Bird Fact Friday – The House Finch (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the House Finch, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • The House Finch is gregarious, social, vocal, and often colorful.
  • They were introduced from the western US to New York in the 1940s, and are now common across much of the US and Mexico in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.
  • These finches are small with conical bills, gray-brown bodies, and streaked underparts.
  • Males often have a rosy red or orange/yellow head and breast.
  • They are exclusively vegetarian, even during nesting.
  • Nests can be found in trees, ledges, and buildings.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 11 years.
  • Population: 35 million and possibly declining since 1994 due to disease (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis).

Have you seen (or heard) a House Finch?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Why do bees fill up on honey?

Adapted from 82-84 of The Lives of Bees:

Worker bees filling up on honey.

There are two distinct contexts in which it is adaptive for worker bees to stuff themselves with honey and become averse to stinging. One is when they are in a swarm. Swarming bees tank up with honey—indeed, they nearly double their body weight in doing so—before they leave their old home in order to be fully energized for the flight to their new dwelling place and for the work of fitting it out with beeswax combs. But why are these honey- laden bees so reluctant to sting? The answer is simple: the act of stinging is fatal for a worker honey bee, and a swarm needs as many worker bees as possible once it has moved into its new nest site. 

The second circumstance in which it is highly adaptive for worker bees to engorge on honey and then refrain from stinging is when their home is threatened by fire, a danger they sense by smelling smoke. A field study recently conducted by Geoff Tribe, Karin Sternberg, and Jenny Cullinan has revealed how colonies of the Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis) in South Africa benefit from imbibing honey and becoming passive when they smell smoke. Seven days after a wildfire incinerated a 988- hectare (2,441- acre) swath of the Cape Point Nature Reserve, these investigators inspected 17 nesting sites within the charred landscape that they knew had been occupied by wild colonies before the fire. Each colony occupied a rock- walled cavity located either beneath a boulder or in a cleft within a rocky outcrop. The research team discovered that all 17 colonies were still alive, even though several had suffered partial destruction of their nests: some melting of the propolis “firewall” at the nest entrance and (less often) of the beeswax combs deeper in the nest cavity. Evidently, the bees had filled up with honey upon smelling the smoke, had retreated as deeply as possible into their fireproof nest cavities, had survived the wildfire, and were sustaining themselves on the honey they had cached in their bodies. A week or so later, plants known as fire- ephemerals would sprout and start to bloom, so soon these bees would be able to resume foraging.

This investigation of wild honey bee colonies surviving a wildfire shows us how the bees’ engorgement response to smoke is adaptive for the bees living in a fire- prone region of South Africa. What it reveals, however, is a bit different from the standard explanation for why honey bees fill up on honey and become quiet when they smell smoke: to prepare for abandoning the nest to escape the fire. I think the standard explanation is probably incorrect, for I suspect it is unlikely that a colony threatened by fire can successfully evacuate its nest site and fly off through flames and smoke, especially since its queen is apt to be gravid and therefore a perilously clumsy flier.

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Tom Seeley

Humans have kept honey bees in hives for millennia, yet only in recent decades have biologists begun to investigate how these industrious insects live in the wild. The Lives of Bees is Thomas Seeley’s captivating story of what scientists are learning about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of honey bees living outside the beekeeper’s hive—and how wild honey bees may hold the key to reversing the alarming die-off of the planet’s managed honey bee populations.

Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, sheds light on why wild honey bees are still thriving while those living in managed colonies are in crisis. Drawing on the latest science as well as insights from his own pioneering fieldwork, he describes in extraordinary detail how honey bees live in nature and shows how this differs significantly from their lives under the management of beekeepers. Seeley presents an entirely new approach to beekeeping—Darwinian Beekeeping—which enables honey bees to use the toolkit of survival skills their species has acquired over the past thirty million years, and to evolve solutions to the new challenges they face today. He shows beekeepers how to use the principles of natural selection to guide their practices, and he offers a new vision of how beekeeping can better align with the natural habits of honey bees.

