Friday 19th of August 2022

the endangered flight of the bumblebee...



The beleaguered bumblebee faces a new threat, scientists say.

Researchers have found that two diseases harboured by honeybees are spilling over into wild bumblebees.

Insects infected with deformed wing virus and a fungal parasite called Nosema ceranae were found across England, Scotland and Wales.

Writing in the journal Nature, the team says that beekeepers should keep their honeybees as free from disease as possible to stop the spread.

"These pathogens are capable of infecting adult bumblebees and they seem to have quite significant impacts," said Professor Mark Brown from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Around the world, bumblebees are doing badly.

In the last few decades, many species have suffered steep declines, and some, such Cullem's bumblebee (Bombus cullumanus) in the UK, have gone extinct.

Scientists believe that the destruction of their habitats - particularly wildflower meadows - has driven much of this loss, but the latest research suggests that disease too could play a role.



Gus: I had not seen a bumblebee in years and when I saw one, I took a picture (see above — 2013)....


The Flight of the Bumblebee...

the combined stress factors...


Honey bees are quickly disappearing from the US – a phenomenon that has left scientists baffled. But new research shows that bees exposed to common agricultural chemicals while pollinating US crops are less likely to resist a parasitic infection.

As a result of chemical exposure, honey bees are more likely to succumb to the lethal Nosema ceranae parasite and die from the resulting complications.

Scientists from the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday published a study that linked chemicals, including fungicides, to the mass die-offs. Scientists have long struggled to find the cause behind the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which an estimated 10 million beehives at an average value of $200 each have been lost since 2006.

Last winter, the honey bee population declined by 31.1 percent, with some beekeepers reporting losses of 90 to 100 percent of their bee populations. Scientists are concerned that “Beemageddon” could cause the collapse of the $200 billion agriculture industry, since more than 100 US crops rely on honey bees to pollinate them.

The new findings are key in determining one of the causes of the CCD, but they fail to explain why entire beehives sometimes die at once.


Insecticides — both those sprayed in the fields to control insects (those we call pests) and the insecticides used to manage the health of bee-hives against the varroa mite and fungus that spread faster than ever before — plus loss of habitat, that is to say loss of meadows where plants are varied and accessible to bees, not large fields of monocultures (bees usually operate within 150 metres from their hives though they can travel vast distances), plus changes in climatic conditions (UK experienced wettest winter on record in 2014 still with one week of wet weather to go to the end of winter — while California experienced its driest winter on record) — Plus varroa mites, fungus and other diseases that never affected bees before in such manner — ALL FACTORS THAT STRESS BEE POPULATIONS AT THE SAME TIME, reducing the ability of the bees to recover from this several-prongs "attack"... One stress factor may not destroy the bees, but several stress factors combined can have a deadly effect.


the flight of the bumblebee...



From Dr KarlDr Karl's Great Moments In Science


Many urban myths and half-truths roam our human consciousness. One oft-repeated fairytale runs that according to the laws of science, the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly at all — indeed, not even be able to get off the ground. The reality is, as you probably guessed, that insects can fly — some as high as Mount Everest.

First, how did this story about the bumblebee pop into existence?

The typical sentence runs: "Didn't an aerodynamicist prove that bumblebees can't fly?"

According to John McMasters, who back in the 'good old days' was principal engineer on the aerodynamics staff at Boeing Commercial Aeroplanes, it seems the aerodynamicist of the myth was probably an unnamed Swiss professor famous in the 1930s and 1940s for his work in supersonic gas dynamics. The aerodynamicist was having dinner with a biologist. In the idle chit-chat, the biologist noted that bees and wasps had very flimsy wings — but heavy bodies. So how could they possibly fly?

With absolutely no hard data, but a willingness to help that overcame good dinner party etiquette, the aerodynamicist made two assumptions in his back-of-envelope calculations.

The first assumption was that the bees' wings were flat plates that were mostly smooth (like aeroplane wings). The second assumption was that as air flows over an insect's wings, it would separate easily from the wing. Both of these assumptions turned out to be totally incorrect — and the origin of our myth.

The aerodynamicist's initial rough calculations 'proved' that insects could not fly. But that was not the end of the story.

Of course, being a good scientist, his sense of curiosity got him interested in this problem. Clearly, insects can fly. He then examined insect wings under a microscope and found that they had a ragged and rough surface. In other words, one of his assumptions was way off.

