• Length of bee tongues

    This received via Dave Stocks at the Gilroy, CA, ‘The Buzz’, reprinted
    there from Bee Thinking, which took it from the online publication


    Living on a mountain is hard for bees and flowers. It’s cold. There’s
    extreme weather. And new research has found it getting even harder for
    both flowers and bees to make a living in alpine environments lately.
    Scientists compared over 40 years of mountain bumblebee and flower records
    on three Colorado mountains and found major decreases in both bees and
    flowers. But they also found clear evidence of rapid evolution by the bees,
    suggesting it.s not time to give up on mountain bumble bees just yet.
    Entomologists and botanists get teased about traveling the world, meeting
    interesting insects and plants, and then killing them. But it’s a morbid
    habit that pays off; it creates a long-term, stable record of the
    biological past. Museum collections may look like a creepy charnel house to
    outsiders, full of corpses, pins, and mothballs. Our libraries of dead
    things become a book of evolutionary change for future scientists to read.

    Preserving organisms from taxonomic or ecological studies lets us travel
    back in time. People are always interested in having their data looked at
    and reanalyzed in a different way, a way that they hadn’t thought about
    previously. That is one of the great things about having open access data,
    said Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann, lead author on the new bumble bee study.

    To investigate how flowers and bumble bees changed, a team of scientists
    dug through over 40 years of records. They tracked down thousands of bumble
    bee specimens collected on mountains in Colorado between 1966 and 1980, and
    compared them to bumblebees collected in the same areas between 2012 and
    2014. They also used herbarium specimens of flowers collected during
    similar time frames and surveyed flowers in the field.

    Plants on mountains often have very narrow temperature tolerances; too much
    heat can reduce flowering. On one of the mountains in the study, between
    1960 to 1985, only 12 percent of the years were hot enough to reduce
    flowering. Since 1985, 48 percent of years were too hot for flowers that
    bumblebees typically forage on.

    Since 1970, the total number of flowers available for bees on the mountain
    study sites declined by 60 percent overall. What did that mean for bees?

    Over 95 percent of bees in the study regions between 1966 and 1980 were
    just two species of long-tongued bees. These bees specialize in flowers
    with a narrow, elongated tubular shape. Their long tongue means they are
    able to reach the nectar hidden at the bottom of a flower and can muscle
    out their shorter-tongued relatives. This is an example of coevolution,
    where two species reciprocally affect each other over evolutionary time.

    Bees collected from 2012 to 2014 were different, though. The long-tongued
    species of bumble bees declined by 24 percent. At the same time, warming
    temperatures and changes in flowering plants allowed some lower altitude
    bees to live at higher mountain elevations. The entire community of bumble
    bees changed. Long-tongued bumble bees responded to the scarcity of flowers
    by becoming less selective; the range of plants they foraged on changed
    significantly and included flowers with no long nectar tubes.
    The scientists wondered if the bees physically changed too, and measured
    body length and tongue length on their historic and modern bee specimens.
    How do you measure a bee’s tongue? Miller-Struttmann explains: They tuck
    their tongue back into their body, so they sort of fold it back up along
    their chin, I guess you could say. We had to re-hydrate historic specimens,
    and then fold the tongue out, and then measure it under a microscope with

    What no one expected was that the tongues of long-tongued bees would get
    shorter. A lot shorter.  A 24 percent decrease in tongue length is really
    dramatic, says Miller-Struttmann. That was in 40 years, in 40
    generations, I should say, because these bumblebees only have one
    generation a year. That’s a pretty short period of time to see such a
    dramatic shift. Bumble bee bodies also got slightly smaller, but not as
    much as the tongues shrank. The research team did not find changes in the
    depth of the flowers bumble bees were visiting. The bees shape changed,
    but the flowers didn’t.  Building and maneuvering a big tongue takes energy, and bees with shorter
    tongues may have done better at diverting that energy into more babies. In
    the short term, the bumble bees seem to be hanging on. But what about
    longer term?

    Right now, bumblebees and the plants they historically fed on are
    mismatched physiologically. The bees may not be as good a pollinator for
    those plants, which could cause further declines in flowers. In the long
    term, perhaps they will also evolve, but they’re much longer-lived species.  Their generation time is decades, not yearly. Change will be slower or may
    not happen at all.

