Bees have appeared on coins for millennia, hinting at an age-old link between sweetness and value

by Adrian Dyer, The Conversation
July 25, 2023

In 2022, the Royal Australian Mint issued a $2 coin decorated with honeybees. Around 2,400 years earlier, a mint in the kingdom of Macedon had the same idea, creating a silver obol coin with a bee stamped on one side.

Over the centuries between these two events, currency demonstrating a symbolic link between honey and money is surprisingly common.

In a recent study in Australian Coin Review, I trace the bee through numismatic history—and suggest a scientific reason why our brains might naturally draw a connection between the melliferous insects and the abstract idea of value.

What is currency and why is it important?
Money is a store of value, and can act as a medium of exchange for goods or services. Currency is a physical manifestation of money, so coins are a durable representation of value.

Coins have had central role in many communities to enable efficient trade since ancient times. Their durability makes them important time capsules.

Ancient Malta was famous for its honey. The modern 3 Mils coin (1972–81) celebrates this history with images of a bee and honeycomb. According to the information card issued with the coin set, “A bee and honeycomb are shown on the 3 Mils coin, symbolizing the fact that honey was used as currency in Ancient Malta.”

In ancient Greece, bees were used on some of the earliest coins made in Europe. A silver Greek obol coin minted in Macedon between 412 BCE and 350 BCE, now housed in the British Museum, shows a bee on one side of the coin.

Bees also feature on coins minted elsewhere in the ancient Greek world, such as a bronze coin minted in Ephesus dated between 202 BCE and 133 BCE.

The use of bees on ancient coins extended for many centuries including widely circulated bronze coins, and new varieties continue to be discovered.

Why we might like bees on coins
Why have bees appeared so often on coins? One approach to this question comes from the field of neuro-aesthetics, which seeks to understand our tastes by understanding the basic brain processes that underpin aesthetic appreciation.

From this perspective, it seems likely the sweet taste of honey—which indicates the large amount of sugar it delivers—promotes positive neural activity associated with bees and honey.

Indeed, primatologist Jane Goodall once proposed that obtaining high-calorie nutrition from bee honey may have been an important step in the cognitive development of primates.

Our brain may thus be pre-adapted to liking bees due to their association with the sweet taste of honey. Early usage of bees on coins may have been a functional illustration of the link between a known value (honey) and a new form of currency: coins as money.

The bee on modern coins
The use of bees as a design feature has persisted from ancient to modern times. A honeybee visiting a flower is shown on a series of ten-centesimi bronze coins issued in Italy from 1919 to 1937.

(As an aside, the world’s last stock of pure Italian honeybees is found in Australia, on Kangaroo Island, which was declared a sanctuary for Ligurian bees by an act of parliament in 1885.)

More recently, a 20-seniti coin from the Pacific nation of Tonga shows 20 honeybees flying out of a hive. This coin was part of a series initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to promote sustainable agricultural and cultural development around the world.

Bees are relevant here because their pollinating efforts contribute to about one-third of the food required to feed the world, with a value in excess of US$200 billion per year, and they are threatened by climate change and other environmental factors.

Bees on coins, today and tomorrow

Public awareness of bees and environmental sustainability may well be factors in the current interest in bee coins. The diversity of countries using bees as a design feature over the entire history of coins suggests people have valued the relationship with bees as essential to our own prosperity for a long time.

In Australia, the 2022 honeybee $2 coin is part of a series developed by the Royal Australian Mint. In 2019, the Perth Mint in Western Australia also released coins and stamps celebrating native bees.

Despite the decline of cash, bee coins still appear to be going strong. The buzzing companions of human society are likely to be an important subject for coin design for as long as coins continue to be used.

New study uses video to show honey bees switch feeding mechanisms as resource conditions vary

by Stephanie Baum
August 21, 2023

Within nature, the compatibility of animals’ feeding mechanisms with their food sources determines the breadth of available resources and how successfully the animals will feed. Those who feed on the nectar of flowers, such as honey bees (Apis mellifera), encounter a range of corolla depths and sugar concentrations. The nectar of flowers comprises the prime source of energy and water for honey bees, who are dominant pollinators throughout the world.

