Invasion of the body-snatchers

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Twigs with perfectly round holes in the ends often turn out to be the nests of Ceratina, pygmy carpenter bees.  I found some nests in southern Greece, near Monemvasia, last spring.   I opened one up and found a peculiar specimen with yellow antennae.  When I looked at it more closely, I realized that the yellow appendages were fungal hyphae sticking out of the bee’s head.  The rest of the fungus was growing inside the bee.  The bee was still alive, but hardly moving.

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Three-minute thesis prize for Bee Lab undergrad, Andrea Cardama!

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Brock’s undergrad Math and Science Council recently held a Three-Minute Thesis competition.  Undergrads working on 4th year research theses gave three minute presentations on their research progress.   Andrea’s research is on gene expression patterns and how they relate to … Continue reading

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If you have a Dalmatian, bee biologists need you…

Nice hair, dude.

Nice hair, dude.

Sam Droege is kind of a rock star among bee biologists.  Sam works for the US Geological Survey and spends his time devising biodiversity surveys.  His specialty is collecting, identifying, photographing and publicizing bees.  Like any good publicist and society photographer, Sam wants his subjects to look their best.  Turns out, grooming a bee is best accomplished with tiny brushes made of hairs from Dalmation dogs.  Their hairs are forked, which is perfect for buffing and brushing bees.

Our national broadcaster picked up on this  – here’s Monday’s interview from As It Happens:  http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/features/2015/01/26/dog-hair-needed-for-cleaning-bees/.

(Editorial note:  if Sam was a federal scientist in Canada, this interview could never have happened.  US government scientists are free to talk to the CBC, but Canadian government scientists are not! )

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Recommended read: Eric Grissell’s Bees, Wasps, and Ants

I recently read a great book, Eric Grissell’s Bees, Wasps, and Ants – The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in the Garden.  I picked it up at my favourite bookstore, which specializes in remaindered books, and sometimes sells some real gems at cut rate prices.

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Grissell is a retired entomologist who used to study parasitic Hymenoptera.  It seems that he now spends a good deal of time observing and conserving the ecology of his garden.  As he points out, gardens are often full of unappreciated animal life.  Why unappreciated?  Most people don’t even notice most of the bees, wasps and ants in their gardens.  Even when they do notice the myriad denizens sharing their local environment, they usually don’t recognize them or know much about their roles in garden ecology.  This is even true for biologists like myself, and I study bees for a living!  So I was delighted to find this book.  It’s written in a highly engaging and often entertaining style that should appeal to anyone interested in the micro-ecology of their gardens.  Indeed, it is so easy to read that I had to pace myself and keep to a strict quota of no more than an hour’s read every morning – as it was, I was usually late doing my morning chores until I finished the book!

My favourite part of the book, surprisingly, was section 1, An Overview of Bees, Wasps, and Ants.  As a PhD student, I audited a course called Biology of the Hymenoptera, taught by Laurence Packer at York (I was also the teaching assistant who ran the labs) – reading this section was like reviewing that course.  I had forgotten a lot!

Most people think all bees are honeybees although a few people recognize bumblebees and carpenter bees if they’re drilling holes in their decks.  One of the great aggravations of my career is not that ordinary people don’t recognize bees other than honeybees and bumblebees, but that a lot of scientists studying bee social evolution don’t either!  I was therefore completely delighted with the introduction to the chapter on bees.  It perfectly expresses my feelings- I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing a wee bit, substituting some of my favourite bees in the square brackets:

Mention the word bee and our perspective on the subject immediately turns to the honey bee.  On a good day we might even follow this with thoughts of bumble bees or carpenter bees.  At that point most of us will run out of any sorts of thoughts about bees at all.  But what of the [sweat bees and the little carpenter bees, what of the solitary bees], don’t they deserve our thoughts as well?

Read the book – anyone who likes bugs, bees, or gardens, scientist or non-scientist, will enjoy it.

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Bees that nest in snail shells

It isn’t a very common habit, but a few Osmia bees actually nest in snail shells.  The best known species are European, like Osmia bicolor, described in this link (written by BugGwen who writes for Wired Science), with wonderful embedded videos. Bees that nest in snail shells are not common in Canada.  In fact, as far as I know, the only species is a little blue one called Osmia conjuncta.  This bee is incredibly common  at our research sites in southern Ontario, but so far, seems to have been found nowhere else in Canada.  I keep trying to find nests, but despite collecting hundreds of land snail shells, I’ve only found a few shells with dead bee occupants.

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Return of short-haired bumblebees to Britain

Some good environmental news for a change – reintroduction of the the short-haired bumblebee to Britain seems to have worked!  The secret to successful reintroduction seems to be in providing lots of flowers with a return to floral hedgerows and field edges to mitigate the monocultures of modern agriculture.  For more details, click the link:

http://theconversation.com/bees-declared-extinct-30-years-ago-take-to-uk-skies-again-thanks-to-farmers-26987.

Our own studies also seem to show that “Plant it and they will come”.  We’ve been astonished by the quick return of bees to restored landfill sites after decades of absence.

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Seed bombs – a fun way to get more flowers and more bees!

Check out this great idea!  http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/save-bees-seed-bombs.html

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