Something is happening to honeybees! They are turning into zombie bees, or zombees.

There is a tiny fly that is injecting its eggs into the honeybee along with a parasite, and the parasite is taking over the honeybees’ behavior.  The bees fly around erratically and walk around awkwardly. You can say that it is the flight of the living dead.

Scientists are asking all of us to look out for bees that act strangely and report these sitings on their website: Zombeewatch.org. If you see something, say something. So far zombie bees have been found on the west coast in California and Washington state and on the east coast in Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Honeybees are important to us because they pollenate many of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we enjoy. Without honeybees, there would be no honey too. Americans eat over 400 million pounds of honey every year.  If bees go away, we will need to eat foods that are wind pollenated like corn and wheat.

Honeybees make our lives a bit sweeter and here is one way all of us can help to keep them buzzing.

Twenty years ago, there were 1 billion monarch butterflies migrating 3,000 miles from the US to Mexico. Today, there are only 35 million! If you don’t want to do the math, that is less than 10 percent around now compared to what was around when the Spice Girls were big.

So what happened? Well, a weed that the monarch butterflies (and caterpillars) eat started to go away, and along with this weed went the monarchs.

Monarch butterflies feed on milkweed. Twenty years ago, milkweed grew quite a bit. But, with the development of crops that can resist herbicides, farmers sprayed and sprayed killing off the milkweed. When there is no milkweed, there are no monarchs.

Monarchs are a majestic species and one of the last animals we know that proceed with a great migration. American Bison (also known as the buffalo) use to migrate long distances, but they were virtually exterminated. Carrier pigeons used to migrate, but they are not around any more either. So, here we are facing another extinction of an animal, but there is something that we can all do to stop the monarchs from going away forever.

One thing you can do is stop mowing your lawn. Yes, you read that right. If you don’t mind a few wild flowers, why not add milkweed to the mix.  There are places that will give you free milkweed seeds.

Cities can stop mowing around power lines and underpasses that need not be well manicured. Here, milkweed can grow and give monarchs something to dine on too.

What is clear is that all of us can make a difference and bring these beautiful creatures back to a robust population.  We often hear about butterfly effects, but this time we can have an effect on butterflies.

Happy non-mowing!

It is lunchtime in the future. You are hungry and eating a burger. But, the beef inside did not come from a cow. It came from a lab. Scientists are figuring out how to grow hamburger patties in a petri dish.

Now, you might be wondering why would you want to grow two all-beef patties without the cow? It ends up that cows are very inefficient at producing protein. Also, there will be many more mouths to feed in the future. In fact, by 2050, there will be nearly 9 billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of hungry people. Cows can’t cut it.

Additionally, cows produce a lot (like,  10 to 20%) of all the green house gases in the world, because they belch methane. Methane is a powerful gas that traps the heat that the earth is trying to eliminate. So, finding another source of meat is good for the planet.

Making a lab-grown beef patty is a very simple process.  There are special cells in your body called stem cells that are used to repair muscles should they become injured. What scientists do is get these stem cells and take them outside of the body and give them an environment to grow and create muscle.  And, nine weeks later, you have a hamburger.

So what does the burger taste like? Well, it is a bit dry. There isn’t any fat to hold in the juices. So, researchers are working on making fat too.

Interestingly, the cost of this first burger wasn’t cheap. It cost $25,000 to create it. But, now that these scientists know what it takes to make one burger, they can figure out how to scale up their process.

It will take some time before you see a beaker-grown beef patty. There are still many tests that have to be done and governmental guidelines that need to be met.

But, eventually a beef patty may be made at a 3D printer near you.

 

Snowflakes reflect light like a mirror to create their white color.

Liquid water is clear, but snow is white. Why is that?

Well, the snow crystals have many surfaces at different angles and each one of these surfaces acts like a tiny mirror which bounces back the light.  So, the white color you are seeing is actually the light that is being reflected.  The light bouncing off the surfaces contains all the colors of the rainbow combined together, to make white light.  This white light lands on a snow crystal’s surface and then reflects back off, like a flashlight beam on a mirror.

This act of bouncing light is what scientists would call scattering. The surface of the snowflake scatters  light in many directions, causing us to see the white color.  In an earlier podcast, we learned why snow has six sides. Snow is a crystal, with facets just like a diamond. Each one of these facets bounces light back to give it the color we see.

Now, snow is not the only thing that bounces light back. Water droplets can scatter light back too. This is why clouds, steam, and fog look white.

So, the colors you see, well, they  are just the surface.

 

 

 

 

 

Warm lakes and cold Canadian winds create the perfect (snow) storm.

In the early winter (from November to January), there is a chance for large winter storms because lakes help to produce more snow.  When cold dry winds from Canada blow over the Great Lakes, the winds pick up moisture that is evaporating from the lakes.  That moisture is turned to snow and then dumped on some poor city. This is called Lake Effect Snow and it occurs when there isn’t any ice on the lakes. As soon as the lakes freeze over, the lake effect snow season is over.

You might have heard stories of snow storms where feet of snow are produced in a few days. The lakes enhance the snowstorm by providing more moisture to the system.  Cities along the Great Lakes are most effected. However, Buffalo, NY has been a sweet spot for lake effect snow in recent years.

So, be on the look out for mega-snow storms early in the winter season. Without ice to capped off the moisture, there will be more precipitation.

Rain is also increased by lakes and oceans, but the amounts are not as much as the snow. This is because 1 inch of rain is equal to 10 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. (That ratio depends on the temperature and the fluffiness of the snow, by the way.)

No matter how you measure it, increased precipitation by lakes is snow joke and will make one wish for an early spring.

 

It’s getting hot in here (so hot), and fossil fuels are to blame. 

When sitting in a parked car, on a sunny day, with the windows rolled up, the inside of the car is going to get hot. Really hot. The glass windows and roof of the car allow the sun’s energy to enter the car, but that heat is unable to escape. The trapped heat makes the car hotter and hotter.

Well, something similar is happening to our earth. Heat from the sun shines onto the earth’s surface. The earth accepts the heat and sends back the heat that it doesn’t need. The earth is trying to stay in equilibrium with the energy from the sun. So, the earth accepts some of the heat, but not all of it.

But something happens to the heat that is being sent back up. In the atmosphere is a layer of gases that act like a blanket over the planet. And, these gases take some of the heat from the earth and send it back down to the earth. This heats the earth up more. The heat is trapped just like that hot car.

These gases are called the greenhouse gases because a greenhouse is full of windows that let heat in, but don’t let heat escape. The layer of gases in the atmosphere behaves the same way the windows of the greenhouse behave.

The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and less popular gases like methane and nitrous gas. The role of carbon dioxide is important because this gas is produce in the burning of fossil fuels.

Scientists have found this warming trend has taken off in the last 200 years. This is exactly the same timeframe that society started using fossil fuels in earnest. This era is called the Industrial Revolution and coincides with the growth of factories, power, agriculture and transportation (read: cars). Cars produce greenhouse gases, but so do cows. Cows burp methane gas, which is warming our planet too.

So what can you do?

Get an energy efficient car, use LED light bulbs, insulate your home, and recycle.

If everyone does one small thing, all of us together, will make a big impact and stop this warming trend. According to Michael Mann, a climate scientist, we only have about 10 years to change this around before the earth goes to a point of no return.

So, do something small today and help make a big change. Fight the molecules that heat the planet!

 

Learn more here:

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael Mann (featured in the podcast)