Honeybee Hive-Mates Influenced To Fan Wings To Keep Hive Cool

Phys.org  University of Colorado at Boulder  By Kenna Bruner    August 3, 2018

Credit: University of Colorado at Boulder

Rachael Kaspar used to be scared of bees. That was before she studied their behavior as an undergraduate at CU Boulder. Since learning their secret lives and social behaviors, she has developed an appreciation for the complex, hard-working bees.

Honeybees fan their wings to cool down their hives when temperatures rise, but a new study shows that an individual honeybee's fanning behavior influences individual and group fanning behavior in hive-mates.

Kaspar graduated in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, and in environmental studies with a minor in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. While a sophomore, she joined the lab of ecology and evolutionary biology professor Michael Breed to work with then-doctoral student Chelsea Cook and became interested in organized behavior and responses to environmental stress.

She is the lead author of a scientific article in Animal Behaviour based on her undergraduate honors thesis about honeybee behavior, which shows experienced fanner honey bees influence younger, inexperienced bees to fan their colony to cool it down. Her study tested the hypothesis that an individual bee can influence group members to perform thermoregulatory fanning behavior in the western honey bee, Apis mellifera L.

Building upon this behavior is Kaspar's finding that shows young nurse bees are influenced by seeing older, more experienced worker bees fanning their wings—also known as fanners. The younger nurse bees then join in to help regulate the hive's temperature. The fanners influenced the nurses' thermal response threshold and probability to fan, but most notably, fanners had the greatest influence when they were the initiators—the first to fan in the group.

"The older workers are definitely influencing the younger nurse bees," Kaspar said. "I was interested in how different age groups socially interacted, what are the variances between age groups and how are they interacting to have a proper homeostatic response to environmental stressors."

In the paper, she states that the survival of an animal society depends on how individual interactions influence group coordination. Interactions within a group determine coordinated responses to environmental changes. This behavior is exemplified by honeybee worker responses to increasing ambient temperatures by fanning their wings to circulate air through the hive. Their previous research demonstrated that groups of workers are more likely to fan than isolated workers, which suggests a coordinated group response.

Hive temperatures that exceed 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit put larvae at risk of death or developing abnormalities. This is just one reason why it is crucial that individual bees have a coordinated group fanning response to properly regulate the temperature of the hive.

Credit: University of Colorado at BoulderHoneybees divide their tasks among female age groups. Nurses, who are between zero and 10 days old, take care of the larvae and the brood. Middle-aged worker bees, who are 10 to 20 days old, can be found on the front porch, as well as on the inside of the hive guarding and cleaning the hive, and fanning to cool the hive. The more outwardly visible bees are the foragers, which are 20–30 days old and fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen.

Researchers marked bees with water-soluble paint to identify them in the hive. When researchers warmed groups of bees, they would observe the bees' fanning behavior and record the temperature at which individuals and groups began to fan.

"When I was down there with my face right in front of the hive, I could feel the air moving from their wings fanning," she said.

This social and influential behavior, Kaspar says, can be seen in a variety of organisms throughout the biological index, from elephants to chimpanzees to fish. And perhaps not surprisingly, in humans as well.

"You would think that bees as insects wouldn't have the capability to learn, remember or have these social influences. But, in fact, they do. Bees are a great model to use for studying other societies, like us."

Kaspar got the idea of an influencer or an initiator of hive behavior when she observed human behavior unfolding at a cross walk on campus. A group of people were waiting for the light to change so they could cross. Too impatient to wait, one person strode across the street. A second or two later, the rest of the pedestrians crossed too, influenced by the behavior of the first person to cross against the light.

"When I saw that I was shocked," she said. "This is exactly what I was studying in honeybees and there I was seeing it in people on campus."

Kaspar is a professional research assistant in the Department of Anesthesiology at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. She is working in Eric Clambey's laboratory, where they are identifying unique cell phenotypes and interactions in human lungs and the gastrointestinal tract to better understand the effect of micro-environments on viruses and inflammation. Her goal is to start graduate school in 2020 and continue her studies into how organisms come together to improve their chances of survival.