Regional climate conditions contribute to plants producing nectar in various volumes and concentrations, and evaporation and pollinator feeding frequently leaves the nectar reservoirs of flowers below capacity. Thus, honey bees’ ability to feed “profitably” under naturally varying resource conditions is advantageous.

An international research team has studied the feeding mechanisms of honey bees and has reported on how these bees switch between using suction and lapping to derive maximum benefit from flowers of varied sizes and concentrations of sugar. The team’s study, titled “Honey bees switch mechanisms to drink deep nectar efficiently,” is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS).

Prior research has studied suction and lapping feeding behaviors in honey bees, but this paper notes that earlier studies have included an “unnatural condition of virtually unlimited nectar supplies. Such large nectar pools are rare in the flowers they visit in the wild.”

In this study, the team shows that during feeding, the distance between the honey bees’ mouthparts and the nectar, as well as the concentration of sugar within the nectar, are determining factors in whether the bees procure it via suction or lapping.

The feeding mechanism of honey bees consists of a long, thin proboscis that includes a pair of labial palpi inside a pair of elongated galea (lobes). This structure serves as a feeding tube, and the bee’s hairy glossa (tongue) is situated inside.

For this study, the researchers pre-starved honey bees, fed them sucrose solutions of 10%, 30%, and 50% w/w contained in capillary tubes, and used high-speed videography to record the bees’ feeding behavior with each. Blue dye, which had no nutritional effect, was added to each solution for visual contrast, and the bees tolerated it well.

At the 10% w/w concentration, bees inserted their proboscides deep into the solution and extended their tongues beyond the proboscis tubes to suction the liquid until they could no longer reach the meniscus.

At 30% w/w—an approximate concentration commonly found in nature, according to the research—the bees began by quickly lapping the solution, slowing down as the liquid level receded, and gradually switched to suction until the liquid receded beyond their reach.

At 50% w/w, the bees lapped the solution, beginning rapidly and slowing as the liquid receded, and did not transition to suction at all. Notably, the bees showed a smaller decrease in lapping frequency at 50% w/w than during their transitions to suction at 30% w/w.

The researchers conclude that short-distance lapping helps honey bees most efficiently gather nectar to fill the maximum collection capacity of their tongues, but lapping at longer distances would be less efficient than suction due to more time needed for capillary filling. The decreased lapping frequency observed with the thickest of the tested nectars indicates an allowance for the capillary rise needed for maximum tongue-saturation capacity.

In summary, regardless of nectar depth, lapping is a better strategy for honey bees collecting nectars of high sugar concentrations, and suction is faster for those with lower concentrations of sugar.

The team also believes that the feeding mechanism switching behavior may be a unique ability among this species. Noting a previous study published in Soft Matter in which bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) did not switch between feeding behaviors with nectars of varying viscosities, the team in this study also used a solution of 10% w/w with bumble bees to test whether this would change according to their distance from the liquid, but it did not; the bumble bees only exhibited lapping.

Furthermore, previous research with orchid bees (Euglossini) has shown that they mainly use their long proboscides to procure nectar via suction, but that they have exhibited both suction and lapping with small amounts (films) of nectar. However, there is currently no evidence to show that orchid bees make this switch based on corolla depth or nectar properties.

The research team included members from China’s Sun Yat-Sen University School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and School of Advanced Manufacturing, The University of Washington Department of Biology and Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in the U.S., South Africa’s University of Pretoria Department of Zoology and Entomology; Belgium’s Université libre de Bruxelles, Nonlinear Physical Chemistry Unit and Université de Mons, Laboratoire InFlux; and Kiel University’s Department of Zoology in Germany.

To see the videos:

Farm Service Agency Reminds Texas Livestock Producers of Available Drought Assistance

Producers in more than 200 counties may be eligible

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Sept. 12, 2023  USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) reminds drought impacted producers that they may be eligible for financial assistance through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP), Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)and Emergency Haying and Grazing on Conservation Reserve Program to provide financial assistance to eligible producers for 2023 grazing losses due to a qualifying drought or fire and provide water for impacted livestock.

Producers across Texas have been faced with another significant drought year causing considerable economic hardship as they go to great lengths to provide adequate feed, forage and water for their livestock,” said Kelly Adkins, State Executive Director for FSA in Texas. “Producers who are eligible for the much-needed disaster recovery assistance are encouraged to contact their local FSA office to schedule an appointment to apply.” 

Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program

For eligible producers in qualifying counties, the ELAP provides financial assistance for:

the transportation of water to livestock;
the above normal cost of mileage for transporting feed to livestock; and
the above normal cost of transporting livestock to forage/grazing acres.*

*No payment for “empty miles.”

Eligible livestock include cattle, bison, goats and sheep, among others, that are maintained for commercial use and located in a county where qualifying drought conditions occur. A county must have had D2 severe drought intensity on the U.S. Drought Monitor for eight consecutive weeks during the normal grazing period, or D3 or D4 drought intensity at any time during the normal grazing period. Producers must have risk in both eligible livestock and eligible grazing land in an eligible county to qualify for ELAP assistance.

Transporting Water, Feed and Livestock

For ELAP water transportation assistance, producers must be transporting water to eligible livestock on eligible grazing land where adequate livestock watering systems or facilities were in place before the drought occurred and where water transportation is not normally required. ELAP covers costs associated with personal labor, equipment, hired labor, and contracted water transportation fees. Cost of the water itself is not covered. The ELAP payment formula uses a national average price per gallon.

ELAP also provides financial assistance to livestock producers who incur above normal expenses for transporting feed to livestock and who are hauling livestock to a new location for feed resources due to insufficient feed or grazing in drought-impacted areas.  For transporting feed or hauling livestock, the payment formula excludes the first 25 miles and any mileage over 1,000 miles.

Reimbursement Rates

The reimbursement rate for transporting water, feed, and livestock is 60% of the costs above what would normally have been incurred during the same time period in a normal (non-drought) year. Eligible underserved producers with a CCC-860 underserved producer certification form on filewith FSA may qualify for a 90% reimbursement rate.

An online tool is now available to help ranchers document and estimate payments to cover feed and livestock transportation costs caused by drought and view the demonstration video.

Reporting Losses

Producers must submit a notice of loss to their local FSA office within 30 calendar days of when the loss is apparent. Producers should contact FSA as soon as the loss of water or feed resources are known.

For ELAP eligibility, documentation of expenses is critical. Producers should maintain records and receipts associated with the costs of transporting water to eligible livestock, the costs of transporting feed to eligible livestock, the costs of additional feed purchases, and the costs of transporting eligible livestock to forage or other grazing acres.

The deadline to apply for 2023 ELAP is Jan. 30, 2024.

Livestock Forage Disaster Program

The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides payments to eligible livestock producers and contract growers who also produce forage crops for grazing and suffered losses due to a qualifying drought or fire during the normal grazing period for the county.  Eligible livestock include alpacas, beef cattle, buffalo/bison, beefalo, dairy cattle, deer, elk, emus, equine, goats, llamas, ostriches, reindeer, or sheep that have been or would have been grazing the eligible grazing land or pastureland during the normal grazing period. 

More than 200 Texas counties have met the drought severity levels that trigger LFP eligibility for the 2023 program year. For LFP, qualifying drought triggers are determined using theU.S. Drought MonitorA list of eligible counties and grazing crops can be found on the FSA Texas webpage.

To expedite the application process, producers are encouraged to gather and submit records documenting 2023 losses. Supporting documents may include information related to grazing leases, contract grower agreements, and more.

The deadline to apply for 2023 LFP assistance is Jan. 30, 2024.

Emergency Conservation Program

FSA offers cost-share assistance to livestock producers experiencing severe drought conditions where water available for livestock has been reduced below normal to the extent that, without access to additional water, livestock survival is threatened.

Approved practices may include installing pipelines or other facilities for livestock water, constructing and deepening wells for livestock water, installing portable electric pumps and developing springs or seeps for livestock water.

A producer qualifying for ECP assistance may receive cost shares not to exceed 75% of the approved payment scenario rate. Eligible underserved producers with a CCC-860 underserved producer certification form on file with FSA may qualify for a 90% reimbursement rate. Cost-share assistance is limited to $500,000 per person or legal entity per natural disaster.

