A ‘bee hotel’ in Hennipgaarde in the Netherlands. Photograph: Andre Muller/Alamy
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
More than 11,000 people took part in the national bee survey. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/Hollandse Hoogte
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.
Last week, more than 11,000 people from across the Netherlands participated in a bee-counting exercise as part of the fourth edition of the national bee census. Continue reading
Sara Dykman biked from the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico to Canada and back, covering a total distance of 10,201 miles in 264 days. (Timber Press)
We have featured the plight of monarch butterflies plenty of times on this platform. And bicycle travelogues feature, together with bicycle activism, even more frequently. Today, at the intersection of butterflies and bicycles, we thank Sara Dykman for writing and Smithsonian for publishing this travel-with-a-cause story:
I set off to be the first person to cycle alongside the butterflies to raise awareness of their alarming decline
Dykman works in amphibian research and as an outdoor educator. (Tom Weistar)
The idea to bike from Mexico to Canada and back with the migrating monarch butterflies arose from a simple wish to visit them. In 2013, crossing Mexico by bike for the first time, a friend and I entertained the idea of visiting the monarchs at their overwintering sites. Because it was April and the monarchs had already begun migrating north, we decided to forego the side trip.
I spent the next few years idly daydreaming about returning. Continue reading
A swarm of desert locusts in Meru, Kenya, in February. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
We respect all things natural, but we acknowledge there are phenomena that test our principles. Historic swarms of locusts, for example, make us believe that getting control over their impact is essential for communities where they can lay waste to human endeavor, so we thank Rachel Nuwer for this story from one of the hardest-hit regions:
A swarm inundating Naiperere, near the town of Rumuruti, in Kenya in January. When the rains come, locusts can form swarms of more than 15 million insects per square mile. Baz Ratner/Reuters
A hastily formed crowdsourcing operation to contain the insects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia could help manage climate-related disasters everywhere.
Lake Joseph, a locust tracker, in Samburu County, Kenya in May 2020. Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images
Melodine Jeptoo will never forget the first time she saw a locust swarm. Moving like a dark cloud, the insects blotted out the sky and pelted her like hail.
“When they’re flying, they really hit you hard,” said Ms. Jeptoo, who lives in Kenya and works with PlantVillage, a nonprofit group that uses technology to help farmers adapt to climate change. Continue reading
Common black ant (Lasius niger) workers and three queens.
Any given day in Costa Rica the number of insects one is likely to encounter is too great to count. Ants are not automatically loved, but they are respected. Brooke Jarvis, whose writing we saw primarily in the New Yorker previously, has spectacular photography to accompany her text in this New York Times article in the Science section:
Even in the densest human habitations, there are orders of magnitude more ants than there are of us, doing the hard work of making our crumbs disappear.
It is telling, the entomologist Eleanor Spicer Rice writes in her introduction to a new book of ant photography by Eduard Florin Niga, that humans looking downward on each other from great heights like to describe the miniaturized people we see below us as looking “like ants.” By this we mean faceless, tiny, swarming: an indecipherable mass stripped of individuality or interest.
Daceton armigerum, male, from northern South America.
Intellectually, though, we can recognize that each scurrying dot is in fact a unique person with a complicated and interconnected life, even if distance appears to wipe away all that diversity and complexity. Continue reading
ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360
As the curvy berm we started forming earlier this year, combined with 100+ newly planted trees, transition from wet season to dry season, we have been noticing an uptick in insects. While most of my early life experiences in Connecticut led me to believe that the world (or at least I) would be better off with fewer insects, I now think exactly the opposite. Last Sunday I had my first sighting of a bird (same species as our friend Daniel captured by camera in Guatemala a few weeks ago) that is likely here for some of those insects. That sighting alone would have been enough to convince me that more insects are better than fewer. Janet Marinelli‘s article in Yale Environment360 gives me more to ponder on this topic:
The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.
