Insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years – and the consequences may soon be catastrophic. Biologist Dave Goulson reveals the vital services they perform
I have been fascinated by insects all my life. One of my earliest memories is of finding, at the age of five or six, some stripy yellow-and-black caterpillars feeding on weeds in the school playground. I put them in my empty lunchbox, and took them home. Eventually they transformed into handsome magenta and black moths. This seemed like magic to me – and still does. I was hooked. Continue reading
Arctic bumblebees came to our attention nearly five years ago, and this story below reminds us that while climate change is not a zero sum game–it is more like a game of perpetual loss, which is more like what we have witnessed with bees in general–there are some winning adaptations in some locations:
Extreme environments offer them an unexpected paradise. Now researchers and conservationists want to get a head count.
“People don’t come to Denali and other parks in Alaska to look at bumblebees, but they should,” says Jessica Rykken, entomologist for Denali National Park and Preserve. The “Last Frontier” state may be known for supersized wildlife, from bears to moose, but on a smaller scale, the diversity of bumblebees (or bumble bees, depending on whom you ask) there is unusually high, and powers entire ecosystems. Continue reading
Thanks to the Guardian:
City buzz: how urban beehives and artificial insemination are protecting Australia’s bees – in pictures
Bee populations around the world are under significant threat from extreme climate events, destruction of natural habitat, intensive farming practices, pests and disease. Australian apiarists and scientists are developing innovative solutions to protect the country’s bee population, increase genetic diversity and increase numbers
See the entire collection of images here.
Any time we see news on new bee hotels, we are inclined to share. Seeing this news from the Netherlands about a bee survey is also particularly smile-producing. Our thanks to Anne Pinto-Rodrigues and the Guardian’s Environment section for this article:
Scheme involving ‘ bee hotels’ and ‘bee stops’ reaps rewards as census shows no strong decline in urban population
Bee hotels, bee stops and a honey highway are some of the techniques the Dutch are crediting with keeping their urban bee population steady in recent years, after a period of worrying decline.
Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:
Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.
THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading
If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:
We recently published some good news about a similar invasive insect in Washington State, but it’s important to note that the species on the prowl in Paris is related, but not the same. Although far less dangerous (tell that to the honeybee prey…) they still are a menace to other insects, especially honeybees. The good news here is that the hornets have been in France for well over a decade, and the human wasp controllers have the skills and tools to combat them, protecting the thriving businesses of urban apiculture.
And other tales of hives and honeybees in the City of Light.
“The queen is dead?” a preschool administrator in suburban Paris asked Matthieu Bize, a wasp controller who had come to rid the schoolyard of Asian hornets.
On the ground, a nest was in tatters. Twenty minutes earlier, it had been high up in an ivy-choked tree, where it looked like a jumbo gray-brown balloon. Mr. Bize, 32, had sent a telescopic pole through the canopy, injected a paralyzing white powder into the hornets’ home, and knocked it down. The colony’s larvae, future queens among them, were strewn about. “Nearly finished here,” he said.
In English, the Bize family name is pronounced “bees”; in French, it is “bise” (short for kisses). Dozens of times a day, when Mr. Bize answers his cellphone — “C’est Monsieur Bize” — this gentle phrasing sweetens an otherwise sting-y situation.
For Mr. Bize doesn’t hunt just any pest. One-third of the nests to which he responds belong to a species of dreaded “murder hornet,” a type of wasp that beheads and feeds to its larvae an insect that is very important to, and symbolic of, France: the honeybee.
Beyond the fact that Napoleon chose the honeybee for his logo in the early 19th century (the emperor favored the insect for its tenacity), France is the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, and generally known for pollinator-friendly policies. It is also one of Europe’s major honey trade hubs.
If you noted the danger five months ago, and find this topic newsworthy, you know how important it was to find the nest. Finally, after an exhaustive search, they found it and it seems we should count this as good news, especially in a year like 2020:
Officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and lay waste to bees.
