Some species of bumble bees are disappearing at an alarming rate.
And that, in itself, is alarming.
A three-year study published Jan. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) “uncovered major losses in the relative abundance of several bumble bee species and declines in their geographic range since record-keeping began in the late 1800s,” according to a University of Illinois press release.
The interdisciplinary study, led by Sydney Cameron of the Department of Entomology and Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, showed that "declining bumble bee populations have lower genetic diversity than bumble bee species with healthy populations and are more likely to be infected with Nosema bombi, an intracellular parasite known to afflict some species of bumble bees in Europe."
“The national analysis found that the relative abundances of four of the eight species analyzed have declined by as much as 96 percent and that their surveyed geographic ranges have shrunk by 23 to 87 percent,” according to the news release. “Some of these contractions have occurred in the last two decades.”
Cameron and his colleagues studied eight of the 50 species of bumble bees found in North America. Of the eight, four are significantly in trouble.
Said Cameron: "They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg.”
Noted bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, today discussed the declining bumble bee population with KTVU Fox 2 health and science editor John Fowler. The segment aired tonight on the 6 o'clock news.
Thorp and Fowler walked around the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road. Thorp monitors the garden for bees.
The Cameron study looked at three western bumble bees: Bombus vosnesenskii (yellow-faced bumble bee), B. bifarius, and B. occidentalis.
Of those western bumble bees, only B. occidentalis is in decline “and that one only in the western part of its range,” Thorp told us.
“Although the study treated B. pensylvanicus as the eastern species in decline, the researchers did not consider its very close western relative, B. sonorus, which used to be very common here and the rest of the Central Valley, but has virtually disappeared here since about 2003,” Thorp said.
"Both these species are doing well from the southern USA down into Mexico, however. This is a curious reversal of what one would expect if global warming might be a cause.”
Bumble bees, commercially reared to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, pollinate about 15 percent of our food crops, valued at $3 billion, Thorp said.
Thorp has been tracking the now critically imperiled Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini) since 1998. "It has the most restricted distribution range of any bumble bee in North America and possibly the world. Its range is about 190 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west in a narrow stretch between southern Oregon and northern California between the coast and Sierra-Cascade range,” he said.
Its known distribution includes Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon and Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. It lives at elevations ranging from 540 feet in the north to 6800 feet in the south.
The decline, disappearance and possible demise of Franklin’s bumble bee, is closely linked to the widespread decline of native pollinators in North America, Thorp said, and should concern all facets of society. “The loss of a native pollinator could strike a devastating blow to the ecosystem, economy and food supply.”
Hmm, ever wonder why honey bees love salvia?
Are they going for that nectar or are they going for something else?
Salvia divinorum, which like all the salvias, is a member of the mint family, is gaining notoriety for its hallucinogenic effects. Videos on smoking salvia and the resulting psychedelic experiences materialize periodically on YouTube.
Now in research published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, scientists think that an active ingredient in salvia--salvinorin A--may be a potential treatment for "an array of neurological disorders, including addiction," according to an article posted today on the Good Morning America ABC site.
The headline teased "Salvia Studies Hold Promise for Addiction." The subhead: "Hallucinogen Salvia is Safe, Could Open Door to New Class of Drugs for Pain Therapies."
The researchers, led by psychologist Matthew W. Johnson, speculate that salvinorin A "could open the door to a whole new class of drugs that have powerful analgesic properties."
Salvia is a member of the mint family.
Are bees are in "mint condition?"
Is "salvia" the new buzzword?
Look for more research on salvinorin A.
Emcee Tom Turpin of Purdue University stood at the podium and acknowledged he might mispronounce an entomology student's name. "If it sounds anything like your name and I’m looking at you, that’s you."
So began the Linnaean Games, a college-bowl type competition that's as lively as it is entertaining and educational.
And it's all about insects, entomologists and entomological facts.
The Linnaean Games, held at the annual Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, is an event that pits student-teams against one another until a winner is declared. The 2010 event, hosted in San Diego, ended with Ohio State University winning the championship.
Students buzz in with the answers to questions such as:
What’s the loudest insect in the world? What is the egg case of a cockroach called? Kissing bugs, in the family Reduviidae, are vectors of what disease? About how long have insects been on earth? Give three official common names for Helicoverpa zea.
Ohio State defeated UC Davis, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Georgia and finally, in the championship game, toppled the University of Nebraska.
But first, the Ohio team of Joshua Bryant, Glene Mynhardt, Kaitlin Uppstrom and Nicola Gallagher had to get by the UC Davis team of Meredith Cenzer, Matan Shelomi, Andrew Merwin, and Ralph Washington.
As the crowd cheered them on, the two teams tied the score several times. Finally, with the score knotted at 90-90, Ohio correctly answered the final question to advance to the next round.
Tom Turpin of Purdue emceed the program while a trio of judges--J. E. McPherson of Southern Illinois University, Carol Annelli of Washington State University and Susan Weller of the University of Minnesota--scored the answers.
Each ESA branch sponsors a Linnaean Games competition and sends up to two teams to the nationals.
Pacific Branch sent UC Davis and Washington State University.
Southeastern Branch: University of Georgia and University of Florida
Eastern Branch: Pennsylvania State University (University of Maryland also won at the branch level but did not participate in the nationals)
North Central Branch: Ohio State University and the University of Nebraska
Southwestern Branch: New Mexico State and Texas A&M
Answers to the above questions (see sixth paragraph):
What’s the loudest insect in the world?
