Drones Disguised as Bees Could Soon Pollinate Crops

It’s no secret that bees are dying at a alarming rate, but what does that actually mean for us? Since bees are responsible for pollination, they are essential to the production of fruits and plant seeds and the consequences of their absence would be devastating to the future of food. The recent decline in bee populations worldwide are forcing scientists to evaluate how mass bee deaths will affect the global environment, and look for alternate avenues to pollination.

After learning about the bee crisis, Dr. Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, took it upon himself to search for solutions to the pollination problem.

When Miyako stumbled upon a sealed up, long-forgotten gel in his lab, he witnessed the gel’s ability to trap tiny particles from the floor; similarly to the way that a honeybee’s hair gathers and carries pollen. Miyako’s lucky discovery might very well lead him toward revolutionizing the future of pollination.

He immediately took an interest in the gel, going on to formulate and test his theory of artificial pollination. In one test, he coated several ants with the gel and closed them inside a box of tulips. After three days, he discovered that the ants were covered in pollen. Miyako also added light reactive compounds to the gel to help camouflage the pollinators against potential predators.

In his latest experiment, Miyako took things up a notch by using drones as pollinators in order to have better control over their whereabouts. So far, he has successfully tested one small drone by combining his gel with short horsehair and electricity to give the drone bee-like fuzz that is perfect for pollinating. In this combination, the horsehair sticks to the drone by means of the gel, and the electricity makes the horsehair stand up to better collect the pollen.

Tests performed on Japanese Lilies so far indicate that successful artificial pollination has occurred more than a third of the time. Each test brings Miyako closer to the reality of artificial pollination.

Could this revelation mean a future with fleets of drones disguised as bees using GPS and artificial intelligence to pollinate crops? Miyako certainly thinks so. Perhaps this technological reality is not as far away as we once imagined.

Cheerios Giving Away Free Wildflower Seeds to Help Save the Bees

Cheerios, in partnership with Veseys Seeds, is doing their part to save the bees by giving away free wildflower seed packets for people to plant—100 million seeds, to be exact.

The giveaway is part of their new #BringBacktheBees campaign, in which they are also promising to recreate their oat farms into 3,300 acres of nectar and pollen rich wildflowers by 2020. Cheerios and General Mills have also temporarily removed their bee mascot from cereal boxes in order to bring attention to the drastically declining bee population. More than half of all bee species are on the decline, and a quarter are at risk for extinction. Since 70 of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees, we should be pretty damn concerned that some species of bees are on the endangered species list.

Sure, Cheerios and General Mills’ #BringBacktheBees campaign is certainly a marketing stunt capitalizing off of the looming threat of catastrophic bee extinction, but they’re doing a hell of a lot more than some people by actually acknowledging the problem and creating bee-friendly natural environments. The wildflower seed giveaway is a nice touch—over at Paste, we’ve already signed up to receive a seed packet to plant around the office building once it warms up a little bit outside. We definitely wouldn’t have thought to do that without Cheerios, so PR stunt or not, they’re doing some good. You can sign up to get your free seeds here, and watch Cheerios’ promotional video below.

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Thought We Were Supposed to Be Saving The Bees, Not Eating Them

Love them or fear them, the one thing that has dominated headlines for the past few years when it comes to bees, is that we need them. Colony collapse is real, neonaticides are to blame and if we don’t change things fast the world as we know it could end.

“Save the bees” is a generally accepted battle cry and the quickest way to confuse a beekeeper is to suggest that instead of saving them, we start eating them.

“This takes me by surprise!” Holly Bayendor McConnell writes via email.

Although she imagines there are “nutritionally beneficial properties in bee larvae,” Bayendor McConnell, the President of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, wouldn’t be able to join the ranks of those who eat bee larvae. “As a beekeeper concerned with the well-being of bees, I would never think of eating them,” McConnell writes.

But that’s not stopping people like Chef Mario Hevia, who claims the tiny, white larvae are delicious. He’s eaten and served them raw while working at Seattle’s Canlis restaurant, a swanky spot that boasts a garden and an apiary on its grounds.

“They taste like fatty honey,” Hevia says.

However, as with anything even slightly controversial in the food world – there are a few hurdles we need to clear before we go hog wild on eating larvae. First comes from the concerns voiced from beekeepers and chefs.

