These bees were living in this backyard shed for at least 2 years. The landlord wanted to call an exterminator, but thankfully, the family who lived there, called @texasbeeworks to safely remove them. Watch this amazing process! 🙏🐝💛 #SaveTheBees
Bumblebees bite plants to make them flower early, surprising scientists
How it actually works remains a mystery, but if replicated by humans, it could be a boon for agriculture.
By Virginia Morell PUBLISHED May 21, 2020
A buff-tailed bumblebee flies among flowers in England. Many bumblebee species are declining due to climate change.Photograph by Stephen Dalton, Minden Pictures
Bumblebees aren’t merely bumbling around our gardens. They’re actively assessing the plants, determining which flowers have the most nectar and pollen, and leaving behind scent marks that tell them which blooms they’ve already visited. null
Now, a new study reveals that bumblebees force plants to flower by making tiny incisions in their leaves—a discovery that has stunned bee scientists.
“Wow! was my first reaction,” says Neal Williams, a bee biologist at the University of California, Davis. “Then I wondered, how did we miss this? How could no one have seen it before?”
Consuelo De Moraes, a chemical ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, had the same reaction when one of her students, Foteini Pashalidou,noticed buff-tailed bumblebees making tiny incisions in the leaves of their greenhouse plants. The insects didn’t seem to be carrying off the bits of leaves to their nests or ingesting them. null
Suspecting the bees were inducing the plants to flower, the team set up a series of experiments. The results show that when pollen sources are scarce, such as in a greenhouse or during early spring,bumblebees can force plants to bloom up to a month earlier than usual.
The research is promising for two reasons. For one, it strongly suggests bumblebees manipulate flowers, a particularly useful skill as warming temperatures worldwide are causing the pollinators to emerge before plants have bloomed. The insects depend nearly exclusively on pollen for food for themselves and their larvae in the early spring. (Read how bumblebees are going extinct in a time of climate chaos.)
It’s also a potential boost for the human food supply: If agriculturalists can coax their crops to flower early, it could increase food production of some plants.
For the study, De Moraes, Pashalidou—the study’s lead author—and colleagues placed flowerless tomato and black mustard plants in mesh cages with pollen-deprived buff-tailed bumblebee colonies. They then removed the plants after worker bees made five to 10 holes in their leaves.
The scientists also placed pollen-fed and pollen-deprived bumblebee colonies in mesh cages with the flowerless plants to compare their behaviors. Worker bees from the pollen-fed colonies rarely damaged the plants, while those from the pollen-deprived colonies busily did so.
To ensure that their results weren’t due to the lab’s artificial conditions, the scientists placed bumblebee colonies and a variety of flowerless plant species on their Zurich rooftop in late March 2018.
The bees—a very common European species—were free to forage as far afield as they liked. Yet they set to work damaging the leaves on all the nonflowering plants nearest to their hives. The bees’ interest in this activity tapered off toward the end of April as more local flowers came into bloom—again, establishing that the bees’ leaf-biting behavior is driven by the availability of pollen, the scientists say. (See seven intimate pictures that reveal the beauty of bees.)
They continued their rooftop experiment through July and found that wild workers from two other bumblebee species (B. lapidgrius and B. lucorum) came to their nonflowering patch of plants to puncture the leaves.
It remains to be seen how widespread the behavior is in other bumblebees, over 250species of which are found around the world, the authors say.
But neither benefits if they’re out of synch with each other, so they’ve found ways to communicate. Saving Bumblebees Became This Photographer’s Mission
“That’s what this study shows,” says Lars Chittka, a behavioral ecologist at Queen Mary University of London, who wrote an essay accompanying the Science paper. “In a sense, the bees are signaling, Hey, we need food. Please speed up your flowering, and we’ll pollinate you.”
“It’s a very sophisticated type of communication,” adds Santiago Ramirez, a chemical ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It seems bees have cracked the code that causes plants to flower.”
But many questions remain. Why do the incisions cause the plants to flower?
And, asks Chittka, “Does flowering early lead to higher fitness for the plants—meaning, do they have a larger number of offspring?”
Boost for agriculture?
When the study authors used metal forceps and a razor to mimic the holes the bees made, the plants bloomed earlier than normal, but not as soon as they did in response to the bees’ bites.