But by then, overzealous journalists had spread the myth he had inadvertently created. The story had flown free, even though the bumblebee supposedly couldn't.

In fact, once our scientists began to look closely at how insects fly, they discovered astonishing details. For example, the aerodynamics used by flies gives them the amazing ability to do a right-angled turn in less than 50 milliseconds.

This problem of how insects fly was so hard to solve, that the mystery was solved only in the last 20 years.

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See articles above about insecticides and pesticides, and picture at top...


selling poison.......

Nonlethal effects matter
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides globally, with broad usage in both home and agricultural settings. Debate is ongoing with regard to whether this chemical threatens vertebrates, including humans. However, the nontarget organisms with the greatest exposure are insects, a group that is both essential and seemingly in decline. Weidenmüller et al. looked at the impacts of glyphosate on bumblebees, essential pollinators, and found that whereas environmentally realistic exposure levels were not directly lethal, they did result in a decrease in the ability of colony members to maintain required hive temperatures (see the Perspective by Crall). Such nonlethal effects can have pernicious effects that lead to indirect decline in this already challenged group. —SNV
Insects are facing a multitude of anthropogenic stressors, and the recent decline in their biodiversity is threatening ecosystems and economies across the globe. We investigated the impact of glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide worldwide, on bumblebees. Bumblebee colonies maintain their brood at high temperatures via active thermogenesis, a prerequisite for colony growth and reproduction. Using a within-colony comparative approach to examine the effects of long-term glyphosate exposure on both individual and collective thermoregulation, we found that whereas effects are weak at the level of the individual, the collective ability to maintain the necessary high brood temperatures is decreased by more than 25% during periods of resource limitation. For pollinators in our heavily stressed ecosystems, glyphosate exposure carries hidden costs that have so far been largely overlooked.
The worldwide decline in insect biodiversity and abundance is well documented (1–5). Pollinating insects have not been spared from these impacts (6, 7). Multiple, potentially interacting anthropogenic stressors are believed to be responsible, including habitat loss and fragmentation (8, 9), pathogens, introduced species, climate change (10–12), and the increasing use of agrochemicals such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers (9, 13).
Glyphosate, an organophosphorus herbicide that is highly effective and available at low production cost, has become the most widely applied herbicide since its commercial introduction in 1974 (14, 15). Glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting one part of the shikimate pathway, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), an essential enzyme found in plants, fungi, and some bacteria (16). Because other organisms lack this enzyme, glyphosate was categorized as a “least toxic” (category IV) substance by the US Environmental Protection Agency (17) and consequently was long believed to be harmless for most animals, explicitly terrestrial insects such as bees (18). Standard risk assessment procedures for the approval of pesticides assess acute toxicity and are performed with well-fed, parasite-free individuals, removing naturally occurring stressors that may modulate the ability of bees to cope with pesticides (9). Under such “ideal” conditions, however, harmful nonlethal effects on individual physiology or behavior may easily be overlooked. In recent years, an increasing number of studies are reporting nonlethal, adverse effects of glyphosate on honey bee brood, on the sensory and cognitive abilities of adult honey bees (19–23), and on the bee gut microbiome (24–26). Whereas our knowledge of the effects of glyphosate on honey bees is still rudimentary at best, next to nothing is known about how glyphosate affects the roughly 20,000 species (27) of wild bees (23, 28, 29). Here, we investigated the effects of long-term glyphosate exposure on bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), especially when a second stressor, resource limitation, co-occurs.
Bumblebees increasingly serve as surrogate species representing wild bees in ecotoxicological studies (30). They live in annual colonies of up to several hundred individuals and are excellent pollinators for a vast array of plant species. Partly because of their unusual ability to show facultative endothermy (i.e., the ability to actively elevate their thorax temperature), bumblebees are abundant in temperate regions, visiting flowers even under harsh weather conditions (31). Thermogenesis consumes nearly as much energy as flight (31–33) and is important for flight muscle activation (34) as well as brood incubation (Fig. 1A). In a highly integrated process, bumblebee colonies maintain their brood at elevated and stable temperatures of ~30° to 35°C (31, 35, 36), enabling rapid brood development and colony growth (31).