Additional Drought and Wildfire Recovery Assistance

ELAP assistance is also available to producers impacted by wildfire. Contact the local FSA office for more information on ELAP resources for wildfire losses. Beekeepers can benefit from ELAP provisions and should contact their county FSA office within 15 calendar days of when a loss occurs or is apparent.

The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) provides benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather, including wildfire and ECP may also be able to assist with repairing or replacing fencing that was damaged by a wildfire.

The Tree Assistance Program provides cost-share assistance to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes, or vines lost due to drought. Additionally, ECP funds may be available to help with water needs for vineyards and orchards during severe drought.

The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops to protect against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevents crop planting including crops planted and grown for livestock consumptionsuch as grain and forage crops, including native forage. Eligible producers would have had to have obtained NAP coverage for the crop year in which the qualifying loss occurred.

FSA also offers a variety of direct and guaranteed farm loans, including operating and emergency farm loans, to producers who cannot secure commercial financing. Producers in counties with a primary or contiguous disaster designation may be eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. Loans can help producers replace essential property, purchase inputs like livestock, equipment, feed and seed, cover family living expenses or refinance farm-related debts and other needs. Additionally, FSA has a variety of loan servicing options available for borrowers who are unable to make scheduled payments on their farm loan debt to FSA because of reasons beyond their control.  

Also, qualifying borrowers can request FSA to cover their next installment due or a recently missed installment. Borrowers who are within two months of their next installment may seek a cash flow analysis from FSA using a recent balance sheet and operating plan to determine their eligibility and can submit requests for cash flow-based assistance in person at their local FSA office or by sending in a direct request using the 22006 assistance request portal at

More Information

Additional disaster assistance information can be found on, including the Drought Webpage, Wildfire Webpage, Disaster Assistance Discovery ToolDisaster Assistance-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Farm Loan Discovery Tool.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit


USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

Second Steps in Beekeeping is now open

Registration for Second Steps in Beekeeping is now open! Second Steps in Beekeeping – Choose Registration (

All classes are held virtually and ***all sessions are recorded*** so you can watch or catch up later.

This course, presented by Molly Keck – beekeeper and entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, is designed to help those who are within their first or second year of beekeeping answer “what’s next?”

However, anyone from just thinking of getting bees to more seasoned beekeepers who still need help are welcome to attend.

October 9 –   

Recap of Honey Bee Biology  OR what’s happening inside the hive this time of year?

Recognizing Signs of Stress in the Hive and How to Remedy

Requeening Hives


October 11 –  

Splitting and Combining Hives

Winter Preparation

Spring Chores


October 16 –
Fire Ants, Wax Moths, Small Hive Beetles

Varroa Mite Monitoring & Management




Research boosts honey bee protection against deadly viruses


by Geitner Simmons | IANR Media

America’s honey bee population faces enormous stress. During 2022, nearly half the nation’s managed colonies were lost. A central threat is the Varroa mite, a parasite whose spread of viruses regularly triggers catastrophic colony loss.

However, new research findings by a group of scientists, including Husker entomologist Troy Anderson, could provide a breakthrough in combating the threat.

Through field study and cutting-edge biochemical analysis, the researchers have identified a specific drug treatment that stimulates honey bees’ immune systems and dramatically strengthens protection against mite-facilitated viral assault.

Infected honey bees that received the treatment, Anderson and his colleagues reported, “had similar survival rates as uninfected bees.” Once colonies received treatment at the proper level via the drug pinacidil, their viral infection rates were reduced “to levels comparable to non-inoculated colonies.”

The team, led by researchers at Louisiana State University, explained its findings in an article recently published in Virology Journal.

“We’ve provided a critical proof of concept that you can find a therapeutic target to inhibit virus-mediated mortality in bees at the field level,” said Anderson, professor of entomology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “That is not only groundbreaking. It’s a huge step forward in being able to improve bee colony health with specific chemistries.”

With these research findings in hand, Anderson said the task now is to develop “novel therapeutics” — drug treatments — for commercial hives. This initial treatment approach identified by the researchers might be feasible for only some beekeepers, “but what we’ve shown is that we can regulate the immune system to provide some protection for bees against viruses,” he said. “So now we need to work on other drug treatments that may work better or are more cost-effective.”

