A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘bees

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Centauri Dreams considers the challenges and the prospects of laser SETI.
  • Citizen Science Salon reports on a couple who have done their best to keep their bee numbers up.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Milo’s book, contrary to Milo’s claims, has performed very badly indeed in the UK, among other places.
  • Language Log features a poetic digression by Victor Mair on Chinese characters for words like “plum” and “wine.”
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money suggests that moderate Republicans in Congress might not be all that.
  • The LRB Blog considers Nice at, and after, the time of last year’s terrorist attacks.
  • Marginal Revolution features Tyler Cowen’s description of his writing processes.
  • Drew Rowsome interviews Toronto gay photographer Dylan Rosser.
  • Unicorn Booty looks back at the history of the queercore movement–gay punk, as a first approximation.
  • Vintage Space links to an article explaining why there was neither an Apollo 2 nor an Apollo 3.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests the Russian state is undermining various once-allied Russian nationalist movements.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • Centauri Dreams remembers Ben Finney, this time from the angle of a man with an interest in space colonization.
  • Crooked Timber wonders what will happen to the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism.
  • Dangerous Minds imagines the VHS tapes of Logan and Stranger Things.
  • Far Outliers notes the Soviet twist on Siberian exile.
  • Inkfish notes that Detroit is unique among cities in being a good place for bumblebees. Is it the vacant lots?
  • Marginal Revolution wonders if modern Germany really is a laboratory for innovative politics.
  • The NYRB Daily looks at 19th century writer José Maria de Eça de Queirós, the “Proust of Portugal”.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw updates his readers on his writing projects.
  • Torontoist reports on how Avi Lewis and Cheri DiNovo have advocated for the NDP’s Leap Manifesto.

[LINK] “Watch How Bees Teach Each Other to Solve Problems”

National Geographic‘s Brian Clark Howard describes a new study that demonstrates how bees, that epitome of a swarm intelligence, learn.

Bee see, bee do. At least that’s the conclusion of research published earlier this month, showing that bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other.

In the first study of its kind in insects, scientists constructed experiments that challenged bees to pull strings in order to access rewards of nectar. It’s a technique that has long been used to test cognition in various vertebrates, but hadn’t yet been tried with insects.

[. . .]

The first step was proving that bees could learn to solve a simple problem. But what’s more interesting is that other bees that hadn’t encountered the problem before picked up the ability to solve it more quickly when they had a chance to watch a trainer bee that had already figured out the puzzle.

Further, that knowledge was shown to spread from bee to bee throughout a colony, even if the first bee that figured out the trick died.

The scientists hoped their study would shed light on a bigger picture: how social learning spreads through a population. That might even have implications for the evolutionary roots of culture in human beings, they noted.

The study in question is available here.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2016 at 7:00 pm

[LINK] “Canadian beekeepers sue Bayer, Syngenta over neonicotinoid pesticides”

This CBC report is good news. My Canada includes, among other things, pollinators.

Canadian beekeepers are suing the makers of popular crop pesticides for more than $400 million in damages, alleging that their use is causing the deaths of bee colonies.

The class action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court on behalf of all Canadian beekeepers by Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, two of Ontario’s largest honey producers, the Ontario Beekeepers Association announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges that Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. and their parent companies were negligent in their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically those containing imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiomethoxam.

The pesticides, which are a neurotoxin to insects, are widely coated on corn, soybean and canola seeds in Canada to protect the plants from pests such as aphids. Studies have shown that bees exposed to the pesticides have smaller colonies, fail to return to their hives, and may have trouble navigating. The pesticides were also found in 70 per cent of dead bees tested by Health Canada in 2013.

The European Commission restricted the use of the pesticides for two years and Ontario has indicated it will move toward regulating them, due to concerns over bee health.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The latest on swarm intelligence

Swarm intelligence, the sort of complex behaviour evidenced by social insects such as ants or bees when acting in their groups, is a sort of intelligence that has interested me for some time. An intelligence that manifests itself outside of any one individual organism, as the collective property of a swarm, can be quite powerful, as estimated in the comments at the second link.

