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1 June 2016

I love bumblebees, especialy in the spring, hovering around early flowers and blossoms. At www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/bumblebees-detect-flowers-electric-buz… … it seems flowers generate a weak electric field and bumblebees sense the electric buzz. The secret is in their fuzz (tiny hairs that act like antennae).

A background electric field exists in the  atmosphere and plants on the ground will generate their own electric fields by interaction with the atmosphere. A piece of research in PNAS used fake flowers – electrically charged (to prove the point). It seems that many creatures are sensitive to small electric fields, even sharks and rays. The presence of sensitive hairs, which are common in the insect world, opens a whole new page on their comings and goings, moving from plant to plant. For the moment scientists are being urged to find out more about bees as they appear to be in decline.

As William Thompson noted this story is dated – Thunderbolts ran it back in 2014 and the initial research finding was published as early as 2013. It was also on the News section around 2014 so this is a repeated story line which reflects further research on the subject, albeit in the remit of trying to find out how bees behave in view of their apparent decline. I don't personally observe a bee decline, or a bumblebee decline. Lots in the garden and in the countryside. However, we have to assume that bees have declined in some parts of the world, for a variety of reasons (otherwise they wouldn't keep harping on about it, would they?). In the UK this is probably also associated with less people involved in cultivating bee colonies and less places to site them free of interference. Being too tidy in the garden and on the farm can also impact on solitary bees, wild bee colonies, and bumblebee habitat. It's a complicated issue and too easy to point a finger at farmers spraying crops. I'm a bit sceptical of certain politically motivated sectors always pointing the finger at insecticides – even when the lethal dosage has been strongly watered down. Take the decline in songbird numbers – farmers are always blamed (and perhaps there is a decline in insects as a result of spraying in the past) but a rise in the population of squirrels, magpies and cats is the more likely cause for the decline – not insecticides. These three species have reached astronomical numbers of late. Fifty years ago the government gave you two shillings for a squirrel tail – and gamekeepers routinely killed magpies. Nowadays they are allowed to breed unchecked and have expanded their range and predatory habits much further (when the countryside itself has been shrinking). Cats without bells around their necks are deadly to wildlife and will take every nestling from a bird box or nest in a vulnerable position. Squirrels are even worse as they will take eggs and nestlings (even in less vulnerable positions). Same with magpies. According to environmentalists magpies are all part of the ecosystem and should be given free rein. It is worth noting that when songbird numbers were high magpies were controlled. Now that they are allowed free rein songbirds are in decline – but farmers are targeted (the environmentalists see farmers as bogey men rather than the growers of the food we eat). They are of course hypocritical as they keep telling us to eat the green stuff (where all the pesticides are used) rather than meat on the hoof (which only involves nitrogen feeding of the grass). The environmentalist tactics on modern farming practice is very similar to the tactics they use on climate change – a continuous drumbeat of lies upon lies and retold lies even when found out. It is the drip drip effect that causes people in the end to repeat the mantra – as it becomes lodged in brain cells and you can't remove it unless you actively make an effort to do so. These are classic tactics used by unions and politicos and others on the political front for generations – including the more well known tactics of propaganda as used by the media (claiming impartiality but behaving in a biased fashion). It is a human weakness – falling for the fake propaganda simply because we don't really have the time to think about everything (as we are too pre-occupied with the norms of life). Next time you read a story that blames insecticides for whatever problem arises just pause and think – is it really that simple?

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