Engagingly written and deeply personal, The Lives of Bees reveals how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own.

Dino Day: Sinosaurus shawanensis

All summer long, we’ll be highlighting different theropods from Dinosaur Facts and Figures: The Theropods and Other Dinosauriformes by Rubén Molina-Pérez and Asier Larramendi (with illustrations byAndrey Atuchin and Sante Mazzei).

This week’s entry is adapted from page 22:

A large vertebra from the Lower Jurassic (Hettangian, ca. 201.3–199.3 Ma) of northeastern Pangea (present-day China) was found among remains of sauropodomorphs and other mixed theropods. It may belong to a large specimen of “Dilophosaurussinensis, weighing more than a current hippopotamus. It was a dangerous predator, as it was not only big for its time but also quite agile, due to its slender build. The name “Sinosaurus shawanensis” appears on a list of fauna somewhere but was not formally named.

The longest theropod footprint from the Lower Jurassic may have been made by a species similar to Sinosaurus. It is different from the asymmetrical imprints left by megalosauroids. It was found in north-central Pangea (present-day Poland).

The smallest footprint of the Lower Jurassic belongs to a young coelophysid named the Grallator that lived in northwestern Pangea (present-day New Jersey).

Dinosaur Facts and Figures: The Theropods and Other Dinosauriformes
By Rubén Molina-Pérez and Asier Larramendi
Illustrations byAndrey Atuchin and Sante Mazzei

The theropod dinosaurs ruled the planet for millions of years, with species ranging from the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to feathered raptors no bigger than turkeys. Dinosaur Facts and Figures is a stunningly illustrated book of records for these marvelous creatures—such as the biggest, the smallest, and the fastest theropods, as well as the ones with the most powerful bite.

This one-of-a-kind compendium features more than 3,000 records, covers some 750 theropod species, and includes a wealth of illustrations ranging from diagrams and technical drawings to full-color reconstructions of specimens. The book is divided into sections that put numerous amazing theropod facts at your fingertips. “Comparing Species” is organized by taxonomic group and gives comparisons of the size of species, how long ago they lived, and when they were discovered. “Mesozoic Calendar” includes spreads showing the positions of the continents at different geological time periods and reconstructions of creatures from each period. “Prehistoric Puzzle” compares bones, teeth, and feathers while “Theropod Life” uses vivid, user-friendly graphics to answer questions such as which dinosaur was the smartest and which had the most powerful bite. Other sections chart theropod distribution on the contemporary world map, provide comprehensive illustrated listings of footprints, compile the physical specifications of all known theropods and Mesozoic birds, and much more.

  • The essential illustrated record book for anyone interested in dinosaurs
  • Features thousands of records on everything from the smartest and fastest theropods to the largest theropod eggs
  • Includes more than 2,000 diagrams and drawings and more than 300 digital reconstructions
  • Covers more than 750 theropod species, including Mesozoic birds and other dinosauromorphs
  • Provides detailed listings of footprints, biometric specifications, and scholarly and popular references

Bird Fact Friday – The Purple Finch (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Purple Finch, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • The Purple Finch is chunky, seed-crackling, and musical.
  • They are short distance migrants who spend summers in southern Canada, winters East and on the West Coast, and are year round in New England, Great Lakes, and parts of the West Coast.
  • These finches prefer coinferous or mixed forests in summer, as well as open habitats in winter. They are attracted to feeders.
  • Their bills are small and stout, with a strong conical bill. They have a short notched tail, and are overall brown with cheek patch. Male upper bodies are partly rosy violet. Females are coarsely streaked below.
  • They often sing from a high perch.
  • For the most part, they eat seeds, as well as fruits and insects.
  • Nests can be found in outer limbs of trees.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 14years.
  • Population: 3 million and declining in East due to House Finch competition.