To achieve the breakthrough, the scientists needed to understand the specifics of using pinacidil to administer the proper amount of reactive oxygen species — unstable molecules commonly known as free radicals — that can stimulate a body’s immune response. The reactive oxygen species, or ROS, produced the desired immune system activity by entering cells through potassium ion channels — biological entry points whose signaling regulates a wide range of cell activity.

The researchers needed to get the ROS level just right, Anderson said, because a level of free radicals too high can damage tissues, and a level too low fails to stimulate the immune system.

“A moderate increase in these ROS can benefit bees by enhancing their immune function, which is what we’ve done here with pinacidil treatments,” Anderson said.

The scientists delivered the drug through sugar water drizzled on beehive frames. Bees ingested the liquid and passed it on to younger bees.

Previous laboratory research by the scientists had indicated the likely viability of the treatment approach, and this new project confirmed the effectiveness in the field, using hives at Louisiana State University. The hives were sizable, with at least 80,000 honey bees per hive.

Over the past 12 years, the annual loss of colonies nationwide averaged 39.6%. In 2022, the figure stood at 48%, the second-highest mortality rate on record. Bee colony loss undercuts environmental sustainability and the U.S. agriculture sector, given the broad importance of honey bee pollination for many plants and crops.

Honey bee colonies “are complex, dynamic machines,” Anderson said, and affected by multiple stressors including parasites, pathogens, pesticides, landscape and climate change. By identifying treatment to address the Varroa mite and its viral-spreading capacity, this research addresses one of the gravest threats to bee colony health.



Bees evolved from ancient supercontinent, diversified faster than suspected


By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
July 31, 2023

PULLMAN, Wash. –The first bees evolved on an ancient supercontinent more than 120 million years ago, diversifying faster and spreading wider than previously suspected, a new study shows.

Led by Washington State University researchers, the study provides a new best estimate for when and where bees first evolved. Newly published in the journal Current Biology, the project reconstructed the evolutionary history of bees, estimated their antiquity, and identified their likely geographical expansion around the world.

The results indicate their point of origin was in western Gondwana, an ancient supercontinent that at that time included today’s continents of Africa and South America.

“There’s been a longstanding puzzle about the spatial origin of bees,” said Silas Bossert, assistant professor with WSU’s Department of Entomology, who co-led the project with Eduardo Almeida, associate professor at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

Working with a global team, Bossert and Almeida’s team sequenced and compared genes from more than 200 bee species. They compared them with traits from 185 different bee fossils, as well as extinct species, developing an evolutionary history and genealogical models for historical bee distribution. In what may be the broadest genomic study of bees to date, they analyzed hundreds to thousands of genes at a time to make sure that the relationships they inferred were correct.

“This is the first time we have broad genome-scale data for all seven bee families,” said co-author Elizabeth Murray, a WSU assistant professor of entomology.

Previous research established that the first bees likely evolved from wasps, transitioning from predators to collectors of nectar and pollen. This study shows they arose in arid regions of western Gondwana during the early Cretaceous period.

“For the first time, we have statistical evidence that bees originated on Gondwana,” Bossert said. “We now know that bees are originally southern hemisphere insects.”

The researchers found evidence that as the new continents formed, bees moved north, diversifying and spreading in a parallel partnership with angiosperms, the flowering plants. Later, they colonized India and Australia. All major families of bees appeared to split off prior to the dawn of the Tertiary period, 65 million years ago—the era when dinosaurs became extinct.

The tropical regions of the western hemisphere have an exceptionally rich flora, and that diversity may be due to their longtime association with bees, authors noted. One quarter of all flowering plants belong to the large and diverse rose family, which make up a significant share of the tropical and temperate host plants for bees.

Bossert’s team plans to continue their efforts, sequencing and studying the genetics and history of more species of bees. Their findings are a useful first step in revealing how bees and flowering plants evolved together. Understanding how bees spread and filled their modern ecological niches could also help keep pollinator populations healthy.

“People are paying more attention to the conservation of bees and are trying to keep these species alive where they are,” Murray said. “This work opens the way for more studies on the historical and ecological stage.”

