You’ve surely heard the story of the country mouse and the city mouse. It usually ends with the country mouse happily returned to the simple comforts of rural life following a visit with its city cousin and a too-close encounter with a house cat. The moral: urban luxuries aren’t worth urban hassles and dangers.
Well, here’s a new story about country bees and city bees, and this time the moral favors the latter, and it’s not even a moral; it’s science.
This is according to researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London who studied colonies of honeybees in that city and its surrounding rural areas. The focus was on so-called “waggle dances,” which sound like what you’d see some dad do at a wedding or bat mitzvah but is in fact an actual thing that actual bees do, without embarrassing their kids.
In fact, waggle dances are an important form of communication—a bee’s version of Google Maps directions to wherever all the tasty nectar and pollen is. Say a bee has found a nice patch of zinnias or some flowering lavender. It then flies back to its hive and does a figure-eight-like movement to tip off its colleagues. The length of the performance indicates how far away the flowers are; the bee’s angle while “dancing” indicates the direction. And off goes the whole swarm.
The researchers analyzed more than 2,800 waggle dances from 20 different colonies; Air Mail Pilot doesn’t know much about entomology (as you may have gathered from the remark above about bees having “kids”), but 1,800 waggle dances sounds pretty thorough. To the researchers’ surprise, they found that the city bees flew an average of 1,600 feet (roughly five football fields in length) to find their nectar and pollen, while country bees had to travel a much farther 2,400 feet.
“Our findings support the idea that cities are hotspots for social bees, with gardens providing diverse, plentiful, and reliable forage resources,” Professor Elli Leadbeater, the study’s lead author, told The Times of London. “In agricultural areas, it is likely harder for honeybees to find food, so they have to go further before they find enough to bring back to the hive.”
You’d think it would be the other way around. But thanks to modern industrial agriculture, huge swaths of countryside are planted with crops that don’t interest bees, while an emphasis on increasing green spaces in cities, along with rooftop and community gardens, has been a boon for hives.
Professor Leadbeater recommends helping country bees out by planting strips of “non-crop flowers” alongside the usual fields of wheat, oats, barley, and other staples of English agriculture.
It’s a good thing bees are strong and can fly far. The average human is roughly 700,000 times as big as a honeybee, so by Air Mail Pilot’s crude calculations, if we had to travel the equivalent distance that even city bees fly for food, we’d be navigating Earth’s circumference two and a half times just for potato chips. So let’s cut bees everywhere some slack. —Bruce Handy
Evelyn and Isla Hoyle, 10-year-old identical twins who live in England, don’t take no for an answer. The girls have been perfecting their pliés and arabesques—in matching tutus—since they were just three years old. All that hard work has paid off. Both were selected for the Royal Ballet School’s Associate program, a prestigious class to nurture young talent.
Applications are open to kids between the ages of ages 8 and 17, and entry into the program is tough—only 1 out of 10 applicants makes the cut. Some of Britain’s best dancers have trained in the program, which was started in 1948 by Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet School.
Before the girls landed spots in the program, their mother, Fiona, was nervous. What if one girl was accepted but the other rejected? “I did subconsciously think at the back of my mind that only one of them might make it,” Fiona confessed, “but I decided not to think about that.” Luckily, she never has to.
The twins will continue to attend Redmaids’ High Junior School in Bristol, supplementing their in-school dance classes with the Associate program classes every Sunday.
The school’s headmaster, Lisa Brown, is very impressed with what she calls the twins’ “significant achievement.” The girls’ parents are proud, too—but not surprised. “The girls are constantly dancing,” Fiona told The Bristol Magazine. “They don’t walk down the street, they pirouette.”
Even though the twins are barely in their double-digits, they have already tried a variety of dance styles, like tap and modern. So far, though, both girls like ballet the best.
Down the road, the twins hope to attend the Royal Ballet School full-time—together, of course. —Elena Clavarino
According to a study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, your dog may be much smarter than you initially thought—or, exactly as exceptional as you suspected.
We already know that dogs recognize their own names. Spelling out “walk” can send a puppy into a tizzy. Sit, stay, come, and rollover are commands every canine can follow. But researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest have discovered that certain dog breeds can learn and remember the names of dozens of objects.
While commands are easy, “very few dogs can learn the names of objects,” Shany Dror, the lead researcher of the study, told The Times of London.
To conduct the study, researchers launched the Genius Dog Challenge to recruit the smartest dogs in the world. They pursued leads found in local media and fielded suggestions from the public. After two years, they finally found six genius dogs—all Border collies—who could remember the names of more than 28 toys.
Four of the six dogs lived in Europe—Nalani in the Netherlands, Rico in Spain, Max in Hungary, and Whisky in Norway. The fifth collie, Squall, came from Florida, and the sixth, Gaia, came from Brazil.
Researchers didn’t just take each owner’s word: the pups had to prove their abilities. Owners were asked to teach their pets the names of six new toys one week, and then 12 new toys the following week. At the end of each week, the dogs’ vocabularies were tested by asking them to fetch a specific toy from a large pile of plush playthings.
“It turned out that, for these talented dogs, this was not much of a challenge,” Dror said. “They easily learned between 11 and 12 toys.”
After one month, five of the six dogs could recall the toy names they had learned; after two months, four of the dogs remembered the names.
If you’re the proud owner of a German shepherd, Pekingese, or mini Australian shepherd, rest assured—scientists believe those breeds can pick up vocabulary as quickly as Border collies. But if you own a Labrador or a poodle, you better start training your pup now. —Alex Oliveira