“They do something we haven’t quite captured,” says study co-author Mark Mescher, an evolutionary ecologist also at the Swiss institute. “It could be they introduce a biochemical or odor cue” from a saliva gland. “We hope to figure this out.”
Vespa mandarinia — a.k.a. the Asian giant hornet or, as it’s come to be known in the U.S., the “murder hornet.”(Gary Alpert / en.wikipedia) By Jeanette Marantos Staff Writer May 8, 202012:39 PM
People, get a grip. Yes, the Asian giant hornet, now famously known as the “murder hornet,” is one huge scary wasp, capable of decimating an entire colony of honeybees and savagely stinging and possibly killing humans who get in their way.
But since last week, when it was reported that two hornets were spotted for the first time in Washington state, the national panic has led to the needless slaughter of native wasps and bees, beneficial insects whose populations are already threatened, said Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist for the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside. (Bees, for one, are the planet’s pollinators-in-chief, pollinating approximately 75% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Millions and millions of innocent native insects are going to die as a result of this,” Yanega said today. “Folks in China, Korea and Japan have lived side by side with these hornets for hundreds of years, and it has not caused the collapse of human society there. My colleagues in Japan, China and Korea are just rolling their eyes in disbelief at what kind of snowflakes we are.” Advertisement Ad
The worries started on May 2, after the New York Times reported that a beekeeper in Custer, Wash., found an entire hive of bees destroyed in November 2019, their heads ripped from their bodies. Then two Asian giant hornets were found near Blaine, just a few miles north, near the U.S.-Canadian border.
One of the hornets was found dead on a porch. The other reportedly flew away into the woods, Yanega said, and since then Washington entomologists have been on the lookout, encouraging residents to set out traps for the hornets so authorities can find and destroy any nests before they can grow. Advertisement null
Queens are the biggest of the world’s biggest hornets. They can grow to 2 inches from their cartoonish Spider-Man-type face (with vicious mandibles) to their quarter-inch-long stinger that can puncture heavy clothing. They hibernate, Yanega said, so scientists speculate that at least two hornet queens hitched a ride to the New World on a cargo ship, the first time it’s known to have happened “in over a century of significant maritime commerce between Vancouver and Southeast Asia.”
Asian giant hornets are native to Southeast Asia, Yanega said, so finding a knob of them at the western point of the Washington-British Columbia border was reason for alarm. A nest had been discovered and destroyed earlier that fall in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, around 80 miles from Blaine, Wash., but genetic tests showed that the dead hornet found on the porch was not related to the colony destroyed in Nanaimo, Yanega said.
Unlke honeybees, hornet queens create their first nests by themselves, he said, feeding their larvae until they hatch and become a little worker force. Then the queen “retires” to just lay eggs while the workers go out and collect food. Her early eggs are sterile, and she can’t create new queens until the fall.
Which is why, if there are nests in Washington, Yanega said, it’s important to find them now. “Queens have to go all the way from April to September before they can have their own reproductive offspring,” he said. “If we can intercept them any time in between there, we can kill them, and that’s that.”
But that’s in Washington, in the most northwest point of the contiguous U.S., and as of today there still haven’t been any reported sightings, Yanega said. In the meantime, freaked-out people across the U.S. have started putting out traps, Yanega said, and state apiarists (beekeepers) in Kentucky and Tennessee have announced plans to put out traps this month.
Unfortunately, the bait in those traps — a mixture of orange juice and rice cooking wine — is attractive to all kinds of native insects, Yanega said, and so far, that’s all people have been catching.
Considering the nuisance they can be at picnics and other outdoor events, some people might not fret about killing bees or wasps, giant or not, “but they are significant beneficial insects,” Yanega said. “They eat several times their weight in caterpillars from people’s vegetable gardens and ornamental plants, so indiscriminately killing them does much more harm than good.” Advertisement https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0
Beekeepers in Asia have learned how to adapt to the hornets, using special screens to keep them out, and Japanese honeybees have even evolved to form their own defensive tactics, creating a “bee ball” around invading hornets to suffocate them, according to National Geographic. And in China and other countries, some people think the hornet pupae and larvae are delicious. “People consume them,” Yanega said. “You can buy them in cans.”
