Surprising behavior of bees during total solar eclipses discovered

A buzzworthy study looks at the strange actions of bees.

  • Scientists recorded the activities of bees during the 2017 total solar eclipse.
  • They found that bees completely stopped flying and buzzing.
  • A team of professional and citizen scientists was involved.

There is good science to be done in the unusual. Case in point - researchers just demonstrated the existence of a strange phenomenon, proving that during the solar eclipse of August 21st, 2017, bees did not buzz at all.

The research team based their hypothesis on a few previous reports which indicated that bee activity drops during eclipses. But the scientists did not expect the bees to completely stop doing everything.

To study the question, researchers from the University of Missouri recruited a team of citizen scientists and elementary school teachers and students to set up 16 acoustic monitoring stations across Oregon, Idaho and Missouri.

Originally field-tested for remotely tracking bee pollination remotely via soundscape recordings, the stations were adapted to listen to the bees during the 2017 eclipse. They used tiny USB microphones and temperature sensors placed near flowers to record what transpired. What the devices reported is that when total darkness hit, the bees entirely ceased to buzz. As that sound is just the noise made by the bees beating their wings at 200-230Hz (cycles per second), the lack of buzzing also meant the lack of flying.

Different habitat sites of bees monitored during the total eclipse of August 21, 2017. (Candace Galen, Ph.D., University of Missouri)

The study's lead researcher, Candace Galen, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, explained that the team thought there'd be differences in the bees' behavior come the eclipse, but they had "not expected that the change would be so abrupt, that bees would continue flying up until totality and only then stop, completely." He compared it to suddenly having 'lights out' at summer camp.

The research team used a grant from the the American Astronomical Society to engage more than 400 participants in the study. Members of the team hung the recording devices on lanyards next to bee-pollinated flowers, then sent the devices back to Galen's lab for analysis.


A cartoon drawn by one of the students for the study.Credit: Olivery Ni.

The data showed that bees were active before and after the total eclipse but stopped all flying during the event. Of additional note is the fact that right before and after the totality, the bee flights were longer in duration. This could be due to less available light, according to the scientists. Bees tend to fly slower at dusk, returning to their colonies at night. The eclipse could have caused a similar response, suggest the researchers.

"The eclipse gave us an opportunity to ask whether the novel environmental context—mid-day, open skies—would alter the bees' behavioral response to dim light and darkness. As we found, complete darkness elicits the same behavior in bees, regardless of timing or context. And that's new information about bee cognition," said Galen.

Most of the bees involved in the study were bumble bees (genus Bombus) or honey bees (Apis mellifera).

Check out the new study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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