“Consuming bee larvae may be a necessary, or at least an interesting, part of other culture’s diets,” writes Taylor Hall, chef and owner of Apis Restaurant and Apiary in Spicewood, Texas.

“At Apis, though, we feel eating bee larvae is counterproductive to our efforts of improving the sustainability of honey bees. Honey bees are dying off at alarming rates, particularly in North America and Northwestern Europe. Some areas are seeing a 40 percent decrease, which means there are significantly fewer bees to pollinate the crops we rely on for food,” Hall writes.

This is exactly the type of argument that Damian Magista can’t adhere to. Owner of Bee Local Honey in Portland, Oregon, the urban beekeeper has spent significant amounts of time with wild honey hunters in places like Cambodia where larvae serve as a significant source of protein.

He notes that here in North America we live in a land of excess.

“We have an entire network on TV devoted to food and so to our western sensibilities, the idea of eating bugs or eating larvae is unnecessary because we have such excess,” Magista says.

His travels and observations of cultures that rely on larvae as a food source trumps the sustainability card.

“To sit there with these people who don’t have food on a day to day basis and say they can’t have this source of protein? You just can’t do that, it’s unreasonable,” Magista says.

Additionally, he points out that the honey bee as we know it is actually an invasive, non-native species to North America, originally brought over in the early 1600s by settlers.
“Native Americans used to call them “white man flies” because when they would start to see swarms of honey bees they knew the white man wasn’t far behind,” Magista says.

But according to Magista, we’ve forgotten the bee’s invasive history – and since we now look to the bee as a precious insect that not only produces delicious honey, but is responsible for pollinating the nation’s crops – we tend to be a bit dramatic when it comes to eating them.

“It’s all subjective and I think people without knowing or experienced things make this rush to judgements which quite frankly are just silly.”

Josh Evans, a researcher at the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark offers another angle to Magista’s argument.

Evans pointed to an article he wrote in a 2013 issue of Wolf Magazine that details his reasoning behind first eating larvae (and even the further developed pupa), bringing it back to the “save the bees” mentality.

There is a parasite called the Varroa mite (Evans refers to it as a “puny, vociferous force”) that attacks drone comb and eats holes in the larvae. And even though the majority of drone bees die, removing a significant portion of the drone comb helps to control the mites and ensures overall hive health.

So we’ve got the reasons that might help open our minds, but let’s clear that final hurdle. Honey is delicious. Fresh honey comb is described best in Evans’s article as “luxurious, bewildering and ambrosial.” But larvae?

Essentially, they’re bugs, and bugs are generally regarded as gross. And the thought of eating them? It immediately conjures the most disgusting idea of them all.

“Bug guts popping in our mouth,” Magista offers.

But according to him, the larvae don’t so much pop as they do snap.

“It’s like eating a good bratwurst where you get that snap on the skin. It’s super satisfying and not gross, instead it’s a nice snap and then a very clean, light flavor,” Magista says.

Evans describes the flavor as “smooth and savory and slightly sweet. The flavor is something of egg and raw nuts and warm honeydew melon.”

While Magista and Hevia have only eaten them raw – Evans and his crew at the Nordic Food Lab turned raw larvae into mayonnaise through emulsion, dehydrated the larvae and served them as a crunchy snack and even blended them with honey and used it as the sweetening component in granola.

Again, there are people who can’t wrap their heads around eating larvae for fun, like Corky Luster of Seattle’s Ballard Bee Company.

“The only sampling of flavor I get is from pupae bursting in my face when I’m cleaning off bottoms of frames. Can’t say it tastes good from my point of view,” Luster says.

However, there are curious folks out there, especially with the popularity of eating other insects on the rise. Magista says he has been approached to help open a bug-focused food cart in Portland and doesn’t doubt one will open soon, with or without his input.

As for chefs and the general public asking him or any other beekeeper for larvae?

“I think maybe little pockets of people who are particularly interested in things that are a little challenging or shocking. We’re seeing a trend moving toward eating bugs; and I think it’s a bit early right now, but I could definitely see it happen.”

9 Honeybee-Friendly Plants

Avid gardeners take note: It’s never too late to get out your shovel and start planting flowers to help bolster the honeybee population, which is in danger of extinction. Widespread colony collapse disorder is due to environmental stress stemming from overuse of pesticides as well as parasitic attacks, according to experts. This affects not just the honeybees but also our food supply.

