Scientist don't know why bees acted weird during solar eclipse

12 Octobre, 2018, 05:22 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • To study the influence of a total solar eclipse on bee behavior researchers researchers at the University of Missouri organized a cadre of citizen scientists and elementary school classrooms in setting up acoustic monitoring stations to listen in on bees

Before and after totality, when the sun was partially blocked, the bees seemed completely unaffected by the dimming light or the slightly cooler temperature. So researchers from the University of Missouri made a decision to take advantage of citizen science and the 21 August 2017 total solar eclipse that swept across America.

In fact, the little buzzers stopped flying altogether during the big event, according to research published Wednesday in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

"We anticipated, based on the smattering of reports in the literature, that bee activity would drop as light dimmed during the eclipse and would reach a minimum at totality", Professor Galen said. "As we found, complete darkness elicits the same behavior in bees, regardless of timing or context". "It was like "lights out" at summer camp".

Past research has found a wide variety of animals behaviours during total solar eclipses, from chimpanzees who gather to watch to orb-weaving spiders who tear down their webs. Suspended from lanyards, the microphones recorded the buzz of bees as they zig-zagged from lower to flower.

Supported by a grant from the American Astronomical Society, the project engaged more than 400 participants in setting up 16 monitoring stations. The researchers also recorded data on light and temperature. Participants then sent the devices to Galen's lab, where the recordings were matched up with the eclipse periods from each location and analyzed for the number and duration of bee flight buzzes.

The researchers could not differentiate between bee species from the recordings alone but observations suggest that the monitored bees were bumblebees (genus Bombus) or honey bees (Apis mellifera).

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The data showed that the insects remained active during the partial-eclipse phases both before and after totality, but they essentially ceased flying during the period of totality. However, during the totality itself, the bees completely stopped flying. Usually, at night, bees return to their nests and fly more slowly.

"The eclipse gave us an opportunity to ask whether the novel environmental context - mid-day, open skies - would alter the bees' behavioural response to dim light and darkness", Galen said. "And that's new information about bee cognition", Galen says.

The total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017 traversed 5,000 km from coast to coast of North America. Galen says her team is working to enhance its audio-analysis software to distinguish the flights that foraging bees make when they leave or return to their colonies. This time, Galen and researchers plan on monitoring bees again to see whether the insects actually head home when the lights go off.

It likely won't be hard to find willing citizen scientists and students to help out again.

A bee's view of the total solar eclipse illustrated by fifth grade students who participated in monitoring bee activity during the eclipse. It aims to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue across the entomological disciplines and advance cooperative interaction among diverse groups of entomologists.

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