"I love bees, though," she said. "I would very much like to continue studying honeybees in some way."

Explore further: Honeybees more likely to regulate hive's 'thermostat' during rapid temperature increases

More information: Rachael E. Kaspar et al. Experienced individuals influence the thermoregulatory fanning behaviour in honey bee colonies, Animal Behaviour (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2018.06.004

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-08-honeybee-hive-mates-fan-wings-hive.html#jCp

How Honey Bees Read the Waggle Dance

Science Daily     Source: Society for Neuroscience     October 9, 2017

Left: To inform their hivemates about the location of profitable flowers, a honeybee performs the waggle dance with specific vibration patterns. Right: Composite image of three interneurons in the honeybee brain which show unique responses to such vibrations. Credit: Courtesy of Ai et al.Neurons that enable honeybees to sense the waggle dance -- a form of symbolic communication used by female bees to inform the hivemates about the location of a food source -- are investigated in new research published in JNeurosci.

Upon returning to the hive, female working bees perform a dance that represents the distance and direction of nectar-rich flowers. Since the waggle dance was first described in 1967 (and its discovery awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973), it has remained unknown how the honeybee brain deciphers the dance into useful information.

Hiroyuki Ai and colleagues raised honeybees in hives on the Fukuoka University campus in Japan to study how three major types of interneurons in the auditory center of the honeybee brain respond to vibration pulses similar to those produced during the waggle phase of the dance. Their work lays a foundation for understanding how social insects process symbolic communication.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171009135435.htm

Journal Reference: Hiroyuki Ai et al. Interneurons in the honeybee primary auditory center responding to waggle dance-like vibration pulses. JNeurosci, 2017 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0044-17.2017

You're a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like

 The New York Times    By Joanna Klein   December 2, 2016

A honey bee gathering pollen on a white flower. Dagmar Sporck/EyeEm, via Getty ImagesSet your meetings, phone calls and emails aside, at least for the next several minutes. That’s because today you’re a bee.

It's time to leave your hive, or your underground burrow, and forage for pollen. Pollen is the stuff that flowers use to reproduce. But it’s also essential grub for you, other bees in your hive and your larvae. Once you’ve gathered pollen to take home, you or another bee will mix it with water and flower nectar that other bees have gathered and stored in the hive. But how do you decide which flowers to approach? What draws you in?

In a review published last week in the Journal Functional Ecology, researchers asked: What is a flower like from a bee’s perspective, and what does the pollinator experience as it gathers pollen? And that's why we're talking to you in the second person: to help you understand how bees like you, while hunting for pollen, use all of your senses — taste, touch, smell and more — to decide what to pick up and bring home.

Maybe you're ready to go find some pollen. But do you even know where to look?

Good question. How about an answer?
No, I’m an expert bee. Get me out of this hive.

Colony Development Part 1

BEE CULTURE   By Larry Connor    September 19, 2015

Importance of Knowing Developmental Rates

by Larry Connor

Before obtaining the first bee colony, the future sustainable apiculturist must master key aspects of bee biology. Beekeepers must know the basic biological developmental rates of the three kinds of bees. It is not something that should be dismissed or ignored. Using the animal husbandry example, a beekeeper should know the developmental time of bees just like a cattle or dog breeder must know the developmental time and growth milestones of a calf or pup. Here are some common examples that I have seen happen with many new and less-experienced beekeepers:

There is no open brood. I think I lost my queen!

Events within the beehive take a set period of time, yet many beekeepers are in a big hurry for these things to happen and, as a result, ignore biology. If a European colony replaces a queen, it takes time for the new queen to develop, reach mating age, mate and then start laying eggs. Here’s a breakdown:

Queen development from egg to emerging……..16 days
Days to reach mating age…………………..7 days (or longer)
Days to mate……………………………..2 days (or longer)
Days to develop eggs after mating…………..3 days
TOTAL…………………………………..28 days

That is four weeks from future queen egg to her first worker egg! Some untrained beekeepers often expect to see new brood in two or three weeks as if Mother Nature will speed development just for them. Convinced the queen is gone, these beekeepers often buy another queen and really confuse both themselves and the bees by trying to introduce a queen to a colony that already has a queen in development! That is both wasteful and expensive, and it is poor animal husbandry.