Additional contributors included Felipe Freitas, Washington State University; Bryan Danforth, Cornell University; Charles Davis, Harvard University; Bonnie Blaimer, Tamara Spasojevic, and Seán Brady, Smithsonian Institution; Patrícia Ströher and Marcio Pie, Federal University of Paraná, Brazil; Michael Orr, State Museum of Natural History, Stuttgart; Laurence Packer, York University; Michael Kuhlmann, University of Kiel; and Michael G. Branstetter, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


International research team studies honey bees in canola

It is estimated honey 70 per cent of the honey produced in Western Canada comes from canola.

Calvin Daniels
Jul 18, 2023 2:00 PM

YORKTON – Canola is the key crop in terms of farm returns in Saskatchewan.

To attain a good crop though the flowers need to be pollinated and that work is typically carried out by the humble honey bee.

“There’s a relationship between honey bees and canola. A very good relationship,” said Marcelo Camilli, a Brazilian researcher currently in Saskatchewan studying the relationship.

“What we see here is bees flourish in canola.”

Camilli said it is estimated honey 70 per cent of the honey produced in Western Canada comes from canola.

And the pollinating service by honey bees can increase the canola yield by an estimated $1.5 billion

But what happens when farmers need to apply pesticides to their canola? Does it impact the health of honey bee hives? Does it impact the honey produced?

“What is the safe dose range for honey bees?” asked Camilli.

At present Camilli said there simply isn’t the research to know for sure.

“We don’t have large scale data,” he told Yorkton This Week.

Answers to such questions are what a team of international researchers are looking for in a three-year study initiated this summer.

The study is being carried out with bees established at 20 sites across Saskatchewan, 15 in canola stands and five in boreal forest sites, the latter as a control. Sites include five that spread from Grenfell to Kamsack in east central Saskatchewan.

“It’s the largest project in all of Canada,” said Camilli, during a recent stopover in Springside. The team is staying with Kenn and Nancy Wood as they work in the local area.

The canola fields, provided in cooperation with producers, will be managed normally, said Camilli, so should a crop protection product need to be applied it can be as normal, although farmers are asked to complete a questionnaire covering variety grown, seed treatments used, and chemicals applied.

Camilli explained the researchers will be measuring the levels of pesticide residue in the bees themselves, the pollen they collect, the honey produced and in the soil of the fields.

While the main focus is the honey bee, the project will also be monitoring native, wild pollinators as well. While currently there does not seem to be great concern with pesticide application impacting honey bees from apiarists, the study will provide some much-needed data.

“We’ve come to see the real situation,” said Serbian researcher Uros Glavinic.

The international team including USask students Erin Baril and Debby Peng was drawn together because of a common interest in the honey bee.

“The bee research world is quite small, and people know each other,” said Glavinic.

Each person brings their own skill set to the project.

“All of us have some special side,” said Glavinic, who is focused on bee genetics.

Each has practical beekeeping experience too.

For example Camilli began beekeeping with his grandfather, which inspired him to pursue biology, and researching honeybees was a natural extension of his interests. As a result, he completed his Masters and PhD, both focused on honeybees.

Dr. Sarah Wood, who grew up in Yorkton, oversees the project. Wood holds the position of USask Pollinator Health Research Chair at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). She is also an associate professor in the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Pathology and is board certified with the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP). Wood’s research interests include infectious diseases of honey bees, pesticide risk assessment for pollinators, quantifying pollinator contributions to agricultural productivity, and developing honey bees as experimental models for human and animal disease.

The team is expecting to release primary data after this year’s cycle is complete, and then in each subsequent year of the project.

The large scale, multi-year project is possible through a number of funding and co-operating groups, said Camilli, including BASF

SaskCanola, Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission, Mitacs a non-profit national research organization, and the University of Saskatchewan.

Buzzworthy breakthrough: BYU students utilize AI to decipher the ‘language of the bees’

Google Translate for insects? How BYU students are helping humans understand animal communication
By Tyler Stahle,
July 19, 2023

For years, scientists have buzzed about the bee waggle – the groovy dance honeybees do by shaking their abdomen upon returning to the hive. This waggle tells other bees where to fly to find delicious nectar. Now, a team of BYU computer science students is abuzz to decode the secret language of the hive. Armed with a hum-dinger of a research project and cutting-edge technology, these students are translating the bee waggle in real-time.