Bumblebee colonies are known to show large intercolony variability (37), complicating studies on colony-level effects. We analyzed all glyphosate treatment effects in within-colony comparisons, thus removing the obscuring effect of intercolony variability. Fifteen bumblebee colonies were maintained in the laboratory. Each colony was divided into two halves separated by a wire mesh (Fig. 2A and fig. S2A). Queens were switched between colony sides daily (providing queen presence and brood of all stages on both sides of a colony), and the two sides of a colony were regularly balanced in number of workers (supplementary materials and fig. S3). In a blinded experimental approach, colonies were fed daily, receiving pure sugar water on one side (50% w/w; “Control”; N = 15) and the same amount of the sugar water containing glyphosate (5 mg/liter) on the other side (“GLY”; N = 15). This glyphosate concentration is in the middle range of concentrations used in previous feeding studies on honey bees—ranging between 0.25 mg/liter and 10 mg/liter [e.g., (38–40); reviewed in (19); see supplementary materials]—and is the lower of two concentrations shown to negatively affect gut microbiota in honey bees (24). We analyzed all treatment effects using a Bayesian approach. We report means with 95% credible intervals (CrI), and differences between glyphosate-treated and Control colony sides with 95% CrIs and certainties of difference (CDs). We regard CDs between 90% and 95% as providing weak statistical support, and CDs of 95% or higher as strong statistical support. Workers from glyphosate-treated colony sides showed a reduced life expectancy (by 1.9 days; 95% CrI, –0.1 to 3.9 days) relative to the Control side (CD > 97%; fig. S4). However, mean life expectancy for workers from both treatment groups was at least 32 days; hence, glyphosate can be considered sublethal at the concentration used in this study, mirroring findings for honey bees (19).



SCIENCE2 Jun 2022Vol 376, Issue 6597pp.1122-




Morton Biskind: Early warnings

Morton Biskind, a physician from Westport, Connecticut, was a courageous man. At the peak of the cold war, in 1953, he complained of the incidence of maladies afflicting both domestic animals and people for the first time. He concluded that the popular insect poison DDT was the agent of disease. DDT, he said, was “dangerous for all animal life from insects to mammals.”

The Reign of DDT

Yet, he was astonished of how little responsible officials and scientists did to restrict or ban DDT. On the contrary, they defended DDT:

“[V]irtually the entire apparatus of communication, lay and scientific alike, has been devoted to denying, concealing, suppressing, distorting… [the bad news about DDT]. Libel, slander, and economic boycott have not been overlooked… And a new principle of toxicology has… become firmly entrenched…: no matter how lethal a poison may be for all other forms of animal life, if it doesn’t kill human beings instantly, it is safe. When… it unmistakably does kill a human, this was the victim’s own fault – either he was “allergic” to it… or he didn’t use it properly,” he wrote ( American Journal of Digestive Diseases 20: 331-341 (November 1953) 332).

The warning of Biskind went nowhere. The Pentagon was testing nuclear weapons above ground. And agribusiness, as usual, was expanding its conquest of rural America — and the world. The strategic interests of agribusiness coincided with those of the Pentagon.

Anarchy in the regulation of chemicals

Agriculture borrowed the Pentagon’s chemical warfare strategy for American farmers. The missionaries of agricultural industrialization adopted and spread the profitable new approach to chemical danger — what Biskind aptly called “a new principle of toxicology” — that still reigns supreme among the practitioners of conventional science and politics in the twenty-first century. Like a gigantic octopus, the chemical industry put its tentacles all over Congress, the White House and land grant universities.

No wonder most toxic chemicals have been entering the market without being tested for health and environmental effects. Only the pesticides act and the food and drug part of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act require testing of chemicals likely entering the food we eat and drugs we use.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the cosmetic provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, as well as all other federal laws require no testing for the chemicals or other products entering the market. This does not prevent the industry men and women say the products of their companies “meet EPA standards.”

The death legacy of DDT

DDT came out of that careless chemical culture – and war. DDT was successful in fighting malaria during World War II. For that reason, in 1948, its inventor, the Swiss scientist Paul Miller, received the Nobel Prize for medicine. By then DDT was used widely in America. The US Department of Agriculture “registered” it in 1945.