Those pinhead beebrains are actually pretty powerful if you do the math, or at least the math of what it would take to emulate them. 1 million neurons, 1 billion synapses, 4 gigabytes of RAM just to store the state, update at maybe 1000 times a second, so about a teraflop processor. Assuming a very simple and abstract representation of the brain, ignoring all the chemistry detail. Wikipedia says in 2010 the fastest 6-core processor was a tenth of that. And brains don’t suffer the Von Neumann bottleneck, since the memory is the processor.

An Ed Yong post at Not Exactly Rocket Science, “How headbutts and dances give bees a hive mind”, takes a look at the mechanisms of decision-making among bees. It’s evocative stuff.

The entire colony, consisting of tens thousands of individuals, works like a single human nervous system, with each bee behaving like a neuron. When they make a decision, such as choosing where to build a nest, individual bees opt for different choices and they support and veto each other until they reach a consensus. They have, quite literally, a hive mind.

One part of this process – the famous waggle dance – was discovered decades ago. By dancing in a figure of eight and waggling their abdomens, bees tell their hive-mates about the location of new resources. The dance is their equivalent of neurons exciting one another. The opposing signal – the equivalent of neurons that repress their neighbours – has only recently been discovered by Thomas Seeley from Cornell University. It consists of headbutts.

Bees tell each other to cease and desist by butting their heads against their colony-mates. For 150 milliseconds, they vibrate at a frequency of around 350 Hz (roughly middle G). When these signals were first identified, scientists thought that they were pleas for food. They were wrong – James Nieh eventually showed that bees use the vibrations to silence waggling workers that are advertising dangerous food locations. If they’re attacked while foraging for food, they aim their headbutts at other workers who visited the same location and are recommending it. The meaning is clear: “Don’t go there.”

Now, Seeley has shown that the same signal also comes into play when bees choose property. Honeybees build new nests in the spring, when part of the colony buds off to form a new settlement. Thousands of workers swarm around their old hive while the oldest ones scout for promising real estate. Although the scouts bring news of different possible locations, the hive doesn’t splinter. Instead, after a few days, the bees reach a consensus and all of them move to a single new location.

Seeley filmed the scouts when they returned to the hive. They waggled away to promote different locations. The length of the waggle circuit tells other bees about the distance to the site. The angle of the dance reveals the angle of the flight from the hive. And the number of circuits shows the quality of the location. But Seeley also saw that the scouts would headbutt their fellow workers and after enough repetitions, these signals would bring their comrades to a standstill.

To reveal how the bees use their stop signals, Seeley set up two house-hunting swarms in Appledore Island, Maine. The island doesn’t have any natural sites that could act as potential nests. The bees’ only options were two identical nest boxes that Seeley had set up.

Seeley dabbed the scouts with pink or yellow marks depending on which box they visited, and filmed them back in the hive. He found that most of the halting headbutts were delivered to bees of a different colour – the ones that had visited a different nest box. The two groups of scouts, each putting forward a different suggestion, were trying to sanction each other.

Once the hive reached a consensus, and the colony was preparing to move off, the bees’ started aiming their headbutts at all other workers, no matter what colour they wore. A decision had been reached, and it was time to tell everyone to shut up and get on with it.

[. . .]

The swarm intelligence of the bees is uncannily similar to the mass of collaborating neurons in our own head. As Seeley himself beautifully puts: “It is tempting to think that the ability to implement a highly reliable strategy of decision-making is what underlies the astonishing convergence in [these two systems]: a brain built of neurons and a swarm built of bees.”

The big and unanswerable question that fascinates me relates to whether or not anyone is there in the swarm. As a commenter at Yong’s post notes, it’s unquestionable that the bees constitute a powerful data-processing system. Whether it is self-aware, like the analogous systems of neurons in cats and humans and cephalopods, fascinates me. How big can the independent units of something self-aware be, how slow, before that quality doesn’t manifest in a data-processing system regardless of its power? Or does self-awareness always manifest in such systems?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 15, 2011 at 5:05 am