“Bees will do this dance on a vertical surface and they’ll kind of waggle or shake in a line, and the angle of that line has to do with the angle of the sun that the bees need to fly from the hive to go to the food source,” said BYU computer science professor and project advisor Sean Warnick. “There’s a surprising amount of sophistication going on between these creatures that we just think of as insects.”

The project team, comprised of students across disciplines such as computer science and business, is creating a computer program that tracks bee waggles and interprets them in real-time on a computer screen. To capture the waggle dances, students constructed an observation hive with plexiglass siding in the BYU greenhouse. A camera records the waggle dances, and algorithms created by the students measure, annotate, and interpret the movements.

While the project may sound un-bee-lievable, the students themselves say that they’re learning more about bees than they ever anticipated. Nonetheless, they find inspiration in seeing the practical application of their classroom knowledge in real-world situations.

“As a computer scientist I definitely spend a lot of time staring at screens and data, but it’s been really cool to go out and actually work with the bees,” says Caelen Miller, a BYU computer science student working on the project. “I want to have it as a hobby for the rest of my life and honestly I’d love to keep studying them because they’re fascinating creatures.”

Because of BYU’s unique emphasis on undergraduate research, Warnick says he’s excited about the future application of this research and he’s impressed by the level of care BYU students bring to the project.

“Students here at BYU tend to be very focused on doing good in the world and building something amazing. They care very much about the way they’re going to use their education,” he said.

The lasting impact of the project could be far-reaching, especially for the agriculture industry, which relies on efficient pollination. With the ability to better understand and interpret bee waggle communications, farmers may optimize pollination strategies and plan more systematically, ultimately enhancing agricultural productivity and ecosystem health.

Bees make decisions better and faster than we do, for the things that matter to them

Honey bees have to balance effort, risk and reward, making rapid and accurate assessments of which flowers are mostly likely to offer food for their hive. Research published in the journal eLife today reveals how millions of years of evolution has engineered honey bees to make fast decisions and reduce risk.

The study enhances our understanding of insect brains, how our own brains evolved, and how to design better robots.

The paper presents a model of decision-making in bees and outlines the paths in their brains that enable fast decision-making. The study was led by Professor Andrew Barron from Macquarie University in Sydney, and Dr HaDi MaBouDi, Neville Dearden and Professor James Marshall from the University of Sheffield.

“Decision-making is at the core of cognition,” says Professor Barron. “It’s the result of an evaluation of possible outcomes, and animal lives are full of decisions. A honey bee has a brain smaller than a sesame seed. And yet she can make decisions faster and more accurately than we can. A robot programmed to do a bee’s job would need the back up of a supercomputer.

“Today’s autonomous robots largely work with the support of remote computing,” Professor Barron continues. “Drones are relatively brainless, they have to be in wireless communication with a data centre. This technology path will never allow a drone to truly explore Mars solo — NASA’s amazing rovers on Mars have travelled about 75 kilometres in years of exploration.”

Bees need to work quickly and efficiently, finding nectar and returning it to the hive, while avoiding predators. They need to make decisions. Which flower will have nectar? While they’re flying, they’re only prone to aerial attack. When they land to feed, they’re vulnerable to spiders and other predators, some of which use camouflage to look like flowers.

“We trained 20 bees to recognise five different coloured ‘flower disks’. Blue flowers always had sugar syrup,” says Dr MaBouDi. “Green flowers always had quinine [tonic water] with a bitter taste for bees. Other colours sometimes had glucose.”

“Then we introduced each bee to a ‘garden’ where the ‘flowers’ just had distilled water. We filmed each bee then watched more than 40 hours of video, tracking the path of the bees and timing how long it took them to make a decision.

“If the bees were confident that a flower would have food, then they quickly decided to land on it taking an average of 0.6 seconds),” says Dr MaBouDi. “If they were confident that a flower would not have food, they made a decision just as quickly.”

If they were unsure, then they took much more time — on average 1.4 seconds — and the time reflected the probability that a flower had food.

The team then built a computer model from first principles aiming to replicate the bees’ decision-making process. They found the structure of their computer model looked very similar to the physical layout of a bee brain.