Have you seen (or heard) a Northern Cardinal?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

Adapted from pages 58-59 of The Lives of Bees:

The earliest known evidence of hive beekeeping is the stone bas-relief carving shown in Figure 3.3 (below), which dates to 2400 bce, or nearly 4,500 years ago, when honey and dates were the chief sweetening materials in Egyptian cookery and beekeeping was an important Egyptian industry. This sculpture is now displayed in the Neues Museum in Berlin, but it was originally part of the pharaoh Nyuserre’s temple to the sun god Re at Abū Jirāb, a site about 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Cairo. On the left side of the panel, we see a beekeeper kneeling by a stack of nine horizontal hives, whose tapered shape suggests they were made of fired pottery. The three hieroglyphs above this beekeeper are the letters for the Egyptian word nft (to create a draft), so evidently the man is using the time- honored method of using smoke—the smoker (missing) is between him and the hives—to pacify bees and drive them off their honeycombs. In the center and on the right, we see other men handling honey in a production line that ends with one individual, perhaps an official, affixing a seal on a vessel to safeguard its precious contents.

Oldest evidence of beekeeping, from the sun temple of the pharaoh Nyuserre, which was constructed nearly 4,500 years ago. On the far left, a kneeling man puffs smoke toward a stack of nine horizontal hives. In the middle, two standing men pour honey from smaller pots into larger vessels, the taller vessel being steadied by a kneeling man. On the right, a kneeling man ties a seal on a container filled with honey; on a shelf above him are two similar containers that also have been sealed shut.

Further direct evidence of hive beekeeping in antiquity was discovered in 2007 by archaeologists who found 30 intact hives, along with the remains of another 100–200 hives, while excavating the ruins of the Iron Age city of Tel Rehov, located in the Jordan Valley in northern Israel. Radio carbon dating of spilled grain found near the hives indicates that this apiary dates to 970–840 bce, hence to nearly 3,000 years ago. Each hive is an unfired clay cylinder whose length (ca. 80 centimeters/32 inches), outside diameter (ca. 40 centimeters/16 inches), and entrance opening (diameter 3–4 centimeters/1.3–1.6 inches) matches those of the traditional hives used in the Middle East today. What is perhaps most remarkable about this find is that these ancient cylindrical hives, the oldest yet found, are stacked horizontally and parallel—like logs in a woodpile—to form three rows about 1 meter (ca. 3 feet) apart, each one three tiers high. This shows that this nearly 3,000- year- old apiary was organized in the same way as those of traditional beekeepers in the Middle East today.

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Tom Seeley

Humans have kept honey bees in hives for millennia, yet only in recent decades have biologists begun to investigate how these industrious insects live in the wild. The Lives of Bees is Thomas Seeley’s captivating story of what scientists are learning about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of honey bees living outside the beekeeper’s hive—and how wild honey bees may hold the key to reversing the alarming die-off of the planet’s managed honey bee populations.

Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, sheds light on why wild honey bees are still thriving while those living in managed colonies are in crisis. Drawing on the latest science as well as insights from his own pioneering fieldwork, he describes in extraordinary detail how honey bees live in nature and shows how this differs significantly from their lives under the management of beekeepers. Seeley presents an entirely new approach to beekeeping—Darwinian Beekeeping—which enables honey bees to use the toolkit of survival skills their species has acquired over the past thirty million years, and to evolve solutions to the new challenges they face today. He shows beekeepers how to use the principles of natural selection to guide their practices, and he offers a new vision of how beekeeping can better align with the natural habits of honey bees.

Engagingly written and deeply personal, The Lives of Bees reveals how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own.

World Oceans Day: Safeguarding the Oceans for Future Generations

Photo credit: @ORCA_web on Twitter

The ocean covers more than two thirds of the surface of our planet, and is the mysterious home of countless species. The seemingly endless sea, both evocative and intimidating, can strike us as eternal, unchanging, infinite.

However, despite appearances, the marine environment is fragile and vulnerable, and in the 21st Century faces a wider array of threats than at any other point in human history. Growth in population, industrialisation and technological advancement has given humanity the ability to delve deeper and farther into the ocean, and as a result our impact on the ocean has been profoundly damaging.

