Michigan State University campus and flowers in infrared

April 9th, I paid a visit to the Beal Botanic Garden to see if any new flowers are open, partly because I am teaching the “Macro Photography” course. I wanted to report to students what are there to look for since they have to do shooting as part of their homework. I counted about 7-8 flowers. I did not bring my dSLR today but two point and shoot cameras, one of them modified for infrared (IR).

Winter aconites were almost gone. Snowdrops are still blooming. Christmas rose is blooming but no bees on her. I have shot this flower with honey bees foragin on it while there snow next to the flowers.
Hope, who works at the garden, showed me there was a large patch of anemone flowers blooming behind IM circle.

Scilla are not blooming yet but both Puschkinia and Chionodoxa are blooming. All these three genus now belong to Asparagaceae! I thought they more resemble lilies or amaryllis.

I shot a few shots of buildings with my IR camera.

Different from ultraviolet photography, the sun provides a lot of IR and most lenses will pass IR. But there is an internal filter that blocks both IR (strongly) and UV (a few cameras let enough in, such as Nikon D70 and D40, but most others block nearly all UV), which must be removed. You can shoot IR without modification, but it will require 5-10 seconds of exposure during a bright day.

I did not post-process any of building photos (except #2). For flowers, I decreased brightness and increased contrast. I played with channel mixer in photoshop but the effect would be better to use white-balance-uncorrected photos.

Camera used: IR modified Panasonic DMC-FX01 6MP, which means the original filter was replaced with one to block visible light but letting IR to reach the CCD or CMOS.

1A. Beaumont Tower, MSU.

1B. This one was shot uncorrected for white balance, then using red/blue reverse (channel mixer) in photoshop.

2. MSU Museum.

3. Olds Hall

4. Christmas rose.

5. Winter aconite

6. Anemone flower

7。 Puschkinia flower. These are quite similar to Chionodoxa and Schilla.

Michigan Spring Flowers [1]: Winter Aconite

Huang, Z.Y. 2014. Michigan spring flowers [1]: winter aconite. http://bees.msu.edu/2014/winter-aconite/.

Published April 6, 2014
Revised April 8, 2014

Well, spring is finally here in Michigan, about 1 month later than some years (and I have old photos to prove this). Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) belongs to the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. Its name comes from its early blooming time (winter) and similarity to the true aconite (Aconitum). However, Aconitum is poisonous while Eranthis is not. This plant was native to Europe and Asia but has be become naturalized in North America.

I have always observed honey bees foraging on this flower when the weather is warm enough. The plant will bloom before crocus which is also an early flower in Michigan, which in turn blooms before maple and pussy willow. I think winter aconite will bloom slightly ahead of skunk cabbage and snowdrops. Witch hazel might bloom around the same time but I have seen honey bees foraging on witch hazel only one year.

Judging their behavior on the flowers, I think honey bees are obtaining both pollen and nectar. After a long winter, honey bees are anxious to foraging on these early flowers. I am thinking to seed some winter aconite this year when seeds are available, perhaps after a month also.

A flower without bees to show the complete structure. The yellow, tube-like structures are netaries. A recent study (Rysiak and Zuraw, 2011) says that the nectar concentration from this flower is quite high ( 61-78%, with a mean of 72%) but the total weight of nectar is only 1.23 mg per flower, yielding an average of 0.88 mg of sugar. I calculated a single bee takes 11 mg of sugar per 24 hrs to survive, so that worker will need to visit many flowers to contribute to the colony weight gain. The honey crop can carry a maximum of 50 microliter of liquid, but the average load is about 25 mg by weight.

The first time I checked the patch of winter aconite at the MSU Beal Botanical Garden (all flowers below are shot there) this year, it was March 21, 2014. Winter aconite just started blooming but it was still to cold for bees to forage that day. This was from my android cell phone.

On March 31, 2014, 2nd trip to the garden. I only got one good picture of bees on winter aconite, having spent most of time trying to get an ultraviolet photo. I am teaching the Macro Photography course and took students there to shoot bugs on flowers. But only winter aconite and snowdrops were blooming. We saw only honey bees and flies working on this flower. Most likely this is the first time in 2014 Michigan bees had a chance to forage on flowers. Photo from Nikon D700.

In 2010, it was March 17 that winter aconite was having a peak bloom. Photo from Nikon D700.

This bee seems to be probing for nectar, but she also has pollen on her pollen baskets (visible on her right leg).

I suspect the four greenish structure in the center are stigmas.

What a beautiful field of gold! [reminded me the song "Fields of gold" but this is not barley :)]. Shot at F2.8 to show you the depth of field. You can see three bees along the focused area.

Getting a bit closer to show one bee foraging.

March 13, 2007. Yet earlier than 2010. Photo from Nikon D80.

