Backyard Orchard News
Right out of Champaign, Ill., comes a research story about honey bees on coke.
University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson and his colleagues have found that honey bees on cocaine dance more.
"In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate," wrote Diana Yates, life sciences writer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in a Dec. 23 press release.
"Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they've found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need," she wrote. "They do this by performing a dance, called a 'round' or 'waggle' dance, on a specialized 'dance floor' in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.
"Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they've found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report."
Scientists, led by Robinson, dabbed a low dose of cocaine on the bees' backs before they went out foraging. The Journal of Experimental Biology published the findings this month. Robinson, who calls the bee dance "one of the seven wonders of the animal behavior world," said the research also supports the idea that in certain circumstances, honey bees, like humans, are motivated by feelings of reward.
"Cocaine – a chemical used by the coca plant to defend itself from leaf-eating insects – interferes with octopamine transit in insect brains and has undeniable effects on reward systems in mammals, including humans. It does this by influencing the chemically related dopamine system," Yates wrote.
"Dopamine," she explained, "plays a role in the human ability to predict and respond to pleasure or reward. It is also important to motor function and modulates many other functions, including cognition, sleep, mood, attention and learning."
Well, when you consider the powerful effect of cocaine on humans, the bee research isn't all that surprising.
But this is NOT the reason for colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which bees mysteriously abandon the hive, leaving behind the immature bees and stored food.
Just wait--the same folks who attribute CCD to cell phone disturbance may now connect CCD with cocaine--and maintain that CCD actually stands for Co-Caine Disturbance.
Can't you just see it?
- Crack users will have another excuse when they're stopped by law enforcement. "This is for my bees, officer!"
- The number of beekeepers will increase ten-fold.
- Apiculture majors will rise high in the nation's entomology departments.
- Late-night shows will crack jokes about the the new bee buzz.
- "Making a beeline" will be linked with a line of coke.
And, Crystal Boyd's happiness comment will take on new meaning:
"Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching."
To see a waggle dance, sans cocaine, access this video on You Tube.
'Tis the season for brotherly love, but not in the bee hive.
As the honey-gathering season ends and the weather turns colder, the worker bees (infertile females) push their brothers--the drones--out of the hive. Drones are of no use to the colony in the winter. They're another mouth to feed. (The sole function of the drones are to mate with the queen.)
So how are the worker bees able to shove the much-larger drones from the hive?
"The sisters quit feeding their brothers so that they're lighter and easier to push," said UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.
UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey admits to having a soft spot for the drones. “They’re cold and hungry, sitting there on the doorstep and wanting to go back in. They’re attacked and they die. Well, it’s a matriarchal society.”
A matriarchal society in the season of brotherly love.
I always thought the red-hot poker was primarily red.
This one in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, was mostly yellow.
It was Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008, five days before Christmas, and a lone honey bee, packed with pollen, was heading for the red-hot poker, variety "Christmas Cheer" (Kniphofia).
Seemed quite appropriate.
Red-Hot Poker in Storer Gardens
If there ever were a Christmas bug, it would be the ladybug, aka lady beetle.
The insects (family Coccinellidae) are brightly colored and spread joy in the garden when they feast on aphids.
Last summer we enjoyed watching them hanging out and hooking up. Their voracious appetites reminded us of holiday diners.
Please pass the aphids!
Ladybug on gardener's glove
You're sitting around discussing the importance of honey bees. The points include: they give us honey, they pollinate agricultural crops, and they serve as an example of a well-organized society.
But wait, there's more.
They scare off plant predators.
"Researchers in Germany discovered that the flapping of bees' wings scared off caterpillars, reducing leaf damage," writes BBC correspondent Richard Black in a Dec. 22 post.
"Many wasp species lay their eggs in caterpillars, and so caterpillars have evolved to avoid them. The sounds of bees' and wasps' wings are similar. Writing in the journal Current Biology, the scientists suggest this is an added bonus of having bees around, as well as the pollination they provide."
That makes sense. The sound of a bee buzzing can prompt a human or animal to leave the vicinity quite rapidly. Why wouldn't a caterpillar do so after "hearing" a buzz? Especially when it can't distinguish the sound of bee wings from wasp wings?
Lead researcher Jürgen Tautz of Wurzburg University says this is an unexpected advantage of why bees are important.
Look at it this way: our little honey bees are super heroes! They deserve to wear an "S" on their thorax.
Actually, they're "Super Girls" as the worker bees are all female. Worker bees are the ones that gather the nectar and pollinate the plants--and scare off those pesky caterpillars.
Superman, meet the "Super Girls!"