Bees may be affected by solar flares

The Bees Who Flew Too High

Bee ImageHoneybees and Sunspots may be interacting in one of the most unwatched ballets since television was created. Metaphorically speaking of course:

Imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium’s front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch the two fishes, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case.1

If there are processes in this universe of which we are unaware of the full scope, perhaps the only way to observe them is using the multi-camera metaphor. In this ballet – which has the tragedy of the prospect of agricultural collapse, the triumph of the idea of biological interaction with quantum processes, and the drama of far away forces dancing within our presences – we can become part of the dance as we expertly shift our camera views like an experienced television producer. In the process, a mystery may be solved, one making many of us (and perhaps not enough of us) nervous lately.

Camera One: Honeybees

The first reports began in November of bees mysteriously disappearing. Not just one or two, but entire colonies of tens of thousands of bees at a time. As temperatures have warmed and it has become safe to open hives, the extent of losses is grave:
In Michigan, Terry Klein, vice president of the Michigan Beekeepers Association and a commercial beekeeper, said reports of huge losses are beginning to arrive.

“One beekeeper started with 1,500 hives and had only 500 colonies left,” Klein said. “Over three or four more weeks, he lost 70 percent of those.”2

Assuming a winter population of approximately 20,000 bees, this would leave losses for one beekeeper at 27 million bees! The losses have been widespread in North America, with some beekeepers loosing up to 80 percent of their hives. Over 400 reports have come in from at least 22 states so far. Given the extent of losses, the most puzzling thing is the lack of dead bees:

Although the bodies of dead bees often are littered around a hive, sometimes carried out of the hive by worker bees, no bee remains are typically found around colonies struck by the mystery ailment. Scientists assume these bees have flown away from the hive before dying.

27 million dead bees in a relatively small area should leave some physical evidence. Unless there is an extremely efficient physical process (like a phantom bee-eater) or a much wider geographical distribution of bee carcasses upon their demise, a very strange phenomenon is at work.
Curiously, it has been noted that something similar happened in North America approximately 50 years ago.

I’m a hundred miles behind myself
– Beck, Milk and Honey

Camera Two: Sunspots

Sunspots follow an approximate 11-year cycle, corresponding to increases in solar activity. This solar activity causes geomagnetic effects during the peaks, but effects on earth’s magnetic field also occur during the minimums. Using these observations, scientists have predicted that the next solar maximum, expected to peak in 2010, could be the most intense ever.
The measurement that allows the the prediction is called Inter-hour Variability. Combined with another observation on the sun, Physicist David Hathaway noticed a correlation that allowed prediction of solar activity 6-8 years later. In his observations, the last time something similar to the IHV measurements he sees today happened was about 50 years ago.

I feel it coming and I’ve got to get out of it’s way
– Nine Inch Nails, Sunspots

Watching The Dance

Aside from the fact that most children would use the same crayons to draw both sunspots and honeybees, how could they two be related?
Barbara Shipman, mathematician and daughter of a bee researcher, first noticed something peculiar about the dance bees use to describe where pollen sources are located to other bees. Observed over 40 years by Karl von Firsh, these movements seemed an overly complex way to convey information, especially in insect behavior. No one had yet made sense of the dance the bee scouts performed on returning to a hive, but one thing was clear. All of the dance was based on a triangulation of the hive, the food source, and the sun.
Shipman first studied bees because her father left the bee books in her room, and later studied them in her freshman year as a biochemistry major. It was not until she delved into mathematics that she penetrated the enigmatic mystery of the dance. She was studying flag manifolds, mathematical constructs used in projecting multi-dimensional phenomena into fewer dimensions when something from childhood became clear:

One day Shipman was busy projecting the six-dimensional residents of the flag manifold onto two dimensions. The particular technique she was using involved first making a two-dimensional outline of the six dimensions of the flag manifold. This is not as strange as it may sound. When you draw a circle, you are in effect making a two-dimensional outline of a three- dimensional sphere. As it turns out, if you make a two-dimensional outline of the six-dimensional flag manifold, you wind up with a hexagon. The bee’s honeycomb, of course, is also made up of hexagons, but that is purely coincidental. However, Shipman soon discovered a more explicit connection. She found a group of objects in the flag manifold that, when projected onto a two-dimensional hexagon, formed curves that reminded her of the bee’s recruitment dance. The more she explored the flag manifold, the more curves she found that precisely matched the ones in the recruitment dance. I wasn’t looking for a connection between bees and the flag manifold, she says. I was just doing my research. The curves were nothing special in themselves, except that the dance patterns kept emerging.5

