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Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals
May 12, 2011 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals Signals from mobile phones could be partly to blame for the mysterious deaths of honeybees, new research shows. In the first experiment of its kind, a bee expert placed a mobile phone underneath a hive and then carefully monitored the reaction of the workers. Download the full report here: Mobile phone-induced honeybee worker piping.
posted by Blake (34 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be fair to the bees, when someone is using a cellphone on the bus, I have a strong desire to leave as well. We are lucky the bees do not give into the urge to just sting us wildly, all the time.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:37 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


If my experience this past weekend is any indicator, this effect clearly does NOT bother gnats....you little f*ckers you.
posted by jalexei at 7:44 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


If this comes down to making people choose between their iphones and BEES, then I suspect the bees are screwed.
posted by hermitosis at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I will do my part to save the bees by not using my cell phone inside a bee hive. Also, by not spraying insecticide on the cropland I do not own.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:47 AM on May 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


That experiment was hardly an experiment at all. No mention of control groups, for one.
posted by empath at 7:48 AM on May 12, 2011


The Daily Mail again? Well, I have to admit that the bee swarm-induced collapse of the world food supply makes a change from things causing/curing cancer. And, of course, the last 'we don't actually make any claims' paragraph follows:

But British bee expert Norman Carreck of Sussex University said: 'It's an interesting study but it doesn't prove that mobile phones are responsible for colony collapse disorder. If you physically knock a hive, or open one up to examine it, it has the same result.

'And in America many cases of colony collapse disorder have taken place in remote areas far from any mobile phone signals.'


LD;DR: The government calls it the Army, but a more alarmist name would be... The Killbot Factory." -- Kent Brockman.
posted by jaduncan at 7:49 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, the paper itself does mention a control, so I stand corrected.
posted by empath at 7:49 AM on May 12, 2011


He put two phones inside the hive to get this effect- so as he says in the paper this isn't something that happens in real life. Also the relationship between worker piping and colony collapse isn't known.

Colony collapse disorder is still a mystery, though the paper does imply that bees are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, so this is another thing to look at.
posted by bhnyc at 7:50 AM on May 12, 2011


You know what's even more infuriating? That when I clicked on the first link, it started playing music, and as I had open about 20 tabs, I never could figure out which one was doing it. And of course, that was the last one I closed. And now when I reopen, it won't play.
posted by scunning at 7:52 AM on May 12, 2011


Ah, classic Daily Mail. Four sequential paragraphs in that article begin with these respective phrases...

"Experts say..."
"Some experts say..."
"And most bee experts say..."
"However, a handful of experts say..."

[citation needed]

I'm not sure what to make of Daniel Favre's claims, which are also being reported in more reputable publications. All I know is that this is a great example of less-than-stellar journalism.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:55 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


They say they are using different mobile phones with different SAR (itself a vague measure), but they say nothing about the actual radio environment they are producing which is, you know, THE KEY THING that they propose to study.

What are the specific uplink and downlink frequencies? Is there any frequency hopping enabled? What about power? Are the radios operating at the upper or lower limits? Is power control actively being applied? Moreover, is it the radio - or maybe the processor - making the spectral components of interest? Radios get hot when in operation, are there any IR related things going on? etc. etc. etc.

The "research" looks superficial and not really very useful. I wonder how long until it becomes considered as unimpeachable fact on the Internet?
posted by three blind mice at 7:57 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't had a bee in my bonnet for quite some time, so there may be something to this.
posted by orme at 7:58 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "research" looks superficial and not really very useful.

To be fair, it is just a pilot study to see if this is something worth examining more closely. If the researcher can convince a research granting body to give him more money, then more elaborate questions can be asked and a more complete picture may result.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2011


All I know is that this is a great example of less-than-stellar

That's because I put a cellphone in the Daily Mail breakroom. It causes journalists to spew nonsense.
posted by DU at 8:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also less-than-stellar copying and pasting.
posted by DU at 8:13 AM on May 12, 2011


I haven't had a bee in my bonnet for quite some time, so there may be something to this.

On the other hand, keeping your cell phone in your bonnet may cause cancer!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:15 AM on May 12, 2011


In the first experiment of its kind, a bee expert placed a mobile phone underneath a hive and then carefully monitored the reaction of the workers.

Were they really annoyed because it meant the hive could be tracked?
posted by biffa at 8:16 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair to the bees, when someone is using a cellphone on the bus, I have a strong desire to leave as well. We are lucky the bees do not give into the urge to just sting us wildly ...

But apparently bees can be trained to respond to small changes in electromagnetic fields. (Walker & Bitteman, 1989, J. Exp. Biol. 145, 489-494) Could be lots of fun at barBQ's.
posted by nangar at 8:25 AM on May 12, 2011


Further research has shown that iPhones have the exact same effect on bees but they just can't help circling back to the iPhones because just. so. cool. looking.

Although to be fair to the bees, they're all very upset about the harsh working conditions that Foxconn places on its employees.
posted by PlusDistance at 8:25 AM on May 12, 2011


Although to be fair to the bees, they're all very upset about the harsh working conditions that Foxconn places on its employees.

Worker solidarity in action, comerade!
posted by jaduncan at 8:28 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Renee Dufault discovered that mercury was used in the process of making corn syrup. Since most beekeepers take all the honey and feed back corn syrup, perhaps the mercury gets into the wax that then gets passed around in foundation. Queen candy for cages made with 45 instead of 55 fructose will kill the bees in transit (Kona Queen director told me that).
posted by Bitter soylent at 8:49 AM on May 12, 2011


This is so straightforwardly and fantastically stupid I'm almost speechless. I'm sure a class of kindergarteners could rip this shit apart if shown a map of incidences. If this hypothesis were true we would see large obvious concentrations of CCD around urban areas, we would not have seen CCD privileged developed countries, and stationary colonies in remote rural areas would be perfectly safe. This is not the case.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder how long until it becomes considered as unimpeachable fact on the Internet?