In fact, the hornets go by any number of names in Asia. Just in Japan alone, it’s known as the big hornet, the yellow hornet, the great whale bee and the great sparrow bee, Yanega said. The “murder hornet” name came from a TV Asahi television network, he said, which began using the name in one of its programs around 2004. Advertisement null
“It took all that time for that name to be translated into English for our newspapers, and it’s really unfortunate,” Yanega said.
“I don’t want to downplay this — they are logistically dangerous insects. But having people in Tennessee worry about this is just ridiculous. The only people who should be bothering experts with concerns about wasp IDs are living in the northwest quadrant of Washington (state). And really, right now, nobody else in the country should even be thinking about this stuff.”LifestyleLatestPlants Newsletter Eat your way across L.A.
Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter for reviews, news and more from critics Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega. You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times. Jeanette Marantos Jeanette Marantos has been a writer for the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report since 2015 and the Saturday garden section since 2016, a yin and yang that keeps her perspective in balance. More From the Los Angeles Times
Sightings of the Asian giant hornet have prompted fears that the vicious insect could establish itself in the United States and devastate bee populations.
May 2, 2020Updated 8:05 p.m. ET
BLAINE, Wash. — In his decades of beekeeping, Ted McFall had never seen anything like it.
As he pulled his truck up to check on a group of hives near Custer, Wash., in November, he could spot from the window a mess of bee carcasses on the ground. As he looked closer, he saw a pile of dead members of the colony in front of a hive and more carnage inside — thousands and thousands of bees with their heads torn from their bodies and no sign of a culprit.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around what could have done that,” Mr. McFall said.
Only later did he come to suspect that the killer was what some researchers simply call the “murder hornet.”
With queens that can grow to two inches long, Asian giant hornets can use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to wipe out a honeybee hive in a matter of hours, decapitating the bees and flying away with the thoraxes to feed their young. For larger targets, the hornet’s potent venom and stinger — long enough to puncture a beekeeping suit — make for an excruciating combination that victims have likened to hot metal driving into their skin.
In Japan, the hornets kill up to 50 people a year. Now, for the first time, they have arrived in the United States.
Mr. McFall still is not certain that Asian giant hornets were responsible for the plunder of his hive. But two of the predatory insects were discovered last fall in the northwest corner of Washington State, a few miles north of his property — the first sightings in the United States.
Scientists have since embarked on a full-scale hunt for the hornets, worried that the invaders could decimate bee populations in the United States and establish such a deep presence that all hope for eradication could be lost.
“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”
On a cold morning in early December, two and a half miles to the north of Mr. McFall’s property, Jeff Kornelis stepped on his front porch with his terrier-mix dog. He looked down to a jarring sight: “It was the biggest hornet I’d ever seen.”
The insect was dead, and after inspecting it, Mr. Kornelis had a hunch that it might be an Asian giant hornet. It did not make much sense, given his location in the world, but he had seen an episode of the YouTube personality Coyote Peterson getting a brutal sting from one of the hornets.
Beyond its size, the hornet has a distinctive look, with a cartoonishly fierce face featuring teardrop eyes like Spider-Man, orange and black stripes that extend down its body like a tiger, and broad, wispy wings like a small dragonfly.
Mr. Kornelis contacted the state, which came out to confirm that it was indeed an Asian giant hornet. Soon after, they learned that a local beekeeper in the area had also found one of the hornets.
Dr. Looney said it was immediately clear that the state faced a serious problem, but with only two insects in hand and winter coming on, it was nearly impossible to determine how much the hornet had already made itself at home.
Over the winter, state agriculture biologists and local beekeepers got to work, preparing for the coming season. Ruthie Danielsen, a beekeeper who has helped organize her peers to combat the hornet, unfurled a map across the hood of her vehicle, noting the places across Whatcom County where beekeepers have placed traps.
“Most people are scared to get stung by them,” Ms. Danielsen said. “We’re scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives.”
Adding to the uncertainty — and mystery — were some other discoveries of the Asian giant hornet across the border in Canada.