“Over 75 percent of the foods we eat require pollination,” says Miriam Goldberger, author of “Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms into Your Own Backyard,” and owner of Wildflower Farm, the largest (and oldest) wildflower seed company in Canada. “The most effective pollinators of food crops are European honeybees and North American native bees.”

Just think: By adding (floral) inventory to your landscape, you’ll also attract pollinators year-round because more than 75 kinds of wildflowers provide pollen for bees. “The best thing is to plant annuals that bloom all season,” suggests Polly Hutchinson, an organic flower farmer at Robin Hollow Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. “That gives bees way more to feed on and it’s a great way to support the population you have on your property.” So, why not roll up your sleeves and read on, as we share the top plants you should consider planting — and you can do it this weekend.

1. Asters

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These blue, pink and purple flowers are ideal additions to your garden since they bloom in late-summer and stay in bloom into fall, making them a welcome option for honeybees to feed on when other flowers in your garden are no longer in bloom.

2. Black-eyed Susans

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With stalks that grow to three feet and beyond, these yellow flowers that boast a brown-purple center are a honeybee fave. Best of all, they are long-lived perennials native to North America, so there’s no need to replant.

3. Dandelions

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Technically a weed, this yellow sprout is beloved by bees. “Let them be,” Hutchinson advises. “Yes, dandelions are weeds, but they’re also great for bees and their roots go way down, which ultimately puts nutrients from lower down in the ground up to help feed your grass. They’re a win-win plant!”

4. Lemon balm

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This perennial herb that’s part of the mint family, a.k.a. Melissa officinalis, is a perfect bee-attracting addition to any partly shady garden. It also has a long history. In ancient Greek times, this herb was planted near their bee hives to help keep the honeybees well-fed from the plant’s nectar-rich flowers and to help prevent their bees from swarming, says Aaron von Frank, an expert organic gardener and co-founder of GrowJourney, a USDA-certified organic Seeds of the Month Club. “We grow it in our garden and our neighbor’s honeybees cover the flowers throughout the blooming cycle,” he says. “Lemon balm makes a delicious tea, too.”

5. Purple coneflower

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Otherwise known as echinacea, this resplendent daisy-like flower is a honeybee magnet and provides both pollen and nectar to foraging bees.

6. Snapdragons

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During the day when bees are looking for nourishment, snapdragons release four times more scent, which draws honeybees to them. Adding to the allure: The bees then carry the aroma of the snapdragon back to the hive. This attracts even more bees to the flowerbeds.

7. Sunflowers

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A hardy annual that’s tall and grows into strong stalks, sunflowers are a honeybee must-plant. Opt for yellow or orange sunflowers instead of red ones, since bees can’t detect the color red when they seek out places to feed.

8. Yarrow

yarrow

A perennial, these bright flattened buds that come with a signature fernlike leaf are favorite spots for bees to collect nectar. They’re also ideal for cutting and drying once the season is over.

9. Zinnias

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These easy-to-grow flowers stay in bloom for most of the season and are colorful, too. “Anything that has a lot of small flowers on the flower is great for bees,” Hutchinson says. “You want to seek out flowers that can provide more pollen, which ultimately provides that much more food for the bees.”

New Port Richey Men Try To Steal Honey And Are Attacked By Thousands Of Bees

In another fine example of the Florida educational system failing its residents, three men and a woman were severely stung by bees in New Port Richey while trying to steal honey from a hive, as if they were auditioning for the live action Winnie the Pooh movie.

A call was made to fire rescue at 11:26 a.m. on Sunday in regards to three men and a woman receiving bee stings at 7805 Calabash in New Port Richey.

“They were covered in bees, their beards, their hair, their clothes… bees were everywhere,” said neighbor Tom Johnson.

The honey-loving group had so many bees on them, in fact, they had to be sprayed down with a fire hose, possibly marking the first bath they’ve received in ages. While the woman only sustained a few stings, the men had up to 50 each, prompting a visit to an area hospital.

Considering that each of these hives contain 20,000-30,000 bees, it’s a miracle these folks will be able to tell their tale of stupidity at the biker bar they most likely frequent. Here’s a little tip to this group: the next time you want some honey, buy the little plastic bear from a store like the rest of normal society.