For Flight, Bees Rely on a Familiar Mechanism

The muscles that insects use for flight are necessarily specialized for extremely short, high-speed beats. Now, however, ultra-fast cameras and X-ray imaging suggest that bumblebees (and likely other insects) share their ancestral muscle-contraction mechanism with vertebrates. Hiroyuki Iwamoto and Naoto Yagi used X-ray diffraction techniques and cameras capable of recording 5,000 frames per second to get a good look — both inside and outside of the insect — at the stretch activation known to control flight in bumblebees.

This is a movie, courtesy of Science/AAAS, of the wing-beat of a bumblebee, containing a whole wing-beat cycle. The yellow dot indicates the wing position determined by software.

Read more about this research from the 22 August issue of Science Express here.

© 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

Wild Pollinators Crucial For Food Crops

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While much attention has been paid to the health of human-managed hives of honeybees, it may be that the decline of wild pollinators poses a more alarming threat to food production worldwide. In a massive international study of 41 major crops on six continents, Lucas Garibaldi and colleagues found that wild insects pollinate these crops more effectively than managed honeybees, leading to twice as much fruit set (flowers that develop into mature fruits or seeds) than the bees.

Read more about this research from the 28 February issue of Science Express here.

[Photo by Rufus Isaacs. Click the image for more information.]

© 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

Studies Show How Common Crop Pesticide Harms Bees

A pair of new studies reveals the multiple ways that a widely used insecticide harms bumblebees and honeybees. In recent years, honeybee populations have rapidly declined, in part due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Bumblebee populations have been suffering as well. Researchers have proposed multiple causes for these declines, including pesticides, but it’s been unclear exactly how pesticides are inflicting their damage. Both of the Science studies looked at the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides, which were introduced in the early 1990s and have now become one of the most widely used crop pesticides in the world.

Read more about this research from the 30 March issue of Science here.

[Image © Science/AAAS; click the image for caption information.]

© 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

Honeybee Genes Linked to Bold Behaviors

Being a honeybee scout is dangerous business and requires bold behavior. While some honeybees scout for both food and new nesting sites, other bees don’t do any scouting at all. Zhengzheng Liang of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues have identified specific differences in gene expression between bees with specific behaviors. The genetic mechanisms of scouting in honeybees appear to be similar to those associated with novelty-seeking behavior in vertebrate species, including humans.

Read more about this research from the 9 March issue of Science here.

[Image courtesy of Zachary Huang / beetography.com; click the image for caption information.]

© 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

Head-Butting Honeybees

Head-butting isn’t usually a good persuasion tactic for humans, but a new study shows that this behavior seems to help honeybees reach a consensus on new hive sites. In the decision-making process of swarming bees, where multiple “scout” bees relay information about suitable locations to other bees, the insects duke it out, head-butting each other until they come to a collective agreement. The process is akin to what happens in complex mammalian brains, where humans and other animals make decisions based on information relayed by multiple neurons.

Read more about this research from the 8 December issue of Science Express here.

[Image courtesy of Thomas D. Seeley; click the image for caption information.]

© 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

Evolving Orchids Needed Bees but Not Vice Versa

Orchids have evolved in response to bees, but surprisingly, bee evolution has not depended much on orchids, researchers report. It’s widely accepted that organisms may influence each other’s evolution when they have an antagonistic relationship, such as parasites and their hosts do. But the role of coevolution between free-living organisms with mutually beneficial relationships has been unclear.

Read more about this research from the 23 September issue of Science here.

[Click the image for caption information.]

© 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

© 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.