Zebra swallowtails are entirely dependent on pawpaw trees, which have leaves that are the butterflies’ larvae only source of food. COURTESY OF DOUGLAS TALLAMY
For years, Doug Tallamy sounded the alarm about the grave threat that plants introduced from abroad pose to native insects. By transforming native plant communities into so-called novel landscapes increasingly dominated by exotic species on which many insects cannot feed, the University of Delaware entomologist speculated, they imperil not only insects but also the birds and other animals that depend on insects for survival. Continue reading
A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy
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:
Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading
Today’s post is a finding from the natural world that intersects with the premise of a favored book for kids:
Before metamorphosis, monarch butterflies will aggressively head butt each other for access to their favorite food.
In the 1969 children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the tiny protagonist spends a week snarfing his way through a smorgasbord of fruits, meats, sugary desserts and, finally, a nourishing leaf. This family-friendly tale was missing one crucial and far less G-rated plot element: the pure, unadulterated rage of an insect unfed. Continue reading
Common blue butterfly in Weymouth, Dorset, UK. © Verity Hill
Thanks to Alex Morss for this second opportunity to feature her work:
How can butterflies and moth find food-plants and mates by smell if they don’t have a nose? Ecologist Alex Morss explains how they can sense with other parts of their body. Continue reading
A hairstreak butterflies in a Florida backyard. Photo © Bill Spitzer / TNC Photo Contest 2019
If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:
By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.
Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.
Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading
A culinary student preparing mealworm quiches at the Rijn Ijssel chefs school in Wageningen, Netherlands. Jerry Lampen/Reuters
JoAnna Klein has a nack for getting me to think twice on a topic. My imagination is moving in the right direction. I may be embarrassed by my insufficient progress at cutting meat consumption, but I have made zero headway in the realm of insect appetite. It must change. But even with this story, and its beautiful pictures, my likelihood to indulge in one of these meals is best captured by the biblical phrase about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak; I get why I must do this, but my body is not cooperating and I am not looking forward to the first such meal:
Scientists who study bugs are thinking harder about how to turn them into good food.
Repeat after me: entomophagy.
It’s derived from Greek and Latin: “entomon,” meaning “insect,” and “phagus,” as in “feeding on.”
Some think it’s the future of food.
In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. Continue reading
Craig K. Lorenz
It’s been a while, Carl Zimmer! Welcome back to our pages and thanks for this new consideration of what is included in the definition of animal migration, a pair of words normally associated with big mammals and birds:
Swarms of insects move across continents each year. Scientists used radar to track one species and discovered a vast ecological force.
Ladybugs briefly took over the news cycle.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service were looking over radar images in California on the night of June 4 when they spotted what looked like a wide swath of rain. But there were no clouds.
The meteorologists contacted an amateur weather-spotter directly under the mysterious disturbance. He wasn’t getting soaked by rain. Instead, he saw ladybugs. Everywhere.
Radar apparently had picked up a cloud of migrating ladybugs spread across 80 miles, with a dense core ten miles wide floating 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet in the air. As giant as the swarm was, the meteorologists lost track of it. The ladybugs disappeared into the night. Continue reading
The air conditioning system of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by termites’ nests. Credit David Brazier, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s been quite some time since we posted about biomimicry. Thanks as always to JoAnna Klein for this illuminating story:
“We think humans are the best designers, but this is not really true,” a researcher said.
In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate Centre holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door.
What’s Eastgate Centre’s secret? Termites.
Three views of a termites’ nest, including from left, a photo of the nest, a tomography of the the nest’s interior and the networks of galleries and paths in it. Credit G. Theraulaz, CRCA, CBI, CNRS, Toulouse
In the 1990s, Mick Pearce, the building’s architect, took his inspiration from mounds built by fungus-farming termites he saw on a nature show. The insects created their own air conditioning systems that circulated hot and cool air between the mound and the outside.
As architects and builders seek new and improved ways to cool buildings without using more energy in a warming world, a study of another type of termite mound suggests that Mr. Pearce won’t be the last human to take design tips from these cockroach cousins. Continue reading
Photo illustrations by Matt Dorfman. Source photographs: Bridgeman Images.
Brooke Jarvis has written a longform feature article with the word apocalypse in the title, which may make you wince and turn away. As might the word insect, even if you find the illustration above mesmerizing as I do. And reading to the end is an investment in time. But do not turn away just because the illustration below is alarming. It is another alarming topic we are responsible for taking account of.