Like detectives closing in on a fugitive hide-out deep in the woods, officials in Washington State announced on Friday that they had located the first murder hornet nest in the United States, tucked in a tree hollow near the Canadian border.
The officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and begin laying waste to bees that are vital to the survival of the region’s raspberries, blueberries and other crops. Continue reading
Since Milo’s 2011 post on this topic we have paid attention to the plight of honey bees and their human keepers, and might have had a “whatever it takes” perspective on letting those human keepers find solutions to keep their colonies alive. Jennifer Oldham’s article in Yale e360 has us thinking twice:
As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.
Honey bees heavy with pollen and nectar foraged from wildflowers on Utah’s Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest collide with tall grass and tumble to the ground. They are attempting to land alongside a hive, and I watch as they struggle to stand, fly into the box, and disgorge nectar to be made into honey.
The pollinators belong to a 96-hive apiary, trucked here to Logan Canyon for the summer to rest and rebuild their population, replenishing bees lost to disease and pesticides after months pollinating California’s almond groves. By Labor Day, the yard could house 5 million domesticated pollinators. Continue reading
Thanks to the Guardian for this report:
As a study trumpets the food’s medicinal properties, there’s a buzz about beekeeping in the UK
When honey made headlines this week as a better treatment for coughs and colds than antibiotics, beekeepers sat smugly by. “I’ve been saying this for ages,” says Carly Hooper, who has 12 hives near her home in Fleet, Hampshire, and a honey-based business.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, found that honey was a more effective treatment for coughs, blocked noses and sore throats than many remedies more conventionally prescribed. Continue reading
Bees, in all their surprising ways, are important to humanity, so we share science about them. Our thanks to one of science writing’s most deft explainers, James Gorman, for one more insight. If only for the video, showing the precision of the bee’s ability to drink nectar, this article is worth a look:
Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.
For a century, scientists have known how honeybees drink nectar. They lap it up.
They don’t lap like cats or dogs, videos of whose mesmerizing drinking habits have been one of the great rewards of high speed video. But they do dip their hairy tongues rapidly in and out of syrupy nectar to draw it up into their mouth. For the last century or so, scientists have been convinced that this is the only way they drink nectar. Continue reading
Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for at minimum illuminating important environmental questions and, on days like today, lifting our spirits in the process. Click the image above to go to the award winning video:
Native bees are at risk across the United States. “Buzz Kill” — winner of the 2020 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — depicts the beauty and key ecological role played by these bees and shows how industrialized agriculture and its use of honeybee colonies threatens endemic bee species. Continue reading
In previous posts I have pointed my lens to this area, but from another angle and with limited scope. In the photo above, in the distant upper right you san see a small light object which is the top of the bee colony. With this view you can make out where the curvy berms lead and if you squint you can see the long quadrangle. A few months prior to our departure to live in Croatia in August, 2006 I decided that this stretch of relatively flat land would make a good football pitch for our boys and their friends. It was a mess of bramble and brush at the time so I cleared it and removed the big rocks and let it be. We would be gone for one year, and when we came back I would finish the pitch.
Plans change. We did not return to live in Costa Rica for another dozen years. This week, as we move to Plan B I took a snapshot of how that pitch looks right now. I am one quarter of the way through removing all the grasses that invaded the land while we were away. Under their blanket is all the rich soil that earthworms produce when left alone for awhile. That pitch, which now has 30 banana and plantain trees, and hundreds of bean plants as well as beets, will next get watermelon where the land is already cleared. These all will help the soil, and prepare the shade needed, in advance of coffee planting next year.
Our bee obsession on this platform has many explanations, but my personal motivation for following the science of bees goes back to a summer in the late 1970s when I worked for a beekeeper. I cleared brush and vines from the forest edge to make way for more bee-friendly plantings. I worked within sight of a dozen active bee colonies in boxes where I could see buzzing swarms constantly. I learned to be calm around them from the man who tended them. He used a poncho, a mask, and a smoker when opening the boxes to remove honey, but other times walked among them with no protective gear. To my surprise the resins from Toxicodendron radicans–poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac–did more harm to me than the bees I worked around. In fact, I was never stung by those bees. Not once.