The Nobel Prize popularity of DDT had nothing to do with its presumed “safety.” DDT killed more than insects. DDT doomed birds by making it impossible for the fertilized eggs to give birth to live chicks. Their brittle shell cracked under the weight of the adult bird during hatching. DDT was particularly deleterious to predatory birds, bringing peregrine falcons, osprey, brown pelicans, and bald eagles to the brink of extinction. DDT also killed many insects it had not been designed to target and small animals, which ate DDT-poisoned fish and wildlife (EPA, DDT: A Review of Scientific and Economic Aspects of the Decision to Ban its Use as a Pesticide, EPA-540/1-75-022, July 1975).

The death legacy of DDT and DDT-like chemicals is a long one because of their toxic chemical properties: DDT belongs to the organochlorines, a huge group of chlorine-based poisons that last for decades in nature while accumulating in the fat of the animal ingesting them.

Rachel Carson: pesticides are sinister partners of radiation

Rachel Carson, a biologist who worked for the Fish and Wildlife of the US Department of the Interior, listened to Biskind. She denounced the hegemony of chemical pesticides, “the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world – the very nature of its life.”

She said America’s single-crop farming clashes with how nature works. Instead, “we allow the chemical death rain to fall…. The crusade to create a chemically sterile world seems to have engendered a fanatic zeal on the part of many specialists and most of the so-called control agencies… there is evidence that those engaged in spraying operations exercise a ruthless power.” She put those thoughts in her 1962 book, Silent Spring (5-13).

Senior officials of the Health, Education and Welfare Department probably read Rachel’s book. They published a study in 1969 documenting, among other effects, the much larger concentration of DDE, the cancer-causing sibling of DDT, in the tissues and blood of black Americans.


EPA scientists became aware of this important report, but they ignored it. Under no circumstances would senior officials of EPA touch questions of race, especially when they knew that farm poisons like DDT harmed blacks and other minorities more severely than they harmed white Americans.

EPA: insidious effects of pesticides

However, in 1972, EPA put DDT under scientific and regulatory scrutiny.

DDT was the granddaddy of all agrotoxins. EPA warned in 1972 that the impacts of DDT and other pesticides on the natural world “may have had an indirect insidious influence on the health and welfare of the [wildlife] population.”

In 1972, an EPA colleague and friend, Charles Reese, edited a report in which EPA expressed concern about the toxic effect of pesticides on the very beginnings of life:

“On a cellular level pesticides can inhibit cell division, photosynthesis, and growth; [they] alter membrane permeability; change metabolic pathways; and inhibit the action of enzymes, including those functional in metabolizing steroid hormones (i.e., estrogen and testosterone), and the enzyme which is functional in the deposition of calcium carbonate in eggshells.”

The EPA report continued: Pesticides may also cause “changes [in the blood], systemic lesions in the brain, spinal cord, liver, kidneys, and stomach, and subsequent susceptibility to bacterial and fungal infections.”

It was the human effects of DDT that convinced EPA to ban it in 1972. EPA considered DDT “a potential human carcinogen.”

EPA: dangerous and useless weed killers

In 1974, EPA published another revealing study with the appropriate title, Herbicide Report. The main conclusion of this study is that herbicides nearly remake the plants they touch by changing their physiology. The sprayed crops then are less capable of resisting pathogens and insects. Farmers using herbicides also disrupt crop rotation, “resulting in increase in pest weeds, insects, and pathogens that may require additional pesticides for control.” In addition, herbicides may change the nutrition of crops. Second, weed killers may cause “serious insect-pest outbreaks” because they alter the chemistry of the plants, making them “more attractive and nutritious to insects.” Third, herbicides may, indirectly, stimulate the “reproduction of insects.”

DDT contamination of food and the planet

By the early 1970s, DDT had contaminated “staple human foods, especially meat and milk.” In 1973, a federal judge did not know what to do with DDT that had contaminated nearly all food. He said, “Although the cancer aspects of DDT are frightening, the obvious solution to that problem, that is, a total ban on foods containing DDT, is not available. Virtually every food contains some DDT… DDT has presented, and apparently will continue to present a massive dilemma both for EPA and for society” (United States v. Goodman 486 F. 2d at 855, 7th Cir. 1973).

The same dreadful thing happened to the global environment. In 1979, two Wildlife Society scientists, Steven G. Herman, and John B. Bulger, reported that DDT was “the most widespread and pernicious of global pollutants” (Wildlife Monographs, No 69, October 1979, p. 49).

