Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Bees who buzz ...

Bees are fantastic creatures, and are a vital part of our ecosystem. In today's post, we're bringing you two stories about these buzzy little creatures; the first is about how remarkable these insects really are ... 

Latest research, conducted by the University of Bristol, reveals not only that bees can identify the shape, colour, perfume and even electrical charge of flowers, by also that bees know how the concentration of a scent varies across a flower's surface.

"[This study shows that] bees can tell the difference between flowers where the only difference is their spatial arrangement of scent – and that suggest they could use this information to make their foraging more efficient," says Dr David Lawson, co-author of the research. 

Further to this research, scientists have found that bees appear able to apply what they have learnt from patterns of scent to patterns of colour, suggesting that these small but very significant critters might be even smarter than first at thought.

The research undertaken by the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London centered around 31 bumblebees, and how they exposed them one at a time to plastics discs in which an array of tiny wells were filled with peppermint oil to create either a cross or a square pattern.

One group of bees encountered a sugar solution placed in the centre of the discs with a circular pattern of peppermint oil; the other group found the sweet rewards in discs with a cross-shaped pattern. Meanwhile, water was placed on the 'flowers' with the alternative pattern to those bearing the treat.

Once the bees drank from the sugar-bearing 'flowers' on more than eight out of ten consecutive occasions, the team deemed them trained and let them lose, one at a time, on another set of ten 'flowers.' Half of these had a peppermint cross pattern, and half had a circular pattern, with water placed in the centre of all of them.

The team found that the bees trained to head for flowers with a circular scent pattern preferentially spent time drinking on such flowers, even though there was no sugary treat, while those trained to go to the cross pattern preferred to drink from flowers with a peppermint cross.

Then, the team presented a group of trained bees with two sorts of unscented paper discs bearing a sugar drink, one with red dots arranged in a cross, the other with the dots arranged in a circle, and watched where the bees went on their first ten landings. The results showed that bees trained to bumble off to a peppermint-scented cross were more likely to choose to visit the cross-shaped array of red dots.

How un-bee-lieveable! Now, from the other side of the pond, comes this story from Ford, about how the company is going to do be doing its bit to help with the conservation of bees.

Back in June, Ford launched a global beekeeping programme, with six new honeybee hives at its Dearborn World Headquarters, in support of honeybee populations, the local ecosystem, and gardening and farming communities. 

"Sustainability is more than improving fuel economy and reducing waste," says Kim Pittel, Ford group vice president, sustainability, environment and safety engineering. "It's about improving the environment we live in for all, and that includes honeybees, pollinators and the ecosystems that depend on them."

According to the nonprofit organisation, Pollinator Partnership, honeybees are essential to the world's food supply, and are in dire need of help. 

The six new hives will be situated inside a walking path extension north of Ford World Headquarters. Ford employees who initiated the programme will serve as beekeepers managing the hives. This effort builds on Ford's beekeeping initiative at the historic Rouge factory in 2016. 

Ford designers created special hive shells, with over a dozen design concepts submitted, spanning a variety of formats and employing numerous materials ranging from wood, plant matter, acrylic, ceramics, mill foam, fibreglass, and metal. In the end, the concept of Chris Westfall, a designer of vehicle interiors, was chosen for its overall benefits to colony health. Titled, "Honeycomb Sail," the design features two sails that wrap around each beehive to provide a peaceful space away from the elements. The design takes cues both from bee wings and a thick drop of honey. One side allows for easy access by the beekeeper and the other entrance is sized just for the bees. 

Ford beekeepers will provide data on the 360,000 honeybees expected to inhabit all six hives, as the colonies grow to their full potential of 60,000 bees per hive by the height of summer, to the Sentinel Apiary Program, a collective of nearly 70 beekeepers from 26 states who track honeybee health and diseases nationally.

There are many ways in which you can get involved at home with helping the bees; a quick internet search will bring up a plethora of ideas, so you can get started straight away!

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