In November, a single hornet was seen in White Rock, British Columbia, perhaps 10 miles away from the discoveries in Washington State — likely too far for the hornets to be part of the same colony. Even earlier, there had been a hive discovered on Vancouver Island, across a strait that probably was too wide for a hornet to have crossed from the mainland.
Crews were able to track down the hive on Vancouver Island. Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper and entomologist in the town of Nanaimo, was assigned to exterminate it.
He set out at night, when the hornets would be in their nest. He put on shorts and thick sweatpants, then his bee suit. He donned Kevlar braces on his ankles and wrists.
But as he approached the hive, he said, the rustling of the brush and the shine of his flashlight awakened the colony. Before he had a chance to douse the nest with carbon dioxide, he felt the first searing stabs in his leg — through the bee suit and underlying sweatpants.
“It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” he said. He ended up getting stung at least seven times, some of the stings drawing blood.
Jun-ichi Takahashi, a researcher at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan, said the species had earned the “murder hornet” nickname there because its aggressive group attacks can expose victims to doses of toxic venom equivalent to that of a venomous snake; a series of stings can be fatal.
The night he got stung, Mr. Bérubé still managed to eliminate the nest and collect samples, but the next day, his legs were aching, as if he had the flu. Of the thousands of times he has been stung in his lifetime of work, he said, the Asian giant hornet stings were the most painful.
After collecting the hornet in the Blaine area, state officials took off part of a leg and shipped it to an expert in Japan. A sample from the Nanaimo nest was sent as well.
A genetic examination, concluded over the past few weeks, determined that the nest in Nanaimo and the hornet near Blaine were not connected, said Telissa Wilson, a state pest biologist, meaning there had probably been at least two different introductions in the region.
Dr. Looney went out on a recent day in Blaine, carrying clear jugs that had been made into makeshift traps; typical wasp and bee traps available for purchase have holes too small for the Asian giant hornet. He filled some with orange juice mixed with rice wine, others had kefir mixed with water, and a third batch was filled with some experimental lures — all with the hope of catching a queen emerging to look for a place to build a nest.
He hung them from trees, geo-tagging each location with his phone.
In a region with extensive wooded habitats for hornets to establish homes, the task of finding and eliminating them is daunting. How to find dens that may be hidden underground? And where to look, given that one of the queens can fly many miles a day, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour?
The miles of wooded landscapes and mild, wet climate of western Washington State makes for an ideal location for the hornets to spread.
In the coming months, Mr. Looney said, he and others plan to place hundreds more traps. State officials have mapped out the plan in a grid, starting in Blaine and moving outward.
The buzz of activity inside a nest of Asian giant hornets can keep the inside temperature up to 86 degrees, so the trackers are also exploring using thermal imaging to examine the forest floors. Later, they may also try other advanced tools that could track the signature hum the hornets make in flight.
If a hornet does get caught in a trap, Dr. Looney said, there are plans to possibly use radio-frequency identification tags to monitor where it goes — or simply attach a small streamer and then follow the hornet as it returns to its nest.
While most bees would be unable to fly with a disruptive marker attached, that is not the case with the Asian giant hornet. It is big enough to handle the extra load.
Farah R. | Positive Outlooks
Morgan Freeman has a long list of titles to his name – esteemed American actor, philanthropist, a narrator, film director, and most recently – beekeeper.
The Shawshank Redemption star has converted his 124-acre Mississipi ranch into a bee sanctuary, with a mission to help counter the decreasing population of these insects. Freeman first got his hands into beekeeping in 2014. He talked about this endeavor when he guested on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Prior to his appearance on the show, he had only been beekeeping for a few weeks.
During his interview, Freeman discussed his firsthand experience with the bees as well as the important role of these insects in the preservation of a healthy environment.
He spoke about why he started beekeeping, saying:
“There is a concerted effort for bringing bees back onto the planet…We do not realize that they are the foundation, I think, of the growth of the planet, the vegetation…”
26 beehives were imported from Arkansas to his ranch in Mississippi. He has been working with the bees by feeding them sugar water and admitted that he has never worn a bee suit and hat, revealing that they haven’t stung him yet. He also has no plans of harvesting their honey and disturbing their beehives for money.
“They haven’t [stung me] yet, because right now I’m not trying to harvest honey or anything, I’m just feeding them… I think they understand, “Hey, don’t bother this guy, he’s got sugar water here.”‘, he shared.