Since then, researchers have discovered that things such as the polarization of the light of the sun and local variations of the earth’s magnetic field affect the components of the dance, suggesting bees have sensitivities that would require re-writing our biology, physics and cosmology texts from scratch:

There is some research to support the view that bees are sensitive to effects that occur only on a quantum-mechanical scale. One study exposed bees to short bursts of a high-intensity magnetic field and concluded that the bees’ response could be better explained as a sensitivity to an effect known as nuclear magnetic resonance, or nmr, an acronym commonly associated with a medical imaging technique. nmr occurs when an electromagnetic wave impinges on the nuclei of atoms and flips their orientation. nmr is considered a quantum mechanical effect because it takes place only if each atom absorbs a particular size packet, or quantum, of electromagnetic energy.

If this were not enough, the results imply that bees can perceive quarks, thereby interacting with the quantum world without disturbing it in the ways both observed and predicted by quantum theory. And this perception would have to extend to the perception of quarks not as coherent structures, but as fields. In other words, bees may be able to perceive the unobserved quantum fields of zero-point energy, the much-debated property from which all of the phenomenal world may emerge in the eternal quantum moment.

The Stage: Sun and Earth

Other than the coincidence that a similar disappearance of bees and the precursor to a strong sunspot cycle both occurred at the same time, just as is happening now, how could such revelations be related to the solar cycle?
Science is still at a loss to explain the power of the sun’s magnetic field, or the Solar Dynamo. A set of observations seem all to relate, yet the observations cannot be explained individually or together:

A successful model for the solar dynamo must explain several observations: 1) the 11-year period of the sunspot cycle, 2) the equator-ward drift of the active latitude as seen in the butterfly diagram, 3) Hale’s polarity law and the 22-year magnetic cycle, 4) Joy’s law for the observed tilt of sunspot groups and, 5) the reversal of the polar magnetic fields near the time of cycle maximum as seen in the magnetic butterfly diagram.7

Taking a cue from the bees, we can look at spin as a common component. Spin is a property of quantum ‘particles’ that can be manipulated, and is a fundamental component of both NMR and quantum computers. Spin is complex conceptually, especially given the fact that the most simple description of the spin of Fermions (the ‘particles’ that make up matter as we know it) is 1/2. This means that if you could hold one of these ‘particles’ and mark a spot on it with a Sharpie, you would have to turn it 720 degrees around in your hand to see the mark once again. Quarks, the ‘particle’ bees may interact with, also have spin 1/2.
The concept of spherical harmonics is used to visualize the effects of spin. Using spherical harmonics, the sun can also be visualized as a six-dimensional body with three rotational components. In another simple visualization, a two-dimensional flatlander would have a great deal of difficulty explaining an eight-ball intersecting her space while rotating both horizontally and vertically. It would seem to her that the disc she observed (the portion of the eight-ball intersecting with her plane) had a spin of 1/2. If she then used spherical harmonics to describe the object, she would be able to make some mathematical predictions about its structure and behavior, even without having an ability to visualize or perceive the third dimension directly.
In our visualization of the sun, such a correlation of observable phenomena should be striking if indeed the sun is a six dimensional structure:


Here we see the sun in six dimensions (above) rotating, the magnetic component (poles) waxing, waning and switching on a 22-year cycle (magnetic flux and the Hale cycle), the 11-year “butterfly pattern” (the Schwabe cycle, the Omega effect accounting for the stretching in actual observation).
The red and blue parts of the image above correspond with the “real” component of the wave function described by the spherical harmonic (sunspots and solar wind), while the yellow and green describe the “imaginary” component. Could this “imaginary” component correspond to an effect similar to the solar wind that interacts with the “unobserved quantum field”?