Tobacco company starts movement for the resurrection of DDT

These potential and real impacts of pesticides were buried in the same silence that devoured Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s book. Despite that book’s immense popularity, the spray of pesticides in the United States had the sky as the limit.

I thought for a long time that something was wrong with the political failure of Silent Spring. Here was a best-seller denouncing poisons, and yet the widespread circulation of this book went hand in hand with the widespread use of more and more “pest” poisons in the United States. Did that mean that democracy had been eviscerated as early as 1962 and that the American people had lost all power? After all, DDT was in the very food they ate.

Meanwhile, after EPA banned DDT, polluters reasserted themselves, especially with the election of the Republican Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1981. The coming of the Democrat Bill Clinton to the White House in the 1990s did not make much of a difference to the discarding of the hostile environmental policies of the Reagan administration, which had been embedded into the flesh of EPA. In fact, the Clinton years became a fertile ground for a tobacco company planning the resurrection of DDT.

Elena Conis, professor of medical history at Berkeley, tells this story in her book, How to Sell A Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT (Bold Type Books, 2022).

Philip Morris executives and their public relations propagandists schemed to “bring back DDT.”These tobacco people resented that the government had the power to interfere so dramatically in the private sector.

Conis writes how the tobacco executives were thinking about DDT:

“DDT… never should have been banned… Companies, not liberal activists and politicians, should be trusted to make responsible choices. DDT’s fate showed what happened when government got in the way.”

There was another reason Philip Morris businessmen liked DDT. It distracted the public’s and government’s attention from the accumulating evidence of the bad effects and danger of secondhand cigarette smoke.

Conis explains:

“Distraction is one of a list of tactics that various industry players have long used to protect markets for their products. Distract public attention away from unfavorable evidence. Discredit scientists and evidence you don’t like. Distort findings so they say what you want them to say. Deny evidence that isn’t in your favor. These strategies take advantage of the debate and uncertainty inherent in the scientific process.”

Conis also offers another reason for the 1972 banning of DDT. Several chemical companies attacked the primacy of DDT because they had synthesized more profitable alternatives. And some tobacco companies were eager to see DDT off the market because of fear of losing foreign clients already diminishing their dependance on DDT.

“Scientific proof of environmental harm shifter policy only when other interests aligned,” she wrote.

Dumping of DDT waste in the waters of Los Angeles

I did not know that in the early 1970s the chemical industry was turning against DDT. This was also a time the makers of DDT were dumping it in huge amounts into the waters of the Los Angeles harbor near the Catalina Island.

The coast of Southern California off Lost Angeles became a giant DDT grave. The largest producer of DDT was based in Los Angeles. For months and years after World War II, from about 1947 to 1986, the DDT company, Montrose Chemical Corporation and other companies loaded barges with barrels full of sludge laced with DDT. They took these barrels near Catalina island, made holes to them, and dumped them some 200 feet down the ocean water. They wanted the DDT sludge to enter the ocean floor, foolishly ignoring the certain contamination of the marine environment and its vegetation and animals — for decades.

Supposedly, this massive DDT waste has stayed mostly within 17 square miles of the ocean floor. But we are dealing with about half a million barrels of this extremely toxic and lasting compound poured on the ocean floor. Conis says that, probably, “the DDT waste was not just dumped in barrels but also poured directly into the ocean from massive holding tanks.”

Fish, marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions, and fish-eating eagles and condors and fish-eating people have been suffering and dying from the poisoning the ocean waters and fish with DDT. It’s becoming clear that the dumping of DDT was the “most infamous destruction [of ocean wildlife and nature] off the coast of Los Angeles,” wrote Roseanne Xia of the Los Angeles Times on October 25, 2020. The dumping was a grave and lasting harm against environmental and public health. The health and lives of the ocean and people are “inseparable,” Xia wrote.

This DDT “contamination” of the ocean lapping the Southern California coast is much more than an example of pollution or a fancy and expensive Superfund site. EPA has probably no intention or funds for cleaning it up. It’s a gigantic crime involving the chemical industry and several governments, federal and Californian jurisdictions. This tells me the executives of Montrose Chemical Corporation responsible for the DDT dumping from 1947 to 1982 were gangsters. The Greeks would have called them barbarians.

Rachel Carson was not wrong




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