Sunday, 14 July 2019


From one of our favourite weekly features, Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links, we are invited to ruminate over the fact that while most countries are named after one of four things—often tautologically, especially in translation—that are sometimes not very consequential to present geopolitics, there are some notable mavericks that defy or really lean into categorisation.
With nearly all countries named in deference to either a cardinal direction, a distinguishing geographical feature, a tribe or clan or an important personage, we’d wish that the campaign to make America great again was an effort to improve scholarship on the Latinised name of a fifteenth century Florentine cartographer from the Vespucci family but alas and alack.  There are nonetheless some notable (and notably disputed too) outliers as well. Our favouites being Malta named for bees (ฮœฮตฮปฮฏฯ„ฮท, honey-sweet), Mexico after a simplification of an Aztec city (Mฤ“xihtli) that meant in the navel of the Moon and the Pacific island nation of Nauru, possibly derived from the native conjugation anรกoero, I go to the beach.

Sunday, 7 July 2019


Though maybe I am just doing a better job paying attention—which certainly counts for something too—and being engaged with the consequences of our behaviour for the environment or maybe it’s the recently adopted legislation and agricultural reforms made to be more sustainable and friendlier for pollinators, while I’ve noticed that crop-rotation and allowing fields to be fallow for a season, recharging the soil by sewing clover or grasses and letting it rest, I don’t think I’ve seen before sections of land, vast swaths of it, wholly given over to wildflowers like I am seeing now.
It isn’t just the margins and shoulders along tractor trails that are teeming with blooms but also deep into the interior of grain crops, thick with cornflowers (Cyanus segetum, Kornblume—considered endangered due to over-use of pesticides), poppies (Papaver rhoeas, Mohnblume), baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata, Schleier-Gipskraut—that is, chalk-loving), thistles (Silybum marianum, Disteln) and daisies (Bellis perennis—pretty everlasting, Gänseblümchen), the fields are droning with the buzz of bees.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

pollinators’ corner

Here is a selection of various insects visiting flowers in bloom, mostly daisies, around the backyard, taken in quick succession—and not including the elusive ones that were harder to photograph at the moment. What celebrity bug friends can you find and identify near you?

Thursday, 6 June 2019

apis and bombus

Via Slashdot, we learn that the same Australian-French collaborative team of researchers that determined that honeybees understand the concept of zero, can recognise human faces and perform basic arithmetic also can understand numerals as stand-ins to symbolise numerical values.
Separate studies suggest that bumblebees (which also live in nests and hives as colonies with a queen and division of labour—albeit on a much smaller scale) are capable of a similar level of communication and learning, they just don’t dance like their more agile cousins, a fact that sounds funny given that they’ve garnered the reputation of being too heavy to fly, which they manage quite well on the contrary. Insights into how smaller brains process such abstractions are not only humbling and point to the eusocial insects and their cohesion as drivers of culture but could moreover led to new and innovative ways to mimic Nature with artificial intelligence.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

le forรชt

As debate continues on how the iconic landmark ought to be rebuilt and restored, true to its former self or romanticised memories or rather a showcase of innovation in building material and technique as it has been over the centuries, Studio NAB puts forward its proposal to replace the ancient wooden roof with a green house that hosts educational and outreach programmes and is reflective of challenges facing contemporary times. What do you think about that?  The burnt oak timbers known colloquially as the Forest would be fashioned into planters and fertilise new growth from the ashes and the spire would be raised again as an apiary, accommodating a number of beehives.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

telling the bees

Not exclusively a British custom but perhaps more concentrated than on the continent, the very endearing custom of ‘telling the bees’ recorded in Ireland, France, Germany and Bohemia as well probably has ancient origins in the mythological belief that the helpful insects could bridge the natural and supernatural realms.

Kept bees would be kept apprised of all milestones in the life of the beekeeper and family and surely this confessional sharing was therapeutic and a comfort in the face of loss or change, and breach of the practise—that is, failure to involve the hive during major life events, not putting them into mourning or informing them of births and weddings carried a penalty, not only foreboding for the occasion itself but the colony itself could become unproductive or stray. Though divination is not emphasised as much as participation, the bees through their behaviour could also give an omen and help to optimise outcomes. Learn more about the strong and establish relationship between humans and the pollinators at Amusing Planet at the link above and do take a moment to greet and thank your local bees.