(Checks time... ) I'd say by about 0847 GMT tomorrow...
posted by JB71 at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2011


I take ecohistrionics about bees with a grain of salt, as a beekeeper myself, and the phone thing is just too much of a "hey, this answers everything!" (so to speak) sort of solution, but just like I'm an agnostic aspiritual wood-knocker, I do usually leave my phone indoors while I'm working my hives. I'm more worried that it'll annoy my girls, though, rather than that I'll kill them. I'm a bit suspicious about phones being the boogieman, because I keep bees in an urban setting, where there are approximately a million gazillion phones in use (usually by the idiot drivers blankly aiming their bulkmobiles at my scooter), and colony collapse is pretty rare for urban beekeepers. You know what's not found in the city, though? Agricultural pesticides in any significant quantity.

For the record, most beekeepers actually only feed in winter (and sometimes spring), because you can't feed bees in harvest season without ending up with combs full of clear, flavorless sugar syrup.
posted by sonascope at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can someone explain to me whether there's actually any possible mechanism here? Other than "OMG CELL PHONES USE RADIATION!"?
posted by jcreigh at 9:23 AM on May 12, 2011


Did you see the knees on those bees? They are awesome!
posted by srboisvert at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2011


ok, so let me get this straight...they're using a radio to simulate cell phone conversations...well, then, maybe it's not the cell phones...maybe it's the music.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:37 AM on May 12, 2011


colony collapse is pretty rare for urban beekeepers. You know what's not found in the city, though? Agricultural pesticides in any significant quantity. ...
posted by sonascope at 9:04 AM


Exactly.

We're about to conclude that CCD is caused by pesticides:

SAN FRANCISCO — For years the news has been the same: Honey bees are being hammered by some mysterious environmental plague that has a name -- colony collapse disorder — but no established cause. A two-year study now provides evidence indicting one likely group of suspects: pesticides. It found “unprecedented levels” of mite-killing chemicals and crop pesticides in hives across the United States and parts of Canada.

The Daily Mail article is a diversionary tactic, merely.
posted by jamjam at 10:00 AM on May 12, 2011


As an intermittent member of L.A. Backwards Beekeepers, and a reader of bee journals and just a researcher in general, Blasdelb has it. Also, per USDA:

Pesticides may be having unexpected negative effects on honey bees. (duh)

A new parasite or pathogen may be attacking honey bees. One possible candidate being looked at is a pathogenic gut microbe called Nosema. Viruses are also suspected.

A perfect storm of existing stresses may have unexpectedly weakened colonies leading to collapse. Stress, in general, compromises the immune system of bees (and other social insects) and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more susceptible to disease.

These stresses could include high levels of infection by the varroa mite (a parasite that feeds on bee blood and transmits bee viruses); poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, or pollen or nectar scarcity; and exposure to limited or contaminated water supplies. Migratory stress brought about by increased needs for pollination might also be a contributing factor.

Woo-y freakouts about cell phones is not the answer, however.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really, Sophie1 has it. People have applied Koch's postulates to CCD with significant amounts of success but that can't be the whole answer, its not one pathogen. I was at the ASM this last year where there was a symposium on CCD where a fungal guy got up, presented his research, and a bunch of virus guys jumped down his throat. A bacteriologist was next and the fungal guys then were good natured and self aware about it but still felt the need to jump down his throat. Really the answer was obvious to everyone, well almost everyone, its not a single new disease causing CCD. What is new is plainly both environmental stresses like pesticides and new beekeeping techniques like trucking colonies across the country (NOT JUST ONE OF THOSE, BOTH) making individual colonies and our population of colonies more vulnerable respectively.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why push for fringe science-y answers when we have clothianidin, a bee-killing insecticide which the EPA knowingly approved for use on US crops. (Previously.)

Clothianidin (brand name "Poncho") is also in use in the UK and in many European countries (but not Germany, which was one of the first to ban it).

Thanks, Bayer! Who needs those pesky bees, anyway?
posted by ErikaB at 2:42 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


For fuck's sake can we PLEASE stop linking to the Daily Mail's "Hysteria Bullshit of The Day!" Please? I mean, who are you people? Why are you reading this? Why are you linking to a paper that is famous for its fabricated articles, slander, outright lies and journalism so sloppy it makes Like Water For Chocolate seem neorealist?

Are you illiterate? Is this some kind of subtle trolling? I don't understand and it shit shit shits me to streaming, Niagara-like tears to see Mefi - for the love of god mefi! - linking to this journalistic skid mark on a regular basis, least of all for such badly written, ignorant tripe. Damn it, you know?
posted by smoke at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


You been goofin' wit' da bees?!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:31 PM on May 12, 2011


Humans always think about what they get from the bees as the only criterion for consideration, hence the comment that syrup does not make good honey and an earlier comment about bees not going to certain crops (they go to pollen from anything close) because that crop does not need bees for pollination.

Of course, beekeepers only feed in the winter and the feed goes into the brood chamber but most commercial beekeepers extract even from that chamber. That wax is darker and is used to manufacture more foundation (on which bees build their new combs) while the lighter wax goes to manufacture cosmetics, etc. The FDA lady said the corn syrup manufacturing process uses mercury to create the lye that breaks down the corn into sugars. All I was saying that it may be possible that tiny bees can take only so much mercury before they abandon the hive. I was a small commercial beekeeper (300 hives) for a couple decades and thought most of what went on was nuts and greedy.
posted by Bitter soylent at 12:31 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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