ORCA believe that everyone who cares about the marine environment have a responsibility to play their part to make sure that these critical habitats are protected and the marine life that calls it home are safe. We do this by training volunteer “citizen scientists” to monitor whales, dolphins and porpoises, using them as indicator species to give us a picture of the overall health of the ocean. We know that if whales and dolphins are thriving, the ecosystem is strong and that other species are doing well.

By doing this we can understand the impact of the many threats that marine species are facing in the 21st century, and identify trends in the places we can find marine mammals and the populations in different parts of UK and European waters.

This includes well known issues such as marine plastic – thousands of tons of plastic waste that finds its way into the ocean and is ingested by a host of different species. This can fill the stomach of animals that mistake it for food, causing them to starve and eventually die, with some specimens found with huge quantities of plastic waste in their stomach.

It also includes less know threats, such as bycatch. This is when marine animals are tangled in fishing gear, which can cause horrific injuries and even death. Hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises are victim to this each year, both smaller animals who are caught and drowned in nets and larger whales which are entangled in lines from crab and lobster pots.

Monitoring whales and dolphins is even allowing ORCA to work to address some of the least understood issues facing marine mammals, including ship strike. Large whales globally are regularly involved in collisions with ships of all types and sizes, but the problem is so poorly understood we don’t truly understand even the scale of the challenge facing us. ORCA are analysing large whale behaviour to better understand how they react to ships, as well as analysing data to identify more high risk areas. We hope to be able to give ships better advice on how to minimise the risk of collisions.

We’re delighted to have the opportunity to highlight some of these threats in the upcoming Europe’s Sea Mammals – not only have we been able to include the data we use to try and mitigate some of these threats, but we have even been able to profile some of the challenges facing whales and dolphins to raise awareness, and hopefully inspire people to make small changes in their own lives.

We can all do our part to keep the ocean safe and we have a responsibility to be custodians of the sea. To find out some of the ways you can get involved, be sure to pick up Europe’s Sea Mammals, as well as visiting www.orcaweb.org.uk to find out how you can be an ocean hero.

Europe’s Sea Mammals Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde
A field guide to the whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals
By Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Tim Stenton, and Luis Dias

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas. Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics, highlights key identification features and includes information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species. Produced with the marine conservation charity ORCA, the book presents mapping data from a decade of surveys, which shows both current distribution and changes over time.

Europe’s Sea Mammals is an essential companion for whale watchers and anyone else who is interested in this enigmatic group of mammals.

  • The only photographic guide dedicated to this popular whale-watching region
  • Features more than 180 color photos, maps and graphics
  • Highlights key identification features and provides essential information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species

Bird Fact Friday – Northern Cardinal (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Northern Cardinal, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • The Northern Cardinal is a brilliant red year-round bird of the East.
  • They are common in the Eastern US and Southwest.
  • These cardinals prefer dense vegetation and edges, and are often seen at feeders. Diets include seeds and fruits, with some insects.
  • This longish songbird has a long tail, crest, and stout bill. The males are bright red; females are brown with red accents.
  • Unlike most North American birds, both females and males can sing.
  • They may form flocks up to a few dozen in the winter.
  • Females build nests in low vegetation
  • They have a lifespan of up to 15 years.
  • Population: 120 million and increasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Northern Cardinal?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Bees in the Forest

Adapted from page 23 of The Lives of Bees:

Crowd of forager bees recruited to help exploit a square of comb filled with sugar syrup, at the start of a hunt for a wild colony’s home.