Friday, 19 April 2019

apiculture urbaine

Understandably not the first concern to leap to mind, but thanks to Parisien correspondent extraordinaire Messy Nessy Chic, we are happy to report that rooftop colony of bees kept in three hives (ruches) at Notre-Dame de Paris has miraculously also survived the fire, residing on a portico one level below the ancient wooden timber frame that was engulfed in flames. The hives are part of a very successful network of some three hundred kept in the city to contribute to the urban ecosystem, pollinate plants and offer humans surplus honey, populated by a docile breed of honey bees developed at the Buckfast Benedictine Abbey (also for its fortified tonic wine) in Devon in the 1920s. Learn much more at the link up top and spread the consoling news.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

wir retten die bienen

Breaking developments on a story we’ve been watch for a few weeks now from TYWKIWDBI, the state legislature of Bavaria (previously) has announced that it will enact a petition to save vital pollinators and insect populations in general by reforming agricultural practises, boosting organic farming, reducing run-off and providing more oases for bees and butterflies, fully adopting the demands without setting it before a plebiscite—as its popularity and political will have already been sufficiently demonstrated. Protests begun in February have resulted in a rather landmark shift in attitude translated to real change in the course of a couple of months, passing unanimously through parliament.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

field notes

Though the verdict is still out on whether plants can vocalise, it seems that a research team has demonstrated that flowers act as ears and can distinguish the buzz of an approaching pollinator over the general din and sweeten its nectar. The less conclusive part of the study looked into whether plants communicated distress or well-being at ranges above what humans can hear and how this might be interpreted by arboreal creatures and insects.
Humans are being humbled all the time and we have far more empathy for the natural world and our place in than we did in the past—even a decade ago, most regarded animals as having no interior lives or feelings, but as the latter smacks a bit of the pseudoscientific methods that probably set back our collective willingness to examine and consider plant communications, it’s probably a bit of a treacherous claim that we are not quite ready for. For better or worse, regardless of the veracity and rigour, sometimes we are just not receptive to ideas that can change our world view, like the parable of Clever Hans, a stunt that set back the cause of animal rights significantly but no we not only know that bees can do simple arithmetic but that plants do communicate to and socialise with their neighbours through chemical signals and via a complex and poorly understood network that connects whole forests through their roots.

Monday, 19 November 2018


Via Fast Company, we learn that in response to the shocking, precipitous drop in flying insect populations and the consequence that has moving up the food-chain, designer Matilde Boelhouwer—with the consultation of entomologists—has created and installed oases for urban dwelling pollinators who might otherwise find themselves in a food desert.
Rather than copying Nature with her artificial flowers, Boelhouwer has instead studied the ways that butterflies, moths, honey bees and bumblebees feed and created a composite morphology that maximises attractiveness and access. The stations are even self-sustaining, replenishing the food supply with a catchment for rain water and operating through capillary action. It’s hard to say what the long term outcomes of such interventions might be but surely this act of kindness for the small and similar efforts are a step in the right direction to rehabilitate our stewardship of the planet.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

le syndrome d’effondrement des colonies d’abeilles

France has announced a ban—restrictions that go above what the European Union has deemed allowable, permitting the use of some members of this class of pesticides for greenhouse farming only where cross-contamination is less likely—on all neonicontinoids, long suspected of being a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder and the general loss of insect life that plays a vital role in maintaining the food chain. This class of pesticides were introduced in the 1990s as a less toxic alternative to existing products on the market, and structured on the nicotine molecule, the companies pitched their new formulations as safer and targeted without lingering in the environment.
Not quite able to pinpoint the lethal mechanism, the pathology, the industry invoked other factors like cell phone signals, monoculturing and noxious automotive emissions—which cannot be ruled out—but also possibly served as a cover and distraction for the real dangers of this substance. Researchers have now taken a nuanced, holistic approach to their field studies and suspect that they may have been overlooking the addictive property that these chemicals have for insect neurology and behaviour, making the bees exposed to it chemically dependent on the substance and thus overriding the instincts of the individual and the hive to make good choices about where to forage and how to defend the hive. It’s like Drone Dad that flew off to get a pack of cigarettes and never returned. If science is only getting wise to this consequence in bees, just imagine how disruptive introducing an addictive substance could be for less-studied bug lif, even when they are considered pests.  I hope other places follow France’s lead and not enter into large-scale experiments prematurely and uninformed.

Friday, 27 July 2018

biลกu ลกลซnas

Reflecting on Albert Einstein’s dire and prescient warning about how if we eradicated the bees, we’d be soon to follow, Latvian designer Arthur Analts carried the competition to create a unique and collectable 5 € coin for the ecologically conscious country in the form of a honeycomb, whose shape also references the geography of the nation and the Gulf of Riga. The euro replaced the lats and santฤซmi in 2014 when the country became one nineteen member states to use the domination. Among those Analts beat out were the entrants from the British design agency who cleverly ran a counter-commemorative currency campaign to what the Royal Mint thought symbolised the UK. Be sure to visit the link up top to learn more.