Sune Boye Riis was on a bike ride with his youngest son, enjoying the sun slanting over the fields and woodlands near their home north of Copenhagen, when it suddenly occurred to him that something about the experience was amiss. Specifically, something was missing.
It was summer. He was out in the country, moving fast. But strangely, he wasn’t eating any bugs.
For a moment, Riis was transported to his childhood on the Danish island of Lolland, in the Baltic Sea. Back then, summer bike rides meant closing his mouth to cruise through thick clouds of insects, but inevitably he swallowed some anyway. When his parents took him driving, he remembered, the car’s windshield was frequently so smeared with insect carcasses that you almost couldn’t see through it. But all that seemed distant now. He couldn’t recall the last time he needed to wash bugs from his windshield; he even wondered, vaguely, whether car manufacturers had invented some fancy new coating to keep off insects. But this absence, he now realized with some alarm, seemed to be all around him. Where had all those insects gone? And when? And why hadn’t he noticed? Continue reading
The Blue Orchard Bee recently came to our attention thanks to Natalie Boyle. However, it seems the species has some competition as potential saviors of the farming industry. This article by Catherine M. Allchin, Honeybees Are Hurting. What Else Can Pollinate Our Food?, illustrates how…
…The dominant pollinator is under siege, straining the business of farming. Now growers are turning to alternative species to help their crops.
Jim Freese grows apples, pears and cherries on 45 acres in the north-central part of this state, on sagebrush-studded land his grandfather bought in 1910.
Walking among trees laden with shiny red cherries, Mr. Freese recalled that four years ago his trees were not producing well and his farm was financially struggling. Like many growers, he had been relying on rented honeybees to pollinate his cherry trees every spring, along with wild bees and other insects.
But that year, spring was expected to be cool. “Honeybees will just sit in the hive in cooler weather,” Mr. Freese said. He needed a way to ensure more flowers would develop into fruit than in the past.
At a horticulture meeting, he learned that blue orchard bees — a native species that doesn’t make honey or live in hives — could be used to supplement honeybee pollination. Blue orchard bees will fly at cooler temperatures.
Mr. Freese bought 12,000 cocoons and set them in his orchard to emerge when the trees bloomed. His investment paid off. “We doubled our cherry production from any previous record year,” he said.
His wife, Sandee Freese, said: “The little bees have been a godsend.”…
We love all creatures great and small, even (we try as best we can) the pesky ones. It is not because we are generous, though we hope we are. It is because we see their value. For hopefully obvious reasons, pollinators are our favorite bees. Our lives depend on them. That is why we have featured dozens of stories about them. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this one:
A female blue orchard bee forages for nectar and pollen on Phacelia tanacetifolia flowers, also known as blue or purple tansy. Blue orchard bees are solitary bees that help pollinate California’s almond orchards. Josh Cassidy/KQED
While honeybees and their buzzing hives and hyper-fertile queens get all the press for pollinating our food supply, the hard-working blue orchard bee is one of 4,000 bee species native to North America that does its solitary work in relative obscurity. That is, until now.
In the video, you can see how this bee builds its nests, alternating mud and a purple nectar-pollen mixture in hollow, skinny spaces. The blue orchard bees are preparing a purple lunch box of sorts for their offspring so they have food to eat in the tunnel. The blue orchard bees’ work looks more like jewelry or even scoops of trendy ube ice cream than a nest. Continue reading
Thanks to Kendra Pierre-Louis for this explanatory note, which references the article in taking us a step closer to understanding the mystery of mosquitoes’ value to the planet:
Ask just about any human and they’ll tell you that mosquitoes are pests we’d be better off without, especially since some mosquitoes carry deadly diseases. Even many scientists agree: A 2010 article in the journal Nature concluded that a world without mosquitoes would be less itchy and less deadly for us, with few drawbacks for other species, outside of some ecological niches.
One of those niches is the Arctic, where mosquitoes play a bigger role in sustaining the ecosystem but may be threatened by the changing climate, said Lauren E. Culler, a research assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.
“You can collect pollen off of mosquitoes, indicating they may have a role in pollination,” she said. “And we know that they’re also food for other organisms in the food web.” Continue reading