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At Least 1 Million Bees Found Dead in Cape Town

Animals
At Least 1 Million Bees Found Dead in Cape Town
Mark Helm / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Beekeepers in and around Cape Town, South Africa are facing significant losses of their pollinators in recent weeks.

The mass deaths have been linked to an insecticide called fipronil that was likely incorrectly used by the area's wine farmers, according to media reports.


Brendan Ashley-Cooper, the vice-chairperson of Western Cape Bee Industry Association, told the BBC about 100 of his hives were affected and between 1 million and 1.5 million bees died.

"A week ago we started getting calls that beekeepers were finding dead bees in front of their hives. I came to inspect my bee site and found similar results and found thousands upon thousands of dead bees in front of a lot of my bee hives," the commercial farmer told South African broadcaster eNCA.

Millions of bees poisoned www.youtube.com

The beekeepers suspected that the area's wine farmers were spraying their vineyards with a mix of ant poison and molasses, the Weekend Argus reported last week.

Ashley-Cooper sent a sample of the mixture to a laboratory in Cape Town, which determined that fipronil was the main ingredient in the sample, the West Argus reported over the weekend. The wine farmers have since stopped using the pesticide.

Other area beekeepers lost hives, including Lawrence Woollam, who told the West Argus his business will be severely impacted after losing between 90 percent and 100 percent of his bees.

Fipronil is a broad-spectrum insecticide used to control ants, beetles, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, termites and other insects. It works by disrupting the central nervous system of invertebrates.

As the South African explained, the bees were likely attracted to the sweetness of the molasses. After ingesting the potent mixture, they brought it back to their hives and infected the rest of their colony.

Both wild and managed bee hives in Cape Town's southern areas were affected, Ashley-Cooper told the BBC.

Honey bees and wild bees are vital for crop pollination and are a critical part of our food system. One out of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on bees for pollination, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. However, bee populations are crashing around the world due to factors such as neonicotinoids, habitat loss and disease.

The Cape Town beekeepers, wine farmers and the government are now working together to find a solution to the problem. Further tests will be conducted to confirm whether the pesticide is to blame.

"The farmers have been very concerned about the bee die-off. We're having meetings with the farmers in the next couple of days to have a look if they have caused this problem and to see if we can find solutions," Ashley-Cooper told eNCA.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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