The Smoking Gun

The solar probe Ulysses’ circumpolar orbit took it below the south pole of the sun this past winter. While there, sunspot 938 put on the most energetic performance of any sunspot in four years, ejecting a particle storm that would have been a “ground-level event” (penetrating the entire atmosphere) had it been directed at earth. Instead, it was directed towards the south pole, shattering current models of solar functioning.
If we consider such a particle stream to be a secondary stream to the “imaginary” component of the solar field that would be dominant during a solar minimum, then the quantum field to which the bees may be sensitive could have been disturbed. Or, the bees could have lost navigation, possibly abandoning the hive as one of the directional components of either the quantum field or local terrestrial magnetic variations moved drastically closer to the sun. They may have flown skyward, attempting to keep up with the rapidly moving target of home in six dimensions. Or, hyperdimentsional bee-eaters could have emerged from the sunspot, phasing the bees out of existence on contact (given the evidence, anything is possible, and equally strange. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider this to be very likely to say the least).
Similar events could have happened 50 years ago when geomagnetic events preceded the most active solar cycle recorded. Bee disappearances were reported across the southern United States in the time preceding the increased activity. Physicist David Hathaway:

“We don’t know why this works,” says Hathaway. The underlying physics is a mystery. “But it does work.”

Enough anecdotal evidence and coincidence combined with solid observation also exists to link the disappearance of the bees with changes in the sun, even if the reason why the cameras show correlation in the dance is not clear.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky
– Jimi Hendrix, Purpule Haze







6 ibid






3 Responses to “Bees may be affected by solar flares”

  1. Everything is energy Says:

    what about mobile phones?

  2. historian Says:

    > what about mobile phones?

    Did they have those 50 years ago?

  3. Dr. Tom Ferrari Says:

    Have been reviewing the literature and believe Shipman hit the nail on the head. Recent newsletter follows.

    P.O. Box 6697 Bakersfield, CA 93386-6697
    August 2010 Newsletter 661 -364-0424 Ofc

    Thomas E. Ferrari MSc, PhD & Alissa B. Cobb BSc
    Botany & Horticulture Biological Sciences

