Tag Archive: Bees


6a00d8341bf7f753ef01348877084d970c-500wi

In a landmark 2010 study, researchers found that bumblebees were able to figure out the most efficient routes among several computer-controlled “flowers,” quickly solving a complex problem that even stumps supercomputers. We already know bees are pretty good at facial recognition, and researchers have shown they can also be effective air-quality monitors. Bumblebees can solve the classic “traveling salesman” problem, which keeps supercomputers busy for days. They learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they find the flowers in a different order, according to the British study.

The traveling salesman problem is a  problem in computer science; it involves finding the shortest possible route between cities, visiting each city only once. Bees are the first animals to figure this out, according to Queen Mary University of London researchers. Bees need lots of energy to fly, so they seek the most efficient route among networks of hundreds of flowers using angles of sunlight, which helps them find their way home, researchers say. To do this, their tiny brains must pack a powerful memory.To test bee problem-solving, researchers Lars Chittka and Mathieu Lihoreau tested bees’ response to computer-controlled artificial flowers. They wanted to see whether the bees would go after the flowers in the order in which they were discovered, or if they would figure out the shortest route among all the flowers even as new ones were added. The bees explored the locations of the flowers and quickly figured out the shortest paths among them, according to a Queen Mary news release.This is no small feat, especially considering the tiny size of bee brains. When it comes to certain types of intelligence, size apparently does not matter. Earlier this year, researchers showed that bees recognize individual faces because they can make out the relative patterns that make up a face. The new research further suggests bees are highly sophisticated problem solvers, and that better understanding of their brains could improve our understanding of network problems like traffic flows, supply chains and epidemiology.
Advertisements

In a study published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, a team of scientists from ASU and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, led by Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, presented findings that show that tricking older, foraging bees into doing social tasks inside the nest causes changes in the molecular structure of their brains.

“We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae – the bee babies – they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them,” said Amdam. “However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function – basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, ‘What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?”

During experiments, scientists removed all of the younger nurse bees from the nest – leaving only the queen and babies. When the older, foraging bees returned to the nest, activity diminished for several days. Then, some of the old bees returned to searching for food, while others cared for the nest and larvae.  Researchers discovered that after 10 days, about 50 percent of the older bees caring for the nest and larvae had significantly improved their ability to learn new things.

Continue reading

Something is very wrong with the bees. Since 2006, the mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder has wiped out countless honeybee colonies throughout Europe and North America, and nobody knows why. But a weird parasite may hold the answer.

Honeybees are a natural target of a parasitic fly species called Apocephalus borealis. These tiny insects actually deposit their eggs in the bee’s abdomen, and after seven days the newly hatched larvae push their way out of the bee through the space between the bee’s head and thorax. This, of course, kills the bees.

It’s what happens between those two events that is capturing the attention of scientists. The bees, seemingly aware in some way of their impending doom, abandon their colony and fly around aimlessly, spending most of their time buzzing around the nearest bright lights. Researchers at San Francisco State who have observed this phenomenon say the bees simply walked around aimlessly, as though the parasites inside them had transformed them into the bee equivalent of zombies.

According to researcher Andrew Core, that connection became particularly strong as the parasitized bees tried desperately to keep moving. Like a normal bee at the point of death, these bees would sit in one place and curl up in a ball. But the zombie bees kept trying to move despite their deathlike pose, repeatedly stretching out their legs and trying to stand up before falling down once again.

In previous work, Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley clarified how scout bees in a honeybee swarm perform “waggle dances” to prompt other scout bees to inspect a promising site that has been found.

In the new study, Seeley, a professor of neurobiology and behavior, reports with five colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom that scout bees also use inhibitory “stop signals” – a short buzz delivered with a head butt to the dancer – to inhibit the waggle dances produced by scouts advertising competing sites. The strength of the inhibition produced by each group of scouts is proportional to the group’s size. This inhibitory signaling helps ensure that only one of the sites is chosen. This is especially important for reaching a decision when two sites are equally good, Seeley said.

Previous research has shown that bees use stop signals to warn nest-mates about such dangers as attacks at a food source. However, this is the first study to show the use of stop signals in house-hunting decisions.

Such use of stop signals in decision making is “analogous to how the nervous system works in complex brains,” said Seeley. “The brain has similar cross inhibitory signaling between neurons in decision-making circuits.”

%d bloggers like this: