then the construction onslaught starts. From BBC News:
It’s no secret that something mysterious is going on with the honey bees around the globe. Still, who would’ve thought to rap about it?
In preparation for the first-ever National Honey Bee Awareness Day that took place on Aug. 22, big bee backer Häagen-Dazs used the creative efforts of five brothers from Los Altos, Calif. to make a short video raising awareness.
Max Lanman, a 21-year-old senior at Yale majoring in film studies (and the third-oldest Lanman brother), directed, edited and photographed the result of the request, a viral video entitled “Do the Honey Bee.”
In the video, people dressed as bees shimmy and shake, mimicking the ways bees “dance” to communicate with each other. The lyrics extol bees’ agricultural importance, and the beat’s pretty catchy, too.
But don’t take our word for it—check out the video. You just may want to “shake your stinger, bend your knees / Get down real low, and do the honey bee.”
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Image: flickr / david.nikonvscanon
• The bees are dying of some mysterious illness! Oh wait, no they’re not! Instead,they’re being attacked by Rasberry crazy ants. (Yes, we said Rasberry crazy ants.) It’s like Alien v. Predator, except in Houston.
•PopSci, answering life’s existential science questions. Like “Why does Coke taste different out of a glass bottle than a plastic one?”
• A new lifelike doll on the market in Spain will breast feed from its “mother.” Cue the raging debate over child psychology.
• I’m sorry I didn’t call you back—a pelican swallowed my cell phone! I swear!
• Google Earth pic captures a “gate to Heaven.” Where’s it located? Brooklyn, ‘natch.
• And finally, we bring you: PandaCam.
• Bees and their hives aren’t just for honey anymore: They might help farmers in Kenya deter elephant raids that threaten crops.
• It’s a nice day for a weightless wedding, at least for the Brooklyn couple that will get married in zero gravity later this month. They’ll tie the knot on a commercial weightless flight, with a price tag of $5,200 per person.
• And, finally, a video of the world’s only pet hippo!
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While experts are still stymied over why bees were strangely and inexplicably dying off (or whether they were ever dying off), they appear to be back, and on a rampage. A few weeks ago, a large swarm trapped employees inside a New York City GameStop store for several hours.
Now, things are getting even stranger: The AP reports that about 10,000 honeybees swarmed the wing of an airplane used for flight school at an airport in Danvers, Mass. After first gathering on the side of the plane, the bees migrated en masse to the left wing.
The owner of the flight center called the cops, who then called in a local bee removal expert. He collected the bees by sucking the swarm off the plane with vacuuming tool. The insects then were shipped to hives, where they will spend the rest of their days producing honey.