Bees Age Faster When They Raise Offspring

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey    6/25/13

The headline drew us in: "Bees Age Faster When They Raise Offspring."

It came from ScienceNow, the online edition of Science Magazine.

How many times have you heard a parent say "See all those gray hairs? Kids! Kids will do that to you!"

So it was interesting to read Paul Gabrielsen of ScienceNow comment on research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology about bee aging. 

"Researchers have found that nurturing the hive's progeny accelerates aging in the insects," he wrote. "In summer, worker honey bees usually spend several weeks feeding the queen's new larvae. Workers then change careers, living out their days as pollen-collecting foragers. They die a mere 2 weeks after making the switch, showing a steep decline in brain function. But bees born just before winter, without a brood to nourish, live nearly a year."

The article in the Journal of Experimental Biology apparently hasn't been released to the public, but the bottom line is that researchers reared two groups of winter bees in a summerlike environment: Group 1 nursed the brood, and Group 2 had no brood to nurse. The first group went from hive bees to field bees, living another two weeks. But the second group lived up to 10 weeks.  Gabrielsen said the "researchers noticed high levels of lipofuscin, an 'age pigment,' in short-lived foragers and much lower levels in longer-lived bees."

The oldest-looking bee we've ever seen was a Caucasian or black bee (originating from the Caucus Mountains) that we photographed foraging in our back yard. This photo occupies a spot on a wall at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis.

"An old lady" is what the bee scientists call her. "Not long for this world."

Since a bee reared in the spring or summer usually lives about four to six weeks (the first half of life inside the hive and the second half, outside the hive), we wonder about this bee's life span.

Ten weeks?

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