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7 Easy Ways You Can Help Bees Right Now

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At this point, most people are well aware that the bees are in trouble. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially placed seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees on the endangered species list. They believe their decline in population is the result of a long list of threats to the species, including predation, habitat loss, and human involvement.

Bees are pollinators and crucial to our ecosystem; we depend on them for much of our produce. Around 30 percent of the world's crops rely on cross-pollination [PDF]. If you want to help the tiny buzzing insects from dying out completely, here are some small things you can do.

1. PLANT THE RIGHT THINGS

Bees are steadily losing ground in our modern culture. Flowers and gardens are dwindling, meaning less and less food for the hungry bees. You can help protect the species right in your own backyard by starting a bee-centric garden. Plant flowering plants native to your area with a preference toward single flower tops like marigolds, tulips, and daisies. Double flower tops and hybridized plants don't yield the same level of nectar as single flowers tops, so it's harder for bees to reach the pollen. You should also try to have something flowering all year, so make a calendar for your garden that includes flowers in spring, summer, and fall.

Once your bees have something to eat, you can build a potential home for the visitors. Leave a place in your garden open for bees to burrow, and add some branches or bamboo for wood-nesting bees. And always remember to only use natural pesticides and fertilizers that won't harm the bees who stop by.

2. LET SOME WEEDS GROW

Controlling gardeners are going to have to loosen their iron grip for the sake of the bees; a healthy collection of dandelions and clovers can actually do a world of good. The leafy intruders—along with various wildflowers—offer substantial and much-needed nutrients. Dandelions in particular are extremely beneficial to bees, as well as other pollinators like butterflies, beetles, and hoverflies. Because these yellow weeds flower between March and May, they're ready to be pollinated just as the bugs are waking up from hibernation. Each flowering dandelion can have up to 100 florets, meaning plenty of food for your buzzing buddies. Laying off the pesticides will also keep the air poison-free and more accessible to bugs who would like to visit.

3. BUY LOCAL RAW HONEY AND BEESWAX

Buying honey and other bee products from a local beekeeper is a great way to support local pollination. As long as the beekeeper knows what they're doing, they won't harm or disturb the bees in any meaningful way. Often bees make a surplus of honey, so they won't notice if we take some for ourselves. Beeswax is used to coat the honeycombs and is either sliced off by the beekeeper to get to the honey or burrowed through by the bees in the winter—either way it's discarded, so it would be a waste not to use it.

4. LEAVE OUT WATER FOR THIRSTY BEES

It turns out bird baths aren't just great for birds. Bees need water just like all animals, so they seek out shallow puddles and bird baths to quench their thirst. You can get a bird bath or leave out a small saucer to help hydrate the bees in your neighborhood. Bees like to share information, so if you keep your water source consistent, the local pollinators will get wise and come visit. Just make sure to include a small rock or other object for them to perch on while they drink—bees are unfortunately not equipped with tiny floaties.

5. GO SHOPPING

There are plenty of products on the market that will help you help bees. If planting a full garden is too much work, you can opt for seed bombs. The little clusters of seeds can be tossed in areas like your backyard or an empty lot where they'll eventually turn into a colorful patch of wildflowers. You can also try seed money or pencils that can be planted in the ground to grow flowering and edible plants.

Another option is to look into getting a Flow Hive. After an extremely successful Indiegogo campaign, the simplified beehive is available for purchase. The honey comes from a tap, making the extraction process easier for humans and bees alike.

6. VOLUNTEER

Feeling committed? There are plenty of ways you can give your time to helping the bees. You can host a bee hive and agree to have a bee block situated in your backyard. The New York Beekeepers Association offers a program where people can offer up available yards or rooftops to keep hives for urban beekeepers. The program matches people up to help encourage more hives in the city. You can also volunteer to join the Back Yard Beekeepers Association. The Connecticut-based group provides information for fledgling beekeepers and organizes educational programs for the community.

7. GET POLITICAL

Sign a petition and let your government know that you care about the declining bee population. This petition is a call for the EPA to suspend use of pesticides and this petition asks your representative to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act. If enough people come together to fight this problem, real change can happen.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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