Science Caturday:Buzzed Off


A report released this week by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a link between a major class of pesticides and harm to honeybees, but only when used on certain types of crops. The report showed that pesticides known as neonicotinoids posed a significant risk to honeybees when used on cotton plants and citrus trees but not when used on other big crops like corn and tobacco.

Both the pesticide manufacturer and anti-pesticide advocates were unhappy with the report, which failed to make a clear case for either continued use of neonicotinoids or an outright ban.

Neonicotinoids, chemicals that work on insects’ central nervous systems, have been the subject of intense debate in Europe, where several countries have enacted full or partial bans on their use.  Despite this, most scientific bee experts agree that neonicotinoids alone are not to blame for the problem of dwindling bee populations, although they may be a factor in some cases.

Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois noted that the health of honeybees, agriculture’s top pollinator, is a complex puzzle that includes climate, food for bees, parasites, disease and the way different pesticides and fungicides interact. “People would like a nice simple story with a guy in a black hat as the bad guy, but it’s complicated.”

Our science kitteh, on the other hand, seems to have identified a villain. Oh, dear.




Art of Science: Kelly Heaton’s Pollination Is Not Just for Plants

Detail from Kelly Heaton, The Beekeeper, 2015. Kinetic sculpture made with steel, cast resin, brass, electronics, wood and paint.
Detail from Kelly Heaton, The Beekeeper, 2015. Kinetic sculpture made with steel, cast resin, brass, electronics, wood and paint.

Kelly Heaton’s new exhibition, Pollination, uses the central motif of plant sex to explore subjects from the scientific (colony collapse disorder) to the romantic (human sexual attraction), to the technological (the spread of ideas). And she uses a dizzying array of media to do it.

The show, at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York through October 24, is dominated by The Beekeeper, a huge kinetic sculpture in which bees fly around an illuminated honeycomb rooted in a landscape of floral electronics.

Heaton also created eight perfumes for the exhibition. Bee The Flower is an “artist’s toolbox” for painting your body with perfume and “pollen.” The perfumes, which visitors can smell, include one made from bee-friendly plants and one actually extracted from dollar bills.

Other works in the show include paintings, pastels and sculptures exploring ideas about the changing world of agricultural production and about humans’ “infestation” by electronics.

If you can’t make it to New York to see Pollination, Heaton, who has degrees in both art and science, has also written a book about the show, which is available on Amazon. You can see more of her work on her website.

Bees been struggling

In my random Netflix perusal, I came across a documentary about the striking loss of bee populations, The Vanishing of the Bees. I hadn’t realized this, but in industrial scale farming a large amount of pollinators are needed to pollinate fields of crops, many more pollinators than live in the area normally. Bee farmers fill this role by cultivating large colonies of bees. They move these bees around the country in semi-trucks to farms where they are needed. These bees are experiencing “colony collapse disorder” where entire colonies of bees are wiped out. Without pollinators, many crops will be drastically affected. Fellow blogger Michele has posted artwork that tries to draw attention to the plight of the bees.

While the research into colony collapse disorder is very complex and implicates multiple factors including diseases and pesticides, the documentary focuses on the potential contribution of  pesticide exposure to this disorder. Continue reading “Bees been struggling”

%d bloggers like this: