Backyard Orchard News
Honey bees are involved in a unique "sting operation" utilizing their sense of keen smell to detect explosives and narcotics.
And now a scientist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, will talk about the project on Wednesday, Oct. 21 on the UC Davis campus.
Robert Wingo, with the Chemical Diagnosis and Engineering of the Chemistry Division, will speak on “Explosives and Narcotics Detection by Monitoring of the Proboscis (Tongue) Extension Reflex in Apis mellifera (Honey Bee)" at 4 p.m., in 357 Hutchison Hall, UC Davis.
The one-hour event is sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology.
Wingo's lecture will be Webcast live as part of the pilot UC Seminar Network, which is Webcasting scientific seminars on three UC campuses: Davis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. Viewers can link to it.
UC Davis entomologist James R. Carey, instrumental in launching the pilot program, is the former chair of the UC Systemwide Academic Senate University Committee on Research Policy.
What's the honey bee project all about?
In a news release issued Nov. 27, 2006, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) news writer Todd Hanson wrote that scientists at LANL “have developed a method for training the common honey bee to detect the explosives used in bombs. Based on knowledge of bee biology, the new techniques could become a leading tool in the fight against the use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which present a critical vulnerability for American military troops abroad and is an emerging danger for civilians worldwide.”
“By studying bee behavior and testing and improving on technologies already on the market,” Hanson wrote, “Los Alamos scientists developed methods to harness the honey bee's exceptional olfactory sense where the bees' natural reaction to nectar, a proboscis extension reflex (sticking out their tongue), could be used to record an unmistakable response to a scent. Using Pavlovian training techniques common to bee research, they trained bees to give a positive detection response, via the proboscis extension reflex, when they were exposed to vapors from TNT, C4, TATP explosives and propellants.”
The bee’s phenomenal sense of smell rivals that of dogs, according to Tim Haarmann, then principal investigator for the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project.
More information is available from the LANL news release.
LANL, a self-described "multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security," is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team comprised of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and the Washington Division of URS for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
The Tongue Has It
Drones--remotely piloted aircraft used in reconnaissance and target attacks--are in the news, but so are the other drones--male bees.
This time of year drones are as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth. They're not needed in the hive now--just extra mouths to feed--so their sisters are booting them up. They're basically evicted, cold and shivering, from the hive.
Drones are easy to identify: big eyes, bulky body, and lumbering movements.
It's best to be a drone in the spring. When a virgin queen goes for her maiden flight, a group of drones will mate with her in the drone congregation area. The drones die shortly after mating. If they don't mate, then they'll die before winter sets in.
As Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty says: First the sisters stop feeding their brothers so they're easier to push out.
Then, out they go.
The sisters have no pity.
Drone and worker bee
Big Eyes, Bulky Body
What can we learn from insects?
But first, let's talk about the UC Seminar Network.
It's a pilot program that involves Webcasting scientific seminars on University of California campuses. Scientists and other interested folks from all over California--indeed the nation and the world--can tune in live.
The seminars are as close as your computer. You log in, listen, and at the end of the seminar, you can ask questions.
And the seminars are free.
It all started in Feburary when entomologist James R. Carey, professor of Entomology at UC Davis and then chair of the UC Systemwide Academic Senate University Committee on Research Policy, launched Webinars in the Department of Entomology as part of the pilot UC Seminar Network.
Other departments at UC Davis soon joined in, and now UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz are on board. Long-range plans call for participation on all 10 campuses.
Fittingly, the next Webinar presentation at UC Davis features James R. Carey.
Carey, the director of a federally funded program on lifespan and aging that has just received a $3.4 million grant renewal from the National Institute on Aging, will speak from 12:10 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21 in 122 Briggs Hall.
He will offer his insights into lifespan, aging and death from his insect studies, including research on Mediterranean fruit flies in Hawaii, Mexico and Greece and on butterflies in Uganda. Titled “Titled “Demography of the Finitude: Insights into Lifespan, Aging and Death from Insect Studies,” the Webinar can be accessed by clicking this link or accessing the link from the UC Davis Department of Entomology home page.
“One of the paradoxes of aging science is that whereas much is known about the nature of aging, little is known about the nature of lifespan,” said Carey, who has researched aging and lifespan for nearly 30 years. “For example, why do mice live only a few years while humans are capable of living 80 or more years?”
The grant is a two-year extension of his ongoing program, Biodemographic Determinants of Lifespan, a National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Aging-funded program involving scientists from UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, Stanford and seven other academic institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Greece.
The scientists study aging in nematodes, honey bees, fruit flies, red deer, soay sheep and humans, and develop mathematical models targeting the evolutionary ecology of aging and lifespan.
The Biodemographic Determinants of Lifespan has been funded since 2003.
“Dr. Carey has expanded the boundaries of entomology with his research,” said Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “Just as we have learned a great deal about human genetics by studying Drosophila fruit flies, Jim is expanding our overall understanding of mortality and lifespans by using various insects as model systems. He is known worldwide as one of the pioneers of biodemography, an emerging field in the interzone between biology and demography. His research is innovative and unique, and is one of many research programs that makes the Department of Entomology so strong.”
The broad aim of the research, Carey said, “is to develop an evolutionary demography of lifespan. All of the findings will be directly or indirectly relevant to an understanding of human aging and lifespan.”
And what do insect studies tell us about human aging and lifespan? Read more about his work here.And then tune in on Wednesday, Oct. 21. It's open to all interested persons.
If you miss it, it will be archived permanently on the Department of Entomology seminar page. This Web page also includes the list of past and upcoming Webinars.
The fall Webinars at the UC Davis Department of Entomology continue through Dec. 7.
James R. Carey
It was an unexpected visit.
She found it several days after the massive Oct. 12 storm raced through Northern California.
The heavy rain soaked the earth, apparently forcing the critter from its habitat.
How it wound up in the restroom is anybody's guess.
What is it?
Not a true cricket, though. It's an insect (genus Stenopelmatus) that feeds primarily on decaying organic material (and occasionally insects). It burrows into the soil using its highly specialized feet.
And yes, it does inflect a sometimes painful bite, as Cobey can attest.
It's not lethal though.
Cobey returned it to the Laidlaw grounds, releasing it near a stump.
She has no plans to trade her honey bees in for Jerusalem crickets.
Life and death in the bee observation hive...
If you ever have the opportunity to check out a bee observation hive--a glassed-in hive showing the colony at work--you can easily spot the three castes: the queen bee, worker bees and drones.
If you look closely, you'll observe the foragers performing their waggle and round dances and the royal attendants circling the queen in a retinue.
The queen will lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day in peak season. From an egg, to a larva to a pupa to a newly emerged bee, it's all there.
You'll observe the worker bees performing their specific duties: nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers. The worker bees (sterile females) run the hive. They're the "you-go" girls and the "go-to" girls.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis has several observation hives. One is in the Laidlaw conference room; another is in an entomology classroom in 122 Briggs Hall. The bees enter and exit through a thin tube connecting the inside of the colony to the outside world.
Avid bee enthusiasts place an observation hive in their homes, often in the living room. It's a honey of a conversation piece, beside being an educational experience.
The saddest part? Watching the undertaker bees carry out the motionless bodies of their sisters and brothers.
Or watching the sisters, as winter approaches, evict their brothers. The girls are protecting their precious food storage and want fewer mouths to feed.
Drones, whose only responsibility is to mate with the queen, aren't needed in the winter months.
But wait 'til spring...