Which explains why when we finally had the chance to start our own bee colony I was all in. Above is a bee box, with found objects inside, above and below it. The bees inside had nested at the top of our house so we had a beekeeper extract them. He gave them this new home in a location where we have been clearing brush to make way for coffee planting. The old table had been in the chicken coop and the mysterious disk was on the roadside headed for recycling. One month later now, very happy bees.
Above is a small sampling of the vines and brush I have been clearing from the land near that hive. History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. As it happens, on my arm I have some of the same toxins from vines like those 40 years ago. The clearing work started in March and is nearing completion to make way for several hundred shade trees and several thousand coffee plants.
One section of this clearing has already received twenty banana plants, based on the practice of our friends at Hacienda la Amistad. These make excellent companions to the coffee and are pollinated by bats, so provide another kind of ecological service too complex to discuss in a post primarily about bee surprises.
So, with all that in mind I was very happy to come across the story below by Cara Giaimo. Her work first appeared in our pages last October, then again a few months ago–both times related to birds. Somehow I missed this short article on bees from earlier this year, and I thank her for it now for making me laugh when there is not enough other news to laugh about:
Regurgitation is an important consideration when it comes to the process of pollination.
The bumblebee is a discerning nectar shopper. When choosing which flowers to gather the sticky substance from, it might consider a plant’s distance, the shape of the petals and how sugar-rich the nectar is. Continue reading
We are happy to learn their fate, but did not even know they had a fate to consider. Bees at church? Come to think of it, churches are normally considered a safe haven. Thanks to Kim Willsher (again, at long last) and the Guardian (as always) for this coverage:
Hives that survived catastrophic Paris cathedral blaze are healthier than ever, says beekeeper
It is a crisp winter morning and the area around Notre Dame is sealed off as it has been since the fire last April that devastated the cathedral.
Those in the know, however, especially those with the keenest of eyes, might spot some small movement high up to the south of the stricken and blackened structure.
The bees of Notre Dame, whose escape from the inferno seemed almost miraculous, are thriving and conserving their energy ready to produce honey this summer, just as they have every year since they took up residence on the sacristy roof in 2013. Continue reading
Friday, one of the hotels where we operate Authentica re-opened. With not much exaggeration I can say that for hotel staff, for Amie and me, and for the Costa Rican guests we interacted with, seeing tourism start up again after three months felt emotionally kind of like this, only with serious social distancing.
Yesterday, day 2 of this experiment in moving forward, before going to greet guests at the shops we began on the land. Above is the first of what we expect to be a larger set of honey bee colonies that will pollinate our coffee and fruit trees. Amie is in beekeeping tutorial mode and after a few weeks in place it seems to my untrained eye that the bees are happy with her progress. The land surrounding the hive, and other parts of the property, have been planted with beans common to the Costa Rica diet–mostly black and red–and some special varieties that we favor, such as white and butter varieties. Those we planted first, as you can see below, are already sprouting.
While we look forward to their eventual edible state, the primary purpose of these legumes is to fix nitrogen in the soil in advance of planting when our coffee seedlings are ready. Regeneration of the nutrients will allow the soil to host the coffee we are preparing for the microlot restoration project, planned long before current crises and to bear fruit some time after we have figured out how to move on with life. For now, seeing guests again, having beans sprout and bees buzzing is good enough.
Thanks to Ella McSweeney for this story about a young academic’s hands on, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems caused by Ireland’s farmers, who had followed incentives to their economically logical but environmentally disastrous conclusions:
Rewarding positive environmental impact has revitalised an area of west Ireland. Is this a solution to the country’s ‘acute’ nature crisis?
