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Hoverfly (Eupeodes corollae) by Thomas Bresson via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Non-Bee Insects Are Important Pollinators, Too

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Hoverfly (Eupeodes corollae) by Thomas Bresson via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

There’s no doubt that our planet’s honeybees are in trouble. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has decimated apiaries and wild bee colonies on three continents, and scientists still don’t fully understand what’s causing it. And CCD is more than just a threat to the bees. Agriculture depends on honeybees to pollinate crops from almonds to watermelons [PDF]. Without the bees, say experts, our food supply and our economy will suffer. 

But bees are not the only pollinators out there. In fact, says a new study, non-bee insects may be just as busy as bees when it comes to pollination. Which ones? “Almost any insect you can think of,” ecologist Margie Mayfield told Scientific American. 

Mayfield and more than 50 other researchers from around the world analyzed 39 scientific studies of crop pollination. The studies spanned five continents and examined pollination of 17 different crops, including coffee, apples, mangoes, and radishes, as well as almonds and watermelons. The analysis showed that flies, beetles, butterflies, ants, and wasps were responsible for nearly 40 percent of the workload. That number varied by crop and location; in some places, that number reached 50 percent. In other places, non-bee bugs were the only pollinators. 

This is really good news, Mayfield and her colleagues report in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Non-bee insects are a bit more resilient than bees. They can roll with the punches and aren’t as dependent on wild habitats. 

The next step may be convincing farmers that these other bugs are doing them good, Mayfield said in Scientific American. "I've encountered farmers in California and in South Africa and in Australia who spray their pesticides largely at night, because that's when the bees have gone back to their hives. And they do that with the idea that we'll spare our pollinators and control our pests. But that very much takes the assumption that only bees are important pollinators." 

Global concern for honeybees is a wonderful thing. Perhaps in time we can extend that interest to the rest of the little workers flitting from flower to flower, quietly supporting our way of life.

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technology
This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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