This is a solitary bee, not a honey bee. I do not know if it is an andrenid or another bee. April 5, 2005. from a Nikon D70, my first digital SLR.

Now a honey bee, the pollen is clearly visible on her basket. That year, there must be a really cold spell after the flowers bloomed. I can see the leaves were the wrong color (killed by very cold weather?).

March 6, 2002. Even earlier. This was from my Nikon Coolpix 990, which is a point and shoot camera, 3.2 megapix. I remember one year winter aconite was blooming in February, but I do not remember which year; and for some reason I do not find the photos of winter aconites.

That day I saw flies and ants on flowers, but no bees.

Going back even further, I have one photo of winter aconite by my very first digital camera, Olympus D450Z (1.3 megapix, paid $500 in 1999!). March 8, 2000.

Finally, what does winter aconite look like under ultraviolet (UV)? Shown left is an image with visible light (by Nikon D70 from borrowed from Bernice DeMarco Thank you Bernice!). Nikon D70 has some sensitivity to UV, even when not modified. Except D70 and D40, all other cameras have to have an internal filter removed so it can receive enough UV. Still one needs a special lens that has enough UV transmission most modern lens have coatings blocking UV. With the D70, the same lens and a special filter that blocks visible light + infrared, but passes UV, I got the photo on the right. Notice the center with pollen is UV black. In addition, the back side of petals are also black (the center of the photo has a flower I picked to show the back side) with a ring of yellow only. Honey bees probably see a combined view of both (since they can see visible light except red!).

For more photos of winter aconite, please visit here

For photos under UV, please visit here.

Thank you for your attention, Zachary.

How do bees see flowers?

Sorry it is in Chinese here. will translate to English in a few days (after grants are done!)

In the mean time, you can try goolge translate :)

话说我们人类看不到紫外线(UV), 但是昆虫多数可以。
当然, 昆虫看不到红色这边, 我们可以, 所以就是颜色覆盖的波长, 昆虫往波长短的一边位移了一些。
正因为这样, 花为蜂开, 不是给我们人看的, 所以呢, 我们看到的花, 可能并不是花的本来面目
而小蜜是可以看到UV的, 也许她们看到的跟我们不一样?

怎么知道小蜜看到啥了? 一个办法是把蜜蜂脑子打开, 这得靠肖陆江那样的天才, 我不行。 然后让蜜蜂看UV, 看头脑里面的神经元有反应不。 从视觉神经底下量也是可以的。

我只能用更简单的办法了。 看看用UV的镜头拍到的花跟普通光是不是一样?
Nikkor UV105 是石英的, 好象要6千美金, 我怎么买得起?
后来买了一个旧的德国镜头, 叫Enna Munchen Teleanalyt, 1:2.8/135MM。 好象花了1200美元。 上带一个滤镜, 将可见光统统去掉, 只有UV可以进。

这是我2008年拍的一些花, 一直没有加工, 明天要教学生如何拍UV照片, 今天赶紧加工几张。
菊科的花中多数UV跟可见光不同, 所以我拍的比较多。


这里只做了最简单的加工, 估计蜜蜂看到的应该是两个(可见+紫外)叠加起来的。 所以应该用Photoshop Blend两个不同的图像。

1. 天人菊, 我们看到是中间黄色, 但是UV底下中间全黑! 注意花瓣倒是没有大的不同

2. 黑眼苏姗的花瓣有一半是黑色的!(不反射紫外, 但是可见光下我们看不到!)。

3.打破碗花花, 我们看到是白色的花瓣, 但是紫外下面有黑色的条纹。


4. 西洋石竹, 我们看起来白底红花, 很显眼的, 但是小蜜看起来黑不拉几。 怪不得我只在泰国看到过一次蜜蜂采她, 后来一直都没有碰到小蜜光顾她了。


以上都是D70所拍。 但是相机已经送给国内朋友!

最近发现西番红Crocus的UV很好玩, 但是我以前没有拍过, 另外附子花估计也有! 必须马上准备拍摄!

但是D700无法拍UV, 所以估计今天去买一个旧的D40。 D40和D70是拍UV的最佳选择。


who stole my pollen basket?


Scientists have identified how a single gene in honey bees separates the queens from the workers.

A team of scientists from Michigan State University and Wayne State University unraveled the gene’s inner workings and published the results in the current issue of Biology Letters. The gene, which is responsible for leg and wing development, plays a crucial role in the evolution of bees’ ability to carry pollen.

“This gene is critical in making the hind legs of workers distinct so they have the physical features necessary to carry pollen,” said Zachary Huang, MSU entomologist. “Other studies have shed some light on this gene’s role in this realm, but our team examined in great detail how the modifications take place.”The gene in question is Ultrabithorax, or Ubx. Specifically, the gene allows workers to develop a smooth spot on their hind legs that hosts their pollen baskets. On another part of their legs, the gene promotes the formation of 11 neatly spaced bristles, a section known as the “pollen comb.”The gene also promotes the development of a pollen press, a protrusion also found on hind legs, that helps pack and transport pollen back to the hive.