To encourage the bees to visit his home, he has been growing bee-friendly plants in the ranch such as lavenders, clovers, magnolia trees, etc.
Freeman’s venture into beekeeping couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed Colony Collapse Disorder as a principal cause of bee population decline over the past five years.
If this decrease continues, a number of ecological and agricultural issues will arise, since bees are key plant pollinators. In fact, domestic and wild honeybees account for around 80 percent of worldwide pollination, according to data from Greenpeace.
The organization has reported that humans are responsible for the two main causes of declining bee populations: pesticides and habitat loss.
Bees have been dying due to other factors such as drought, nutrition deficit, global warming and air pollution among other factors.
Greenpeace suggested crucial steps that would help protect the bees significantly:
The elimination of the seven most dangerous pesticides
The preservation of wild habitat to protect pollinator health
The restoration of ecological agriculture
A big thanks to Morgan Freeman for doing his part to save the bees! May this inspire more people to follow his example and take their own steps in saving our planet.
Watch his interview below on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as he talks about his beekeeping venture.
The rusty patched bumble bee, which can be identified by a rust-colored patch on its abdomen, was once a commonly seen pollinator from the midwest to the east coast.
Unfortunately, scientists believe that they have disappeared from 87 percent of their historic range since just the 1990s and that their population has declined by more than 90 percent.
While conservation organizations have been working for years to help them, it wasn’t until 2016 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agreed that protection was warranted, and it wasn’t until 2017 that they were actually protected.
The listing marked the first time in history a bumble bee species has been federally protected, and the first time any bee has received federal protection in the continental U.S.
Still, this little bumble bee has continued to wait for the help it desperately needs. Under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS is legally required to designate critical habitat for protected species within one year of their listing, but has still managed to miss that date for this bumble bee – even with a one-year extension.
The agency is now facing a third lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of this bumble bee, which seeks to compel it to take action to protect their home from further destruction.
You can show your support for protecting the rusty patched bumble bee by signing and sharing this petition urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take immediate action to designate critical habitat for them.
Another study has cast doubt on the environmental safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the most frequently used weedkiller in the world.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) exposed bees to glyphosate and found that it reduced the beneficial bacteria in their guts, making them more susceptible to disease.
“We need better guidelines for glyphosate use, especially regarding bee exposure, because right now the guidelines assume bees are not harmed by the herbicide,” UT graduate student and research leader Erick Motta said in a UT press release. “Our study shows that’s not true.”
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, exposed bees to glyphosate amounts that occur on crops and roadsides and then assessed their gut health three days later.
Of eight common gut bacteria, four were reduced following exposure to glyphosate. The exposed bees also had higher mortality rates when subsequently exposed to the widespread pathogen Serratia marcescens.
The study’s authors wondered if glyphosate exposure could be a factor in the decline in U.S. bee populations and recommend that farmers and gardeners stop using glyphosate on flowering plants favored by pollinators.
“It’s not the only thing causing all these bee deaths, but it is definitely something people should worry about because glyphosate is used everywhere,” Motta said.
Monsanto, the company that made Roundup before being acquired by Bayer AG, disputed the findings.
“Claims that glyphosate has a negative impact on honey bees are simply not true. No large-scale study has found any link between glyphosate and the decline of the honeybee population. More than 40 years of robust, independent scientific evidence shows that it poses no unreasonable risk for humans, animal, and the environment generally,” a Monsanto spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Guardian.
RMIT University in Melbourne chemist Oliver Jones also expressed skepticism that the study meant glyphosate was actively harming bees in the environment.
“To my mind the doses of glyphosate used were rather high. The paper shows only that glyphosate can potentially interfere with the bacteria in the bee gut, not that it actually does so in the environment,” he told The Guardian.
Other studies have shown that glyphosate can harm bees and other animals, however.
A study published in July found glyphosate exposure harmed bee larvae and another, published in 2015, found bees exposed to levels present in fields had impaired cognitive abilities that made it harder for them to return to their hives, The Guardian reported.
A further study of rats also showed glyphosate exposure harmed gut bacteria.
“This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict,” University of Sussex Professor Dave Goulson told The Guardian.