“Our study has demonstrated complex autonomous decision-making with minimal neural circuitry,” says Professor Marshall. “Now we know how bees make such smart decisions, we are studying how they are so fast at gathering and sampling information. We think bees are using their flight movements to enhance their visual system to make them better at detecting the best flowers.”

AI researchers can learn much from insects and other ‘simple’ animals. Millions of years of evolution has led to incredibly efficient brains with very low power requirements. The future of AI in industry will be inspired by biology, says Professor Marshall, who co-founded Opteran, a company that reverse-engineers insect brain algorithms to enable machines to move autonomously, like nature.

Do common methods for protecting bees from pesticides actually work?

by Entomological Society of America

Responsible use of pesticides includes striving to avoid negative effects on the environment, often with an emphasis on protecting bees and other pollinators. A new study, however, finds that many common methods for minimizing pesticides’ impact on bees—even some recommendations on product labels—are backed by minimal scientific evidence.

The researchers behind the study say stronger testing is needed to evaluate which bee-protection measures are truly effective and which ones may be too reliant on conventional wisdom. They share their analysis in a report published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Growers are urged to follow a variety of “mitigation measures” meant to protect bees during pesticide applications, such as spraying at night, using specific nozzles on sprayers, or maintaining buffer zones.

“It takes time, money, and effort to follow these rules, so if they are not actually helpful, they are a waste of time,” says Edward Straw, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland and lead author on the study. “If they are helpful, though, they could be applied more widely, to protect bees further.”

Straw and colleague Dara Stanley, Ph.D., assistant professor in applied entomology at UCD, combed published, peer-reviewed research for studies that evaluated the effectiveness of any kind of mitigation measure in reducing a pesticide’s impact on bees. Just 34 studies matched their criteria, spread across a wide range of measures—but largely focused on just one kind of bee.

“Almost all research was centered around protecting honey bees. However, honey bees are a managed species that is not endangered,” Straw says. “When we try to protect bees, we really want to be protecting wild, unmanaged bee species, as these are the species which are in decline.”

Few mitigation measures had more than one or two studies evaluating their effectiveness, and methods of testing varied. For instance, some studies tested for direct overspray while others tested for longer-term pesticide residues. And just three studies among Straw and Stanley’s review evaluated measures frequently found on pesticide labels.

“Least researched was testing on how you time a pesticide spray, be that time of day or time of year,” Straw says. “There’s good reason to believe that if you change when you spray, you could avoid peaks in bee activity. Yet surprisingly no one has really researched if this idea works. This is odd, as it’s a very common mitigation measure and not overly hard to test.”

Other mitigation measures tested in existing studies included how pesticides are applied (e.g., spray parameters or planting methods for pesticide-coated seeds), buffer zones, removing flowering weeds before spraying, direct interventions for managed bees (e.g., moving or covering colonies), and applying pesticides only in certain weather conditions or during certain crop stages.

A newer method had the most studies (12) investigating its potential: repellent additives to pesticide sprays, which encourage bees to avoid a recently sprayed crop. Several compounds have shown promise in lab testing, but all 12 studies tested repellency for honey bees only, and none were tested in formulation with a pesticide—only on their own.

“It is an interesting idea, but it is not yet ready to be used,” says Straw. “It would need to be tested on a diversity of bee and insect species, as if it is only repellent to one or two species, all the other bees would still be exposed to the pesticide.”

In sum, Straw and Stanley say too much hinges on bee-protective measures for them to be weakly supported. Bees play a critical role in both natural ecosystems and agriculture, and the presumption that mitigation measures are effective can be factored into decisions to authorize pesticides for use. Rigorous scientific evaluation of these measures is imperative, they say.

“The main limitation is that these studies need to be big, well-funded pieces of research. To test changes to how a pesticide is applied to a crop, you need to have a crop, a pesticide sprayer, and someone licensed to spray. All of that is expensive and time consuming, making it out of reach for most scientists,” says Straw.

But, if such research can be generated, there’s reason to believe it will have immediate positive impacts. In related research Straw and Stanely published earlier this year, compliance with pesticide regulations and guidelines among farmers in an anonymous survey was high. “We know that these mitigation measures are being followed,” says Straw. “We just do not know if they are helpful yet.”