While workers have these distinct features, queens do not. The research team was able to confirm this by isolating and silencing Ubx, the target gene. This made the pollen baskets, specialized leg features used to collect and transport pollen, completely disappear. It also inhibited the growth of pollen combs and reduced the size of pollen presses.

In bumble bees, which are in the same family as honey bees, queens have pollen baskets similar to workers. In this species, Ubx played a similar role in modifying hind legs because the gene is more highly expressed in hind legs compared to front and mid legs.

Besides honey bees, which aren’t native to North America, there are more than 300 species of other bees in Michigan alone. These include solitary leaf cutter bees, communal sweat bees and social bumble bees.

“The pollen baskets are much less elaborate or completely absent in bees that are less socially complex,” Huang said. “We conclude that the evolution of pollen baskets is a major innovation among social insects and is tied directly to more-complex social behaviors.”

Future research by Huang may pursue investigating how bees could be improved to become better pollinators. While this won’t provide a solution to bee colony collapse disorder, it could provide an option for improving the shrinking population of bees’ pollen-collecting capacity.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. V. Medved, Z. Y. Huang, A. Popadic. Ubx promotes corbicular development in Apis mellifera. Biology Letters, 2014; 10 (1): 20131021 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.1021

2013 in Photos

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Jan 11, The Chocolate Factory, Hershey, PA. The ABRC (American Bee Research Conference) was held there, I organized the talks for this conference as a VP of AAPA (American Association of Professional Apiculturists). 1?11?? ????????????????????????????????????? ??Hershey????

March 8, ANR Week Beekeeping Program at MSU campus. More than 500 beekeepers attended.??8?? ?????????? 5-6????? ???????????

March 28, Apis cerana foraging on a Japanese red maple. My first shot of a honey bee on maple trees.

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April 7. Apis cerena foraging on a Chinese milkvetch, my hometown, Shaoshan, Hunan.

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April 14, Apis cerana foraging on logan, FAFU (Fujian Agric and Forestry Univ) campus.

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April 14, A. mellifera foraging on Bombax ceiba. FAFU campus. Very far away and I had to climb to a roof top to shoot them.

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April 24. My first bee pic of bees foraging on Meihua (Prunus mume, Japanese plum flowers).

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April 26. A trip to the Jiankou Greatwall (old, most unmaintained part of the Greatwall). Wild apricots were blooming everywhere.

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May 5, Melissa graduation. Bloomington, IL.

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July 13, HAS (Heartland Apicultural Society) conference was at Tennessee Tech Univ.

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My first good pic of bees foraging on corn was shot there (Tamron 180mm Macro). My first batch of them shot in China, using a telephoto (not a macro) were not as good.

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July 13.A bumble bee foraging on Clethra alnifolia at the Cheekwood Botanic Gardens, Nashville, TN.

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July 18. Attending and giving a talk at the ICIRD (International Conf of Invertebrate Reproduction and Development). There was a cruise that evening, the same evening that Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

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July 20. MBA summer picnic at the Best Farm. On the way back I shot this.

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July 21, SEMBA picnic at the MSU Tollgate Facility in Novi, MI. I shot a few flowers and bees before the meeting.

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July 28, A trip to Xinjiang to give a keynote speech on a national bee conference. We climbed this small hill post meeting (with my 25 lb camera gears).

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Inside of a tent of a Kazak family. ??????????

Aug. 5. I got up at 5 to shoot some bees on lotus flowers. FAFU campus.

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Aug. 6, visiting a center for GMO biosafty. ???????????

Aug. 10. A honey bee foraging on the female flowers of a beebee tree. Before I left for China, the flowers were all males. The male flowers will wither and drop, and females then bloom, for another good 2-3 weeks.

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Aug. 31. Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, MI.


Sept 1. I was lucky enough to find a bee foraging on ragweed (apparent for pollen), again my first such shot.9.1. ???????? ??????????????????

Sept 5, on that trip I captured a velvet ant and kept her alive for 2-3 weeks (nice Christmas colors!).

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Sept 7. A bee on stonecrop (Sedum sp), Duke Gardens, NC.

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Sept 27. Attended Apimondia meeting in Kiev, Ukraine with 6000 other beekeepers. A visit to the “Cave churches” not far away.

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Two little girls play on one of the two tanks, one painted pink and another blue.


St Andrew’s Church, Kiev. It sits right across to the more famous St. Michaels Golden-Domed Monastery.


Nov 11, A bee foraging on a type of aster (Eupatorium), Zilke Botanic Gardens, Austin, TX. The ESA conference was held there.?

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The capital of the Texas Republic.


Dec. 14. ???????? (?????????????????????