Glyphosate’s impact on human health has been in the news in recent months after a jury decided in favor of a California groundskeeper who claimed that Roundup exposure caused his cancer and ordered Monsanto to pay him $289 million in damages.
Glyphosate is making its way into human guts too. A recent study found Roundup traces in popular oat-based snacks and cereals.
As summer enters into full bloom, it’s time to celebrate all the birds, bees and bugs that make the fruits and flowers possible. From June 18 to 24, Pollinator Partnership (P2) is celebrating National Pollinator Week, which was designated by the U.S. Senate 11 years ago and has grown into an international event.
Pollinators are birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and other small mammals that help plants reproduce by moving pollen grains from the male to female part of a plant. Plants can also self-pollinate or be pollinated by the wind, but one third of every bite of food we eat is thanks to animal pollinators, P2 reports.
You can support pollinators by creating a habitat for them in your yard, planting native or non-invasive plant species and avoiding pesticides, among other actions.
Here are some unique pollinators listed as endangered species in the U.S. to celebrate and protect this National Pollinators Week.
Mexican Long-Nosed Bat (Leptonycteris nivalis)
A Mexican long-nosed batUSFWS
While fellow agave-pollinator the lesser long-nosed bat was removed from the endangered species list this spring, the population of the Mexican long-nosed bat is still declining. These bats spend the winter in Mexico’s Central Valley feeding on a variety of flowers. In the spring, mother bats and their babies move north, some of them crossing the border into Texas and New Mexico to feed on agave and cacti. They then follow late-blooming agave south again in the fall, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
According to a Center for Biological Diversity report, the bat is one of 93 endangered, threatened or candidate species likely to be harmed by President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, and its migration patterns serve as a reminder that borders are artificial, not natural, barriers. In addition to opposing the border wall, if you live in Texas or New Mexico, you can support the Mexican long-nosed bat by avoiding entering caves or other potential roosting sites where bats may be resting, refraining from cutting plants the bats may depend upon and planting agave in your yard, Texas Parks and Wildlife advises.
‘Ākohekohe (Palmeria dolei)
The ‘ĀkohekoheEric VanderWerf / USFWS
The ‘Ākohekohe, or crested honeycreeper in English, is the largest bird of its type on the island of Maui. It used to have a range of 485 square miles on both Maui and Moloka’i but now just inhabits five percent of its historic territory, living mostly on the Haleakala volcano. It pollinates the ōhia plant, which is also its main food source, according to its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) page.
Long threatened by deforestation and invasive species, the ‘Ākohekohe is now further at risk as climate change expands the range of malaria-carrying mosquitoes into Maui’s mountains, the Audubon Society reported in 2015. Scientists are working to reduce the mosquito population by removing larvae and introducing sterilized mosquitoes.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis)
The rusty patched bumble beeSusan Carpenter; University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum / USFWS
In 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee became the first wild bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, Reuters reported. The species has declined by 87 percent in the last 20 years, according to its USFWS page. The USFWS blames disease, climate change, pesticides, habitat loss and intensive agriculture.
The USFWS also provides tips for backyard conservationists. It is important to plant a range of native, flowering plants that bloom from April through October. Here is a list of species the bees have been known to favor. Avoiding pesticides is also crucial. Because bees and other pollinators need safe places to nest and winter, the USFWS further recommends leaving part of your yard unmowed during the summer and some leaves unraked during the fall.
The Karner Blue Butterfly (Lyceaides melissa samuelis)
A male Karner blue butterflyPaul Labus / USFWS
The Karner blue butterfly depends on specialized habitats in the Midwestern and Northeastern U.S. where wild blue lupine bloom, since Karner blue caterpillars only feed on wild blue lupine leaves, according to the species’ USFWS page. Wild blue lupine grow in the sandy parts of pine barrens, oak savannas and lakeshore dunes and usually require fires or other disturbances to open sunny spots for them.