How abundant are wild colonies of honey bees? Building on the 1978 study of the density of honey bee colonies living within the Arnot Forest, other biologists have investigated this matter at various sites in North America, Europe, and Australia. The first of these additional studies was led by Roger A. Morse, the entomology professor at Cornell University who generously let me start working in his honey bee laboratory when I was still a high school student back in 1969. He and a team of seven graduate students conducted their study in the spring of 1990, in the small port city of Oswego, on Lake Ontario in northern New York State. Their investigation was triggered by the discovery of a colony of Africanized honey bees—a hybrid between European subspecies and the African subspecies A. m. scutellata —nesting in a shipment of pipes from Brazil. The presence of these exotic honey bees raised concerns that Africanized bees, and the fearsome ectoparasitic mite (Varroa destructor) that these bees could carry, might have been introduced to North America, so attempts were made to locate all the honey bee colonies living near the port so they could be checked for Africanized bees and Varroa mites. Newspaper and radio advertisements were run offering a $35 reward for information on honey bee colonies living in the semicircular area within 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of the port. Eleven wild colonies living in trees and buildings, and one managed colony residing in a backyard beehive, were found. This work revealed that in this small city, the density of the wild colonies was 2.7 colonies per square kilometer (7 colonies per square mile), much higher than what Kirk and I had found in the woods of the Arnot Forest. Fortunately, no Africanized honey bees or Varroa destructor mites were found.

A still higher density of wild colonies was found in a remarkable study conducted by a team of biologists led by M. Alice Pinto at Texas A&M University in 1991–2001. This group worked in the Welder Wildlife Refuge, a 31.2 square- kilometer (12.2 square- mile) nature preserve in southern Texas. Their aim was to track the “Africanization” of a population of wild honey bees living in the southern United States, and they did so by sampling the colonies living in this wildlife refuge before, during, and after the arrival of Africanized honey bees from Mexico. Africanized honey bees are derived from a founder population of an African subspecies, A. m. scutellata, that was introduced to Brazil from South Africa in 1956. The purpose of this introduction was to crossbreed a tropical- evolved African subspecies with several temperate- evolved European subspecies already in Brazil to create a honey bee well suited to tropical conditions. However, several colonies of A. m. scutellata escaped from the quarantine apiary, thrived in the Brazilian climate, and spawned strong populations of wild colonies of this subspecies throughout the American tropics.

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Tom Seeley

Humans have kept honey bees in hives for millennia, yet only in recent decades have biologists begun to investigate how these industrious insects live in the wild. The Lives of Bees is Thomas Seeley’s captivating story of what scientists are learning about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of honey bees living outside the beekeeper’s hive—and how wild honey bees may hold the key to reversing the alarming die-off of the planet’s managed honey bee populations.

Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, sheds light on why wild honey bees are still thriving while those living in managed colonies are in crisis. Drawing on the latest science as well as insights from his own pioneering fieldwork, he describes in extraordinary detail how honey bees live in nature and shows how this differs significantly from their lives under the management of beekeepers. Seeley presents an entirely new approach to beekeeping—Darwinian Beekeeping—which enables honey bees to use the toolkit of survival skills their species has acquired over the past thirty million years, and to evolve solutions to the new challenges they face today. He shows beekeepers how to use the principles of natural selection to guide their practices, and he offers a new vision of how beekeeping can better align with the natural habits of honey bees.

Engagingly written and deeply personal, The Lives of Bees reveals how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own.

Bird Fact Friday – the Canada Goose (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Canada Goose, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This bird flocks on lawns, in parks, fields, and ponds.
  • They are widespread across the United States and Canada, especially near fresh water, agriculture, and grassy areas.
  • This is our largest goose, outsized only by swans.
  • They have a black bill, neck, and face with white chinstrap, tan/brown bodies, and large black webbed feet.
  • These birds often honk loudly when disturbed or flying; their flocks often fly in a “V” formation.
  • They are known to graze or dabble on vegetation.
  • Pairs bond for life and nest on the ground, defending territory during breeding season.
  • Lifespan in the wild is up to 30 years.
  • Population: 5 million and increading.

