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The Bee: A Natural History

Have you seen the new book The Bee: A Natural History by Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich with contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck, and Dr. Andrea Quigley?

 

Dr. Wilson-Rich is an urban beekeeper and although (as the cover suggests) honey bees are the main focus of the book, it includes information about all kinds of bees. After discussing the evolution and development of bees, as well as their biology and behavior, the authors review the history of bees and humans and also beekeeping. The authors follow up with “A Directory of Bees,” which is a pictorial field guide to solitary bees, bumble bees, stingless bees and honey bees. The directory is illustrated with large color photographs of preserved specimens from around the world.

The final chapter goes into the challenges currently faced by bees, including weather, climate, pests and diseases. Finally, the authors discuss some of the research initiatives aimed at helping bees and what individuals can do to help protect our bees, such as plant flowers and participate in citizen science projects. (My personal suggestion is to let your dandelions grow because they provide honey bees a meal late into fall and even early winter.)

The book is exceptionally appealing visually. Almost every page has a mix of color photographs and old-fashioned line drawings or wood cuts, with sidebars and other interesting features. Obviously, a lot of care was put into the design.

If you already know something about bees, you might be interested to find out that the book doesn’t just hash over old material. For example, as Dr. Wilson-Rich also mentions in his TED Talk (see below), beekeepers are finding honey bees in urban environments, such on the rooftops of city buildings, are doing better than those in rural and suburban areas. It might seem counter-intuitive, but two out of three overwintering hives survived in the city compared to two out of five in the country. The urban honey bees also produced more honey. They have some suggestions why this may be the case, such as the cities are warmer overall and probably the honey bees are exposed to less pesticides, but the bees are also likely having less interactions with other bees that might pass diseases or compete for resources.

Bees have been in the news and people are interested in learning more about them. The Bee is a quick and easy-to-read overview of a topic that would be equally useful for the layperson who knows little about bees and the beekeeper who wants to learn about bees from a more general perspective. Be prepared for a visual treat.

Related:

You can get a taste for how passionate Dr. Wilson-Rich is in his TED talk:

 

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 24, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0691161356
ISBN-13: 978-0691161358

 

Disclosures:  The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Ants As Geochemists

Ants have been known to have a positive impact on soils by mixing different layers and by adding nutrients, etc. Now a researcher from Arizona State University, Dr. Ronald Dorn, has found that ants are enhancing the breakdown of certain minerals and the movement of carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate (limestone). The bottom line:  ants might be helping to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Dr. Dorn did not start out to study ants. He actually began the study 25 years ago to look at weathering of olivine and plagioclase minerals from Hawaiian basalt. He placed samples in various sites in Arizona and Texas, and then went back every five years to see what was happening to them.

Other researchers have shown that weathering of calcium and magnesium silicates by living things is important in removing atmospheric carbon dioxide gases. A simplified reaction is shown here:

weathering

Over the 25 year period of this study, Dorn found the ant colonies of eight different ant species (Pogonomyrmex rugosus, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, Dorymyrmex bicolor, Forelius pruinosus, Liometopum luctuosum, Tapinoma sessile, Formica neogagates, and Camponotus vicinus), enhanced the weathering of the minerals some 50x-300x over that of the bare ground control. At the same time he found the percent carbonate increased substantially in the nests of all the different species.

pogo-carrying-dirt-1

Pogonomyrmex worker ant moving soil from its nest.

Of all the factors he studied, Dorn found that ants were by far the most important weathering agents. Given the amount of material a given ant colony moves around, that is not surprising.

What was a bit more surprising was that all the ant nests accumulated calcium carbonate over time, at levels well above what was happening in bare soil nearby. Perhaps it is time to investigate what exactly ants are doing in those underground galleries.

What do you think? Are ants an answer to removing excessive carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

Dorn, R.I. (July 14, 2014) Ants as a powerful biotic agent of olivine and plagioclase dissolution. Geology.

Interested in learning more about the impact of ants on soils? Try this excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Soil Science Vol. 1

Pogonomyrmex Mystery: What Are Those Spots? Follow Up

Remember that  Pogonomyrmex nest with the shiny black spots around the nest entrances from a few weeks back?

 

black-spots-another-view

This one?

Upon revisiting a few weeks later, the ants are looking better.

Pogos-previously-with-black-spots

They seem to have cleaned up nicely.

pogos-were-black-spotted-12

Maybe there are a few spots left, but nothing like before.

pogos-gathering-food

What are they harvesting today? You probably recognize the beetle elytra, but what is the gray cylinder?

pogos-with-screwbean-mesquite

You might need to be from Arizona to recognize it. That is part of a seed pod from a tree with the common name “screwbean mesquite.”

Wonder what they will be up to next time I visit.

What kind of ants do you visit regularly?

Pogonomyrmex Mystery: What Are Those Spots?

While visiting a local park this week, I stopped by to visit a Pogonomyrmex nest I have been watching over the years.

black-spots-around-harvester-ant-nest

I almost immediately noticed the black spots around the nest entrances.

black-spots-around-harvester-ant-nest-another

Here’s another entrance about 20 inches from the first two. There was a noticeable blackening around the hole in comparison to the surroundings. Otherwise, the ants seemed to be active and doing fine.

black-spots-another-view

This is a closer view.

black-spots-close-up

Looks kind of shiny.

My first thought was ant feces. Studies have shown that some ants mark their nest areas with feces, for example a study by Grasso et al. (2005).

black-spots-33

My other guess is that someone tried pouring something into the nest (as it is a public place.)

What do you think? Have you seen this before?

Grasso, D. A., Sledge, M. F., LE Moli, F., Mori, A., and Turillazzi, S. 2005. Nest-area marking with faeces: a chemical
signature that allows colony-level recognition in seed harvesting ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 52:36–44. (.pdf available for viewing)