As fire suppression and general habitat destruction have increased, patches of wild blue lupine have decreased and with them the Karner blue butterfly’s habitat. More butterflies now live in Michigan and Wisconsin, where the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge provides a haven. The USFWS is working to reintroduce the butterflies and their unique habitat in Ohio, New Hampshire and Indiana since habitats that support lupines and butterflies also support other rare species like frosted elfin (
), phlox moth
persius dusky wing (
), prairie fameflower
) and the western slender glass lizard
Ban neonicotinoids from pesticide products used for agriculture
Moira Vodila started this petition to Monsanto and 1 other
Since 1990, beekeepers have noticed a drastic decline in the bee population. Bee colonies have been disappearing left and right due to the excess use of Neonicotinoids. These chemicals are harmful to the species and are causing a pandemic for these honeybees. Before planting, some might use a product by Monsanto or Bayer to help the plants with pesticides. By doing this, though, they have made it so when a bee goes to pollinate, it will get sick to the point where it will not be able to survive. More and more bees have not been able to live through the winters because of the harmful chemicals left in their bodies. Without bees, we will lose a drastic amount of agricultural products, which will hurt not only the food industry, but our economy.
This petition is to ban the use of neonicotinoids in our pesticides. It is far more harmful to the insects and is killing off species. We must make a change if we do not want to see our food die off or become unsustainable. The bees are far more important to the human race than we make them out to be. Not only do they provide honey, they pollinate our agriculture and give us a source of food. We must save the bees to save ourselves.
In mid-January, the snow made the little coastal town of Šventoji in north-west Lithuania feel like a film set. Restaurants, shops and wooden holiday cabins all sat silently with their lights off, waiting for the arrival of spring.
I found what I was looking for on the edge of the town, not far from the banks of the iced-over Šventoji river and within earshot of the Baltic Sea: Žemaitiu alka, a shrine constructed by the Lithuanian neo-pagan organisation Romuva. Atop a small hillock stood 12 tall, thin, slightly tapering wooden figures. The decorations are austere but illustrative: two finish in little curving horns; affixed to the top of another is an orb emitting metal rays. One is adorned with nothing but a simple octagon. I looked down to the words carved vertically into the base and read ‘Austėja’. Below it was the English word: ‘bees’.
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This was not the first time I’d encountered references to bees in Lithuania. During previous visits, my Lithuanian friends had told me about the significance of bees to their culture.
Lithuanians don’t speak about bees grouping together in a colony like English-speakers do. Instead, the word for a human family (šeimas) is used. In the Lithuanian language, there are separate words for death depending on whether you’re talking about people or animals, but for bees – and only for bees – the former is used. And if you want to show a new-found Lithuanian pal what a good friend they are, you might please them by calling them bičiulis, a word roughly equivalent to ‘mate’, which has its root in bitė – bee. In Lithuania, it seems, a bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee.
A bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee
Seeing the shrine in Šventoji made me wonder: could all these references be explained by ancient Lithuanians worshipping bees as part of their pagan practices?
Lithuania has an extensive history of paganism. In fact, Lithuania was the last pagan state in Europe. Almost 1,000 years after the official conversion of the Roman Empire facilitated the gradual spread of Christianity, the Lithuanians continued to perform their ancient animist rituals and worship their gods in sacred groves. By the 13th Century, modern-day Estonia and Latvia were overrun and forcibly converted by crusaders, but the Lithuanians successfully resisted their attacks. Eventually, the state gave up paganism of its own accord: Grand Duke Jogaila converted to Catholicism in 1386 in order to marry the Queen of Poland.
This rich pagan history is understandably a source of fascination for modern Lithuanians – and many others besides. The problem is that few primary sources exist to tell us what Lithuanians believed before the arrival of Christianity. We can be sure that the god of thunder Perkūnas was of great importance as he is extensively documented in folklore and song, but most of the pantheon is based on guesswork. However, the Lithuanian language may provide – not proof, exactly, but clues, tantalising hints, about those gaps in the country’s past.
In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, I spoke to Dalia Senvaitytė, a professor of cultural anthropology at Vytautas Magnus University. She was sceptical about my bee-worshipping theory, telling me that there may have been a bee goddess by the name of Austėja, but she’s attested in just one source: a 16th-Century book on traditional Lithuanian beliefs written by a Polish historian.
It’s more likely, she said, that these bee-related terms reflect the significance of bees in medieval Lithuania. Beekeeping, she explained “was regulated by community rules, as well as in special formal regulations”. Honey and beeswax were abundant and among the main exports, I learned, which is why its production was strictly controlled.