Have you seen (or heard) a Canada Goose?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.
This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here

Insect of the Week: Honey Bees in the Natural World

Adapted from page 2 of The Lives of Bees

Nest entrance of a wild colony of honey bees living in Munich, Germany.
Photo credit: Felix Remter

Knowing how the honey bee lives in its natural world is important for a broad range of scientific studies. This is because Apis mellifera has become one of the model systems for investigating basic questions in biology, especially those related to behavior. Whether one is studying these bees to solve some mystery in animal cognition, behavioral genetics, or social behavior, it is critically important to become familiar with their natural biology before designing one’s experimental investigations. For example, when sleep researchers used honey bees to explore the functions of sleep, they benefited greatly from knowing that it is only the elderly bees within a colony, the foragers, that get most of their sleep at night and in comparatively long bouts. If these researchers had not known which bees are a colony’s soundest sleepers come nightfall, then they might have failed to design truly meaningful sleep- deprivation experiments. A good experiment with honey bees, as with all organisms, taps into their natural way of life.

Knowing how honey bee colonies function when they live in the wild is also important for improving the craft of beekeeping. Once we understand the natural lives of honey bees, we can see more clearly how we create stressful living conditions for these bees when we manage them intensively for honey production and crop pollination. We can then start to devise beekeeping practices that are better—for both the bees and ourselves. The importance of using nature as a guide for developing sustainable methods of agriculture was expressed beautifully by the author, environmentalist, and farmer Wendell Berry, when he wrote: “We cannot know what we are doing until we know what nature would be doing if we were doing nothing.”

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Tom Seeley

Humans have kept honey bees in hives for millennia, yet only in recent decades have biologists begun to investigate how these industrious insects live in the wild. The Lives of Bees is Thomas Seeley’s captivating story of what scientists are learning about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of honey bees living outside the beekeeper’s hive—and how wild honey bees may hold the key to reversing the alarming die-off of the planet’s managed honey bee populations.

Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, sheds light on why wild honey bees are still thriving while those living in managed colonies are in crisis. Drawing on the latest science as well as insights from his own pioneering fieldwork, he describes in extraordinary detail how honey bees live in nature and shows how this differs significantly from their lives under the management of beekeepers. Seeley presents an entirely new approach to beekeeping—Darwinian Beekeeping—which enables honey bees to use the toolkit of survival skills their species has acquired over the past thirty million years, and to evolve solutions to the new challenges they face today. He shows beekeepers how to use the principles of natural selection to guide their practices, and he offers a new vision of how beekeeping can better align with the natural habits of honey bees.

Engagingly written and deeply personal, The Lives of Bees reveals how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own.

Bird Fact Friday – the Hairy Woodpecker (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Hairy Woodpecker, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This bird is long-billed, trunk probing woodpeckers.
  • They are common in mature woodlands across much of North America, as well as suburbs and parks.
  • These woodpeckers are medium-sized, black and white checkered with white black, black and white wings, and black striped heads. Males show red on the back of their heads.
  • They a re very similar to Downy Woodpeckers but larger, with longer bills, and never feed on reeds or slender branches.
  • These birds mostly eat insects with some fruits and seeds; often at feeders for suet and sunflower seeds.
  • They excavate nest holes in dead parts of trees or dead trees.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 15 years.
  • Population: 9 million and decreasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Hairy Woodpecker?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: the American Dainty

Adapted from pages 374-375 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

Two species of Baccha occur in North America and there are 16 species worldwide, with most of the diversity in the Palearctic and Indomalayan regions. These flies are small and slender, with elongate, petiolate abdomens. They are most similar to species of Ocyptamus, Pelecinobaccha, and Pseudodoros, but are smaller and more fragile in appearance than these flies. Larvae are predators of ground-dwelling aphids.

The American Dainty (Baccha cognata) is 7.2-10.1mm in size, and is readily identified by the narrow abdomen and unmarked wings. The face is black with a small tubercle, the oral margin is not produced, and the scutellum is black. The female ocellar triangle is pollinose. These bugs are common, with flight times from early May to early October (from late March in California).

Baccha cognata is resurrected from synonymy with B. elongata. They are restricted to the Nearctic while B. elongata occurs in Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and the Old World. The species are genetically distinct and females of B. elongata have a shiny ocellar triangle.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.