The hives belonged to the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association, which had 24 colonies at the site in total. The hives were discovered burning early Saturday morning by a sheriff's deputy, who extinguished the flames. Some of the bee boxes had also been tossed into a pond on the site.
"It's bad enough to think in today's world this would happen, but dumping them over and then setting fire to them is beyond comprehension," the association wrote in a Facebook post. The club said it had offered a reward for the discovery of the perpetrator and asked anyone with information to contact the sheriff's office. "I broke down in tears when I saw a floating brood frame in the water with bees still caring for the brood," the post's author added.
The incident comes at a key time of year for honeybees and beekeepers: Blooming plants have started the bees' honey flow, and the queens were laying thousands of eggs a day, association President Steven Brackman told The New York Times.
Sam Degelia, a retired welder who earns extra money selling honey at the farmer's market, lost eight hives with around 60,000 bees each to the blaze.
"I don't want to say it's like losing a kid, but you put all your hard work and pride in it, and somebody kicks the bucket from under you," Degelia told The New York Times. "First there is the shock of losing the bees, and then you say, 'Well, there goes my honey flow.'"
In total, hives belonging to four owners were destroyed.
The fire also comes at a critical moment for honey bees overall. In 2017, U.S. beekeepers lost around 40 percent of their honey bees, 2.7 percent more than the average annual loss since 2010-2011, the Bee Informed Partnership found. Brackman told CNN that bees are declining due to the widespread use of pesticides, with potentially disastrous consequences for humans and the environment.
"Tomatoes, squash, watermelons, bees pollinate those," Brackman said. "So if bees don't pollinate those, you get zero vegetables, we would see next to nothing in the vegetable stores."
The Brazoria County Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for the arsonist, and the association is offering $1,000. It is also taking donations to help beekeepers rebuild. As of Monday, it had raised more than $10,000, the Houston Chronicle reported. The remains of four hive structures had survived the fire, but no queens or eggs have been found, The New York Times reported.
Brackman told the Houston Chronicle that he at least hoped the bees had gotten in some parting shots. If they sense a hive is being disturbed, bee colonies will come to investigate, Brackman explained.
"We're hoping that's what happened to them actually," Brackman said. "Even though those bees would have had a hard time seeing you in the dark, they can detect the heat and hunt you down."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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