The impact of human activity on bees is a hot topic right now, and often the news is negative. In a turnabout,  Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, and Robert L. Minckley used genetic markers to show how the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, moved from Central America to the east coast of North America with spread of squash plants through human agriculture practices.

This short video summarizes their study.

Along with evidence that the distribution of bees followed the spread of squash crops, the scientists also found evidence that Peponapis pruinosa populations have gone through reductions in genetic diversity or bottleneck events.

As an aside, this is a prime example of how the use of traditional journalistic techniques (a news release) and social media can generate interest in studies that might otherwise languish inside the pages of a scientific journal.

What do you think?


Squash bee study press release

Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, and Robert L. Minckley (2016) Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, June 22.

Peponapis_pruinosa(Public domain photograph of Peponapis pruinosa from Wikimedia)




Looking for ants? Sometimes it is only a matter of finding the right plant.

Most people know ants come to the extrafloral nectaries on peony buds and we've talked about sandmat before, but are there any other plants that regularly attract ants?


The umbel flowers of wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) might be a good place to look for different kinds of ants.

wild parsnip leaf

Wild parsnip grows in wet areas, such as along creeks or streams.  It can also be found growing on roadsides. At four to five feet tall, the flowers are right at eye level for many people. Be careful when visiting the plant, however, because contact with the sap can cause burns to the skin when exposed to sunlight.


Ants, flies, wasps and other insects can be readily found visiting the large nectaries of open flowers.




Although these particular ants were fairly small, large ants such as Formica and Camponotus were also seen on wild parsnip flowers.

What are the ants doing on the plants besides collecting nectar? Wild parsnips are considered to be invasive weeds in many areas. Therefore, ants feeding on nectar might considered to be favorable if they interfere with the plants' success or might be unfavorable if the ants protect the plants from herbivores. Jing Yang and Dana Dudle from the Biology Department at DePauw University studied the effects of ants on the reproductive success of wild parsnip by excluding flying versus crawling insects from certain flowers. In their limited investigation they found no differences in plant fitness whether ants were present or not, but suggested further studies needed to be done.

Regardless, if you are interested in watching ants you should keep your eye out for wild parsnip flowers.

Ave you ever seen ants on wild parsnip?

When you are searching for ants, what plants do you look for?




We've heard a lot about the decline of managed honey bees lately, but not so much about honey bees living in the wild. That is until now. Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, Horace White professor of Biology at Cornell University and a leader in the field of honey bee biology, has written a new book Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. This slim volume focuses on techniques for locating unmanaged honey bee colonies nesting in natural settings or even in urban areas.

Honey bee hunting is an ancient craft, used by people centuries ago to find honey bees to rob of their honey. Now it can be an entertaining and engaging hobby that requires little more than patience and a willingness to learn more about nature.

As Seeley explains in detail, finding a colony of wild honey bees involves capturing foraging bees using a specially-designed box and feeding the trapped honey bees scented sugar solution. Once released, the honey bees return to their nest and recruit more foragers. The bee hunter marks the returning bees and then follows to see where they are going.

Although beautifully written and engaging, I do have qualms about some of the contents of the book. First of all, the bees are fed in an old piece of honeycomb. The idea is that the comb entices the the honey bees to return to the food. This is a good technique in the hands of a careful scientist who realizes the need to use clean, healthy comb. I am concerned, however, that those who aren't as careful or knowledgeable may expose wild bees to diseases and parasites by using contaminated honeycomb from sick bee colonies.

The second concern I had was that not everyone reading the book will be as respectful of nature as Thomas Seeley. I learned the hard way that people wanting to know how to build leafcutter bee nests don't always have positive motives. I heard from gardeners who wanted to build the nests not to help the leafcutter bees, but to trap and destroy them. Honey bee hunting may result in similar harm if wild honey bee nests are destroyed for the honey or to capture healthy bees for managed hives. If you read the book, I would like the hear your thoughts about this.

On completely different note, if you are wondering whether to purchase an electronic version or the paper version, I have to say that the acid-free paper used to make this book is exceptional. I don't usually wax poetic about paper quality, but when I opened this book, I spent several minutes running my fingers over the pages. Enough said.

Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting is a must for anyone who wants to study wild honey bees. It will likely to appeal to beekeepers and scientists alike. Ideally it will be used to introduce some lucky youngsters to ways of observing our natural world, as well.


Visit Princeton University Press for a chapter to preview

ScienceFriday has a combined interview with Bernd Heinrich and Tom Seeley talking about their newest books (with short videos of using the bee box and marking bees)

Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 3, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0691170266
ISBN-13: 978-0691170268


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