Michael Davoren shudders when he thinks of the 1990s. He’d been in charge of his 80-hectare farm in the Burren, Co Clare, since the 1970s, and the place was in his blood. The Davorens had worked these hills for 400 years.
But growing intensification fuelled by European subsidies meant that most farmers in this part of Ireland were having to decide between getting big or getting out. Hundreds were choosing the latter.
Davoren followed the advice to specialise and chase the beef markets. “The more animals I kept, the more money I got,” he says. “I put more cattle out, bought fertiliser, made silage. Slurry run-off was killing fish. But if I kept fewer animals I’d be penalised 10% of my subsidy.”
The austere appearance of the Burren landscape belies its rich diversity. The thick rocks were laid down 300 million years ago when warm tropical seas covered the area, and the bodies of billions of marine creatures cascaded to the sea floor to form the Burren limestone. Continue reading
We tend to be bird and bee centric on this site, but somehow we missed this lovely opinion piece–What the Honeybees Showed Me–by Helen Jukes in the NYTimes.
While many people look back to the basics of gardening and baking during the current crisis, beekeeping may be next on some wish lists.
When I first became keeper of a colony of honeybees, I was thinking more than anything of escape. I’d just turned 30 and had recently moved from Brighton to Oxford, having taken a job on a whim, again, moving out of one rented house in one city and into another as I had done throughout my 20s. But the new job was stressful. I spent long hours at the office in front of a screen. I was under pressure from company targets and deadlines, thrown into frenetic communications with colleagues who sounded as stretched as I felt, and disconnected from the world — the world! — I glimpsed as I cycled to and from work each day.
Our garden was little more than a slim patch of weeds within spitting distance of a busy road, but it was secluded enough that I could go there and remain hidden, and so I began imagining a hive out there; imagined myself finding some respite among the bees, away from the hecticness of the city.
Of course, things rarely turn out as we imagine them, and when later that year I was given a honeybee colony as a gift by a group of friends, it was not respite, and not quiet that I found at first. Quite suddenly I was made accountable to another creature, many of them, really — responsible for ensuring the bees were healthy, free from predators and disease. If all went well, I might take a little honey at the end of the season; but for the first few weeks, eyeing the hive at the end of the garden, I was more concerned that they’d either die or fly away.
The thing is that honeybees are so strange.
Costa Rica is full of inspirational stories, some big picture and some more granular. Bee hotels are an example of the latter, and first came to my attention only this year. On a farm north of San Jose growing edible flowers, and then again on a cacao plantation in the Central Pacific zone where we source our line of Macaw Kakau chocolates–in both cases the “hotels” were specifically for melipona bees. Thanks to the Guardian for putting some due attention on this forward-thinking municipality across the city from where I live and work, and especially for the reminder that I have not posted yet on the apicultural wonders I learned about at those two melipona bee hotels:
A suburb of the country’s capital is showing how urban planning can be harnessed to benefit both humans and wildlife
“Pollinators were the key,” says Edgar Mora, reflecting on the decision to recognise every bee, bat, hummingbird and butterfly as a citizen of Curridabat during his 12-year spell as mayor.
“Pollinators are the consultants of the natural world, supreme reproducers and they don’t charge for it. The plan to convert every street into a biocorridor and every neighbourhood into an ecosystem required a relationship with them.”
The move to extend citizenship to pollinators, trees and native plants in Curridabat has been crucial to the municipality’s transformation from an unremarkable suburb of the Costa Rican capital, San José, into a pioneering haven for urban wildlife. Continue reading
Plants provide key food source for pollinators as they come out of hibernation
Gardeners should avoid mowing over dandelions on their lawn if they want to help bees, according to the new president of the British Ecological Society.
Dandelions – which will start flowering in the UK this month – provide a valuable food source for early pollinators coming out of hibernation, including solitary bees, honey bees and hoverflies.
Each dandelion head contains up to 100 individual flowers, known as florets, which contain nectar and pollen. There are 240 species of dandelion in the UK. Continue reading