African cicada (Brevisana brevis); it has been measured at 106 decibels, (equivalent to a gas mower at 3 feet away).
What is the egg case of a cockroach called?
Kissing bugs, in the family Reduviidae, are vectors of what disease? Answer:
About how long have insects been on earth?
Some 400-380 million years ago.
Give three official common names for Helicoverpa zea?
Corn earworm, tomato fruitworm, and cotton bollworm
Other questions and answers included:
Which sexes of cicadas have tymbals and which have tympana?
Males have both. Females have only tympana.
What term is used to describe the antennae found on male mosquitoes? Answer:
Crickets are well-known music makers. What are the names of the two specialized structures that allow them to make that wonderful noise and where specifically on the body are they located?
File and scraper, located on the forewings.
At what American school was the first entomology class taught and who was the teacher?
Harvard (1805-1822) W.D. Peck.
In the Amazon rain forest, what are the common names of two groups of insects that make up about 1/3 of the biomass of all animals in the habitat?
Ants and termites.
Problems with honey bee hives in what state led to the recognition of colony collapse disorder?
Name two orders of insects that are entirely predatory.
Odonata and Mantodea
The monarch is actually the second-most popular state insect. What insect is the most frequently adopted state insect?
Robert Frost wrote a poem that begins with the lines: “An ant on a table cloth ran into a dormant moth of many times his size.” As you might guess the poem is about ants. What is the title of the poem?
It's worth a pitcher of beer or the equivalent if you win Arthur Shapiro's 40th annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition, which begins Jan. 1, 2011.
Shapiro (right), a noted butterfly expert and a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology (EVE) at the University of California, Davis, sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight.
Why does he do this? "I am doing long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate," he said. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The Cabbage White is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, enlists public involvement "because I have that much more confidence that I am tracking the actual seasonality of this common 'bug.'"
The butterfly must be turned in alive to the receptionist in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during the business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The receptionist will certify that it is alive and then notify Shapiro, who will confirm the identification.
Collectors must include the precise location and time of their find (such as corner of Buck Avenue and West Street, Vacaville, Solano County, 7:44 a.m., Jan, 2, 2011) and provide their name and contact information (e-mail and/ or telephone).
"First flight dates in the past have varied between Jan.1 and Feb. 22," Shapiro said. "The first record in 2010 was on Jan. 27. Sight records without a capture are interesting but not eligible to win since the species cannot be verified."
"If you capture a Cabbage White on a weekend or holiday when the EVE office is closed, or cannot deliver it the day you catch it, refrigerate it; do not freeze it," he said. "It will keep up to a few days that way. Again, it must be alive when turned in to be eligible. If no receptionist is on duty when you arrive, ask any member of the EVE office staff to take care of it."
Oh, if you win a pitcher of beer, it's your choice of the brand. If you don't drink or you're a minor, not to worry. You'll get the equivalent in cash.
For more information, contact Shapiro at email@example.com, phone (530) 752-2176, or fax him at (530) 752-1449.
Speaking at the 58th annual Entomological Society of America's meeting in San Diego, Marley
related that he grew up in Oregon
hating bugs--especially their all encompassing, intertwining legs that seemed to be everywhere: on, near or around him. Later, while serving two years as a missionary in northern Chile, he continued to hate every bug that he encountered.
Gradually, his viewpoint changed. After studying fashion design at Brigham Young University and embarking on a fashion designer career that took him to scores of countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, he began to look at them in a different light. He began to appreciate them for their beauty, design, color, structure, texture, pattern, size and shape.
And their drama and diversity.
His first attempts to incorporate them into art were not easy. "I needed tweezers to handle the tweezers," he said of his initial efforts to overcome the emotional barrier.
Today Christopher Marley is an author and an artist with an art gallery, fittingingly named "Pheromone" in Salem, Ore.
"Pheromones," he explained, "are chemical stimulants that insects release to attract one another -- and they’ve been known to seduce the occasional human, too."
Deeply interested in entomology, Marley can tell you the scientific name of many insects, their host plants, what the larvae eat, and when, where and how to find them.
Marley drew the entomologists into his kaleidescope world with photo after photo of his work featuring insects collected in such faraway places as Malaysia, Borneo, New Guinea and Kenya. The crowd sat mesmerized. You could almost hear a scarab beetle drop.
His 256-page book, "Pheromone: The Insect Artwork of Christopher Marley," has drawn worldwide attention in the print and electronic media. He sells his work (including colorful calendars) at hundreds of galleries and stores in the United States and abroad.
Marley told the entomologists he wants folks to appreciate insects--and he hopes that his art will inspire, educate and enlighten them.
Collecting insects is not as simple as hiring collectors, he said. He acknowledged that he fills out "reams" of paper work for the collecting permits, export permits and import licenses.
Not everyone likes the fact that he collects insects for art. One person once told him: "I love insects and I’d rather see YOU in the frame of that book."
And not everyone likes the fact that he employs catchers to collect the insects. Some insects found in the faraway corners of the world are quite rare or rarely seen.
"But it's not so much 'rare' species as 'rare' ecosystems or habitats," Marley told the entomologists.
Marley said by employing people from other countries as catchers, he is contributing to their well-being and that of their families; aiding the poverty-stricken areas; and teaching humankind to protect the habitat that provides those insects.
Marley quoted Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
"I believe," Marley said, "that we will only love what we've experienced."