    Coronal mass ejections & solar flares on the sun can cause perturbations
    to the geomagnetic field that surrounds our planet. Evidence indicates
    honeybees use Earth’s magnetic “lines” for orientation purposes.
    Hence, Colony Collapse Disorder can involve a loss of homing
    ability by honeybees during a major geomagnetic storm.
    Since our January 2009 newsletter “Honey Bees, Pigeons, Bacteria and Sunspots” explaining our theory and perspective on the reason for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), we found additional evidence indicating that numerous organisms besides honeybees rely on magnetoreception for finding their way on Earth. They include, amongst others, salamanders, lobsters, fish, ants, birds, dolphins, bats, and butterflies. Many behavioral scientists have demonstrated the capability of a wide range of organisms to extract directional information from Earth’s ambient magnetic field (1).
    Honeybees, bacteria and pigeons were among the first organisms for which effects of magnetic fields on orientation were demonstrated. Thirteen years ago, honeybees were shown to have a very sensitive magnetoreception ability for navigation and orientation purposes (2). One classic study found that tiny magnets glued to the honeybee abdomen near a region where magnetite is known to be concentrated, impaired their ability to respond to magnetic cues (3). Similarly, magnets have been placed on snouts of alligators to prevent them from finding their way back to human locations where they have invaded. Intensity, inclination and declination are “vectors” used to describe the magnetic lines that orient bees. During one serendipitous incident, a magnetic storm spontaneously occurred while a researcher was studying the influence of controlled magnetic perturbations on in-flight direction of stingless bees exiting their earthen hive. The disruptive solar event was recorded and produced significant and dramatic changes to all 3 vectors (1)! Furthermore, two species of bees (Meliponinae) showed sensitivity to the magnetic storm.
    New studies have begun to focus on identifying what “organ” (beak, eye, abdomen, antennae) and sub cellular organelle perceives the magnetosphere and how the nervous system interprets that information (1, 4). A leading candidate in honeybees involves superparamagnetic magnetite (Fe3O4), which has been detected in their abdomens (5). Magnetite exhibits a form of magnetism that occurs only in the presence of an externally applied magnetic field, like the Earth’s. The “classic” form of magnetism that everyone is familiar with is ferromagnetism – as exhibited in horseshoe and refrigerator magnets. Magnetoreception involves measuring the inclination and declination angles of magnetic lines that are projected from the Earth’s poles, which arise from its iron core (4). Thus, if north and south polarity were reversed 180 degrees, it would be of no consequence to magnetoreception. The “inclination compass” that organisms use measures the angle of the magnetic lines with respect to the horizontal. Reversal of the north and south poles predicted by astronomers to occur in 2012, however, will certainly be expected to temporarily disrupt the inclination angle as well. Then, honeybees will get lost and CCD will raise its ugly aftermath, again. These solar phenomena have been recorded for well over a century. It is discouraging that research on how to protect honeybees from a geomagnetic demise is nil, zero, zilch. Honeybee experts, indeed, have not yet even considered a relationship between CCD and solar storms! Nevertheless, convincing and tantalizing evidence is “pointing in that direction.”
    Most scientists studying magnetoreception in animals are biophysicists, biochemists, geophysicists, astrophysicists, mineralogists, and neurologists, to name a few. In our opinion, entomologists and beekeepers are out-of-the-loop – nowhere to be found – and they usually have little experience or interest in such scientific disciplines. Seldom, if ever, do they know the definition of superparamagnetism; the difference between a telsa and a transient spin-correlated radical pair; or what is a single-domain boundary region! Entomologists seem preoccupied with the honeybee’s visual orientation cues, including the suns position, and how they are translated by the waggle dance inside a hive. The bee’s magnetoreception sense is never mentioned in their publications or discussions (ref. 6, for example). In addition, honeybee experts are too preoccupied with CCD causal relationships that involve pesticides, mites, viruses and other diseases, as well as combinations of these maladies, which after years of study have proven nothing (6). To this day, there is no consensus as to the cause of CCD. After so many failures, it is time for scientists to refocus research efforts — and funds — to include magnetoreception and the impact solar storms have on honeybee orientation. Mother Nature is not interested in boundaries: magnetoreception is a classic case where cross-disciplinary research is needed to bridge the interface between physical science, astrophysics and honeybee behavior.
    “Major geomagnetic storms are induced by coronal mass ejections on the sun. They are usually associated with solar flares. The last peak in solar activity was in the year 2000. The next one is expected in late 2011 or in 2012. Coronal mass ejections are more likely to have a significant effect [on honeybees] than flares because they carry more material into a larger volume of interplanetary space, increasing the likelihood that they will interact with Earth. When a storm reaches our planet, its impact disturbs the magnetosphere, setting off a geomagnetic storm. A solar storm typically takes 3 to 5 days to reach Earth after it leaves the Sun. Observing the Sun’s flares provide an early warning of geomagnetic storms.” (from:
    Solar storms are incurable and will continue to occur in the future! Entomologists need to examine, for example, how strong a storm must be to impair a honeybee’s orientation ability. Do storms produce localized perturbations and effects? If the western hemisphere is facing an impending solar storm, how will bees in the eastern hemisphere be affected? Are some colonies more susceptible than others? How long does a storm’s impact last? And so on… Research funds need to be redirected into those new study areas. In the future beekeepers will need to monitor when solar flares occur (7) — like owners of homing pigeons — and restrict bee flight before a solar storm hits Earth. An “Early Warning Alert” system needs to be created. New methods designed to protect bees during normal flight hours will be required. Will restrictive “hive nets” become commonplace? That sounds like a daunting task when hundreds of thousands of colonies are involved but it was not so long ago that bees were kept in skeps, now they are in millions of “boxes.”
    We guarantee solar storms will not go away, honeybees will not lose their magnetic perceptive ability any time soon and CCD will happen again, soon — especially if astronomers’ predictions are correct. So, entomologists need to wake up and develop novel CCD research strategies. Beekeepers will need to learn how to prevent colonies from getting “lost,” literally! If solar storm forecasts are accurate, researchers and beekeepers have only a year or two to get ready before a new geomagnetic storm occurs.

    Additional Information
    1. Magnetoreception in eusocial insects: an update. E. Wajnberg, D. Acosta-Avalos, O.C. Alves, J.F. de Oliveira, R.B. Srygley and D.M.S. Esqivel. 2010. Jour. Royal. Soc. Interface. S207-S225.
    2. Measurement of the threshold sensitivity of honeybees to weak, extremely low-frequency magnetic fields. J.L. Kirschvink, S. Padmanabha, C.K. Boyce and J. Oglesby. 1997. Jour. Exptl. Biol. 200: 1363-1368.
    3. Attached magnets impair magnetic field discrimination by honeybees. M.M. Walker and M.E. Bitterman. 1989.Jour. Exp. Biol. 141:447-451.
    4. Magnetoreception. M.J. Winklhofer, 2010. Jour. Royal. Soc. Interface. S131-S134.

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