But the fact that these references to bees have been preserved over hundreds of years demonstrates something rather interesting about the Lithuanian language: according to the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, it’s the most conservative of all living Indo-European languages. While its grammar, vocabulary and characteristic sounds have changed over time, they’ve done so only very slowly. For this reason, the Lithuanian language is of enormous use to researchers trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European, the single language, spoken around four to five millennia ago, that was the progenitor of tongues as diverse as English, Armenian, Italian and Bengali.
All these languages are related, but profound sound shifts that have gradually taken place have made them distinct from one another. You’d need to be a language expert to see the connection between English ‘five’ and French cinq – let alone the word that Proto-Indo-Europeans are thought to have used, pénkʷe. However, that connection is slightly easier to make out from the Latvian word pieci, and no trouble at all with Lithuanian penki. This is why famous French linguist Antoine Meillet once declared that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”.
Lines can be drawn to other ancient languages too, even those that are quite geographically distant. For example, the Lithuanian word for castle or fortress – pilis – is completely different from those used by its non-Baltic neighbours, but is recognisably similar to the Ancient Greek word for town, polis. Surprisingly, Lithuanian is also thought to be the closest surviving European relative to Sanskrit, the oldest written Indo-European language, which is still used in Hindu ceremonies.
This last detail has led to claims of similarities between Indian and ancient Baltic cultures. A Lithuanian friend, Dovilas Bukauskas, told me about an event organised by local pagans that he attended. It began with the blessing of a figure of a grass snake – a sacred animal in Baltic tradition – and ended with a Hindu chant.
I asked Senvaitytė about the word gyvatė. This means ‘snake’, but it shares the same root with gyvybė, which means ‘life’. The grass snake has long been a sacred animal in Lithuania, reverenced as a symbol of fertility and luck, partially for its ability to shed its skin. A coincidence? Perhaps, but Senvaitytė thinks in this case probably not.
The language may also have played a role in preserving traditions in a different way. After Grand Duke Jogaila took the Polish throne in 1386, Lithuania’s gentry increasingly adopted not only Catholicism, but also the Polish language. Meanwhile, rural Lithuanians were much slower to adopt Christianity, not least because it was almost always preached in Polish or Latin. Even once Christianity had taken hold, Lithuanians were reluctant to give up their animist traditions. Hundreds of years after the country had officially adopted Christianity, travellers through the Lithuanian countryside reported seeing people leave bowls of milk out for grass snakes, in the hope that the animals would befriend the community and bring good luck.
Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant
Similarly, bees and bee products seem to have retained importance, especially in folk medicine, for their perceived healing powers. Venom from a bee was used to treat viper bites, and one treatment for epilepsy apparently recommended drinking water with boiled dead bees. But only, of course, if the bees had died from natural causes.
But Lithuanian is no longer exclusively a rural language. The last century was a tumultuous one, bringing war, industrialisation and political change, and all of the country’s major cities now have majorities of Lithuanian-speakers. Following its accession to the EU in 2004, the country is now also increasingly integrated with Europe and the global market, which has led to the increasing presence of English-derived words, such as alternatyvus (alternative) and prioritetas (priority).
Given Lithuania’s troubled history, it’s in many ways amazing the language has survived to the present day. At its peak in the 14th Century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched as far as the Black Sea, but in the centuries since, the country has several times disappeared from the map entirely.
It’s too simplistic to say that Lithuanian allows us to piece together the more mysterious stretches in its history, such as the early, pagan years in which I’m so interested. But the language acts a little like the amber that people on the eastern shores of the Baltic have traded since ancient times, preserving, almost intact, meanings and structures that time has long since worn away everywhere else.
And whether or not Austėja was really worshipped, she has certainly remained a prominent presence. Austėja remains consistently in the top 10 most popular girls names in Lithuania. It seems that, despite Lithuania’s inevitable cultural and linguistic evolution, the bee will always be held in high esteem.
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At long last, bee-killing pesticides will be restricted by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has agreed to reduce the use and manufacture of products containing harmful chemicals called neonicotinoids. Applaud the EPA for taking a stand against these known pollinator killers.
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