Friday, 30 June 2017


underground sundae: recreating the lost psychedelic commercial that Andy Warhol made in 1968 for a Manhattan family restaurant franchise

lad culture: Sir David Attenborough narrates a typical British night out

dumpster honey: revisiting a disturbing requiem for Nature in the Anthropocene epoch—and yes, it was the insecticides all along

chiaroscuro: stunning night time photographs of Japanese playground equipment

cubismo: Spanish street artist Belin produces hyper-realistic graffiti portraits that evoke Pablo Picasso’s elements of cubism and the surreal

alive, son of awake: a look at the tradition of fantasy and speculative fiction of the Muslin world that precedes European Romanticism by centuries

Friday, 23 June 2017

apiary or cargo cult

Revealed in a patent application disclosed recently, a major online retailer is aiming to install multi-level, vertical “fulfilment centres” in urban environments. Instead of the traditional warehouse model, which may be located close to transportation hubs are too far removed from consumers and workers, giving aerial delivery drones a hive (this traditional beehive form is called a skep and were fashioned out of wicker or coils of straw) to work from could facilitate commerce without contributing to street level congestion. I wonder how these changes in infrastructure and supply-chain management will affect urban planning and civil engineering.

Friday, 10 March 2017

honeycomb hideout or finding buzz

Dispiritingly, the bee mascot is missing from the cartons of a popular breakfast cereal brand to highlight the seriousness of the plight of bees around the world, as Super Punch corroborates. The cereal box prize of this campaign is wildflower seeds to help bring back the bees and a raft of educational material on what individuals can do to improve their local ecology. I do hope that this send the message that sticks with especially young breakfast-eaters that we can indeed do something and bring back the bees.

Monday, 1 August 2016

royal jelly

Happily those insect motels of straw and cinder-blocks are getting as popular and common as bird houses, but there’s no reason, as the fabulous Everlasting Blรถrt informs, to skimp on luxury for our apian friends. To underscore their appreciation for these pollinators for supplying their fruits and vegetables, a storied and posh Yorkshire emporium has teamed up with Kew Botanical Gardens to prove their swarms lavish lodging in the Grand Beedapest Hotel. Read all about the project and urban bee-keeping at the link.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

the bees’ knees or honeycomb hideout

As if humans weren’t already enough of a plague for the bees and their business, I learnt recently of a newly discovered component that might tease out a bit more about why bees as a real ecological keystone are vanishing and well as the wildlife they support.
Although diesel emissions are very much a contentious subject right now, it would serve one well to realise despite the increase in traffic and that our driving is leaving a much bigger footprint than we’ve been led to believe, three decades ago, the situation was far more dire with trees growing along the Autobahn covered in black soot and at least know, slowly, we are paying greater attention to the important things, diesel—specifically the nitrous oxide (NOx) which probably isn’t good for any living thing in any amount—has a measurable cognitive detriment for the pollinators. Vehicle exhaust affects the subtle aromatic chemistry of the flowers that bees seek and even a tiny change in the scent environment means that bees can’t form a mental map of the desired nectar and can’t communicate with their interpretive dance to others in the hive. Possibly this signals interference does not spread far from the shoulder of the road and may not be the chief pathogen working against the colonies (as there are several other candidates—habitat loss, pesticides, genetically modified crops, electrosmog from cellular masts, etc.), this is yet another reason to clean up our obsession with fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine, which seems quite antiquated and steam-punk no matter how it’s packaged.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


cat fancy: collection of Wikipedia articles involving legendary felines

ottoman empire: accordion coffee table doubles as a dress

merry melodies: five bizarre Looney Tunes cartoons

honeycomb hideout: Oslo builds a bee highway through the city

vajen-bader: possible 1800s steampunk inspiration for Star Wars cast of characters

Friday, 20 February 2015

mead hall or on tap

Via Colossal, comes a really brilliant bee-keeping set up, perfect for urban environments and for those maybe too skittish to be bee-wranglers, that harvests the honey by means of specially designed plumbing that allows it to flow, overcoming its great viscosity, from the comb under the force of gravity, like tapping maple sap for syrup production, and with minimal intrusion to the hive. I wonder if this trend of in situ condiments might spread, to something surpassingly fresh—or branch out in other directions, perhaps harnessing the natural preservative properties of nectar as a staple ingredient in for short-order items or make fresh mead (honey-wine) bars as popular as juice bars. Be sure to check out the link for more details and a demonstration of the system.

Friday, 13 September 2013

apiculture or re-colonisation

I fear that worldwide, bees—domestic and wild—are far from being completely out of the woods when it comes to any number of natural and artificial ravages, it seemed like the bees returned this summer in Germany, at least, with a vengeance.
Any number of factors could have been decimating their numbers, which drive worker-bees from their hives and thus the support system collapses—ranging from cellular phone masts, parasites, pesticides, genetically modified crops to mono-culturing, and I wonder what factors shifted here to very nearly make sitting outside intolerable. Or maybe those are just all the prodigal bees that disappeared from their home-hives on the return. Of course, I'll suffer a curious bee droning too close and investigating my food and drink but at times it was enough to move the table-setting indoors. It was worse and more immediate than ants marching on a picnic, and I wonder if the stabilisation of the population will once again make bees the object of irreverence, instead of dire concern, like with the portrayals of killer bees in B-movies and angsty media.