    Dr. David Inouye has researched flowers and alpine bees at the Rocky
    Mountain Biological Laboratory for decades. He said, This study is a great
    example of the value of archiving data an example of a change in bumble
    bees that is unexpected, and would not have been discovered without access
    to historical data. We have evidence from elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains
    that bumble bee queens of eight species have moved up 230 m in altitude over
    about the same time span, and these kinds of changes in bumble bee
    communities will have interesting consequences over both ecological and
    evolutionary time scales.

    This study also highlights a common problem for mountain or other remote
    refuges as the climate warms, the places where plants and animals=
    thrive move slowly away from the areas we’ve designated for their conservation. By
    increasing areas set aside for nature, or making sure we have connections
    between isolated nature refuges, we can try to help bees and plants adapt
    to our new warmer world.


  • Releasing mason bees later – keeping them cool

    Hi Margriet – when is your best guess as to when to put out the Bee Cocoons? I have had them in my outside storage shed all winter, but with the warmer weather as of late, and not much in the way of flowering trees, etc., I hate to have the Bees emerge too early, so I have placed them in a picnic cooler with ice packs, to simulate a cooler or colder climate. Let me know what you suggest. Thanks, Andy.

    Mason Bee cocoon humidity cooler. Cocoons on one side and a moist pad on the other side of the divide. Lid with 2 holes allows for air circulation and containment of humidity. Fridge temperature 2-4C.


    Hi Andy, Yes the cooler will work in the short term.  For the longer term, use a humidity cooler inside a fridge.  A storage shed works until it warms up in late winter.  The simplest way of storing bees is in the attic of a bee home.  Bees will emerge when temperatures improve during the early spring.   But with experience, if you find that bees emerge earlier than fruit tree blossoms in your garden, then refrigeration inside a humidity cooler is the way to go.   Temperature inside the fridge needs to be between 2-4C.  If mason bees are kept in hibernation until late April- early May, fridge temperature needs to be  decreased to 1-2C. Dr Margriet.

    Go to Humidity Cooler at Beediverse



  • Release and stay!

    “Nesting all but finished now at our condo terrace, down to the last dozen nesting females.

    This year we put out ten experimental 25-tube bundles in one-liter shells (see picture) with the cocoons in a 1″ deep pocket behind the tubes. Along with the 25 rolled tubes we put two half-inch open-ended tubes through which the bees were to emerge. With this hybrid tube-release we hoped that more bees would stay at these nests than stay after a mass release. We used half-inch for the release tubes so that they wouldn’t be used for nesting.

    The four tubes at left in the picture are part of one of two 19-tube bundles rolled to handle surplus nesting.”  Dick S.

    Has anyone else tried this method of release?  Dr.  Margriet


  • Insect Hotel: No Vacancy

    Our insect homes are living up to their name! John Mc.  reported a find that he had not seen before.  Grass sticking out of his wooden mason bee nesting trays! Curious he decided to peek inside. On  closer inspection he found some very large pupae and some hatched small green grass hoppers. From the photo, the pupae and the adult grass hoppers seem to be the same insect.  A small dry space seemed perfect for these hoppers! Looks like all our rooms are full this time around! All the more need for more homes and trays!
    DSCN0624 DSCN0621 DSCN0618
  • Bee ‘Catcher’- a cool tool!

    Under certain circumstances, it is handy to have a container into which you can place escapee mason bees.

    These escapees are mason bees that have emerged inside the house and are buzzing around in the basement or in kitchen.  Not that they are going to do any harm, but it is nice to be able to set them outside so they can go about their business.    This handy little gadget can easily be made by anyone.  It requires a pop bottle and a pair of scissors.

    Find a pop bottle.
    Cut pop bottle into half with a utility knife of a pair of scissors.
    Invert the top into the bottom.  Make sure that the ‘top’ of the bottle
    is about 1″ above the base of the bottle.
    Mason Bee catcher ready for use.
    Add any escapees into the Catcher, and release them outside.
    If the bee is very active, slow it down by setting it into a fridge for
    about 30 mins and then release.
    A happy bee that has just been released.