My queen must be dead because I cannot see any eggs!

Bee eggs are small, and many beekeepers will carefully inspect a frame of brood on a dark day or without a bright light (the sun over the shoulder is best) and declare that the frame does not have any eggs or young larvae. When I take the frame and look, the frame is often filled with eggs and newly hatched larvae. Yes, the young larvae will appear nearly transparent, especially on light colored beeswax or plastic foundation. I often suggest these untrained folks get a flashlight and a hand lens to make these important inspections. While this is not really biology of the bee, it is about the biology of the beekeeper who cannot see. Schedule an eye exam!

I’ve had a queen in the hive for five weeks now, there is open and sealed brood in the frames, but the colony is losing bees. What is happening?

Many things can cause a colony to go into population decline, but five weeks is a critical time for bee populations if you let bees raise their own queen. If you add the 21 days it takes for new worker bees to grow from egg to emergence, you still have to add the time it took the queen to start laying, or 28 days.
Adding 21 and 28 days gives you seven weeks. It takes a long time for a colony to raise a new queen from the accidental death of the queen or when a beekeeper makes a walk-away split. Seven weeks is a very long time for a colony to be without emerging bees in the hive, especially if it did not have much sealed brood when it was originally set up or made queenless. Within three to five weeks you will notice that the population of adult bees is declining unless you intentionally selected or added frames of sealed and emerging brood specifically to boost the bee population. 

Why beekeepers do not see eggs and larvae. This is a black plastic frame of worker comb. Much of the new wax has been pulled off to reveal the eggs and larvae. The larvae floating on a bed of royal jelly are the ‘easiest’ to see. This is why beekeepers need to carry a flashlight and a hand lens in the apiary.

I keep bees in South Florida and I have trouble keeping the colonies from mating with Africanized bees. What can I do?

Researchers have shown that African queens develop about two days faster than European bees, while the hybrid Africanized bees develop one day faster than European queens. What does that mean to the beekeeper?

Because African queens emerge faster than European queens, your first concerns for producing queens in area with African genes is when you emerge queen cells in an incubator or cell finisher. Just one African queen cell will produce a virgin emerging a day or two early and the complete destruction of all the remaining cells. if you put queen cells you found on frames of brood into a new nucleus increase hive, you will find that the African queens will be preferentially favored.

Second, if you mate your queens in an area where both African and European drones are present, several studies have shown that the European queen is more likely to mate with European drones – they fly longer hours and are produced in larger numbers.

The beekeeper trying to mate queens in an area with African colonies need to develop a European-drone saturation program or develop an off-season mating program. Otherwise, they need to find an area that is free of the African bee and mate their queens to European drones at that location.
Here is a summary of the developmental time of the workers, drones and queens:

Workers

Most of the bees in a colony are workers. All worker bees are female but in a different caste than the queen. They do all the work in the hive and gather all the food (pollen and nectar) and water that the bees need to survive. Workers also collect resin from trees to coat the inside of the hive – we call this propolis. They are unable to mate with drones, the male bees and they do not attempt to make mating flights. They have very small reproductive structures and are only able to produce eggs in the absence of a queen bee’s pheromone. These eggs are unfertilized and will only become male bees.

Worker honey bees control the queen’s behavior and replacement as well as the number and age distribution of the drones in a hive. Unfertilized eggs are haploid, having just one set of chromosomes. In Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants), these develop into males. Worker-produced drones may or may not be significant in terms of passing on genetic information, depending on which scientist you ask. Is there a genetic benefit of the haploid-diploid sex determination system if a worker bee produces sons that contribute to the genetic composition of future colonies?

Worker Development

In whole days, the intervals of metamorphic honey bee worker development follow a mathematical progression: three days as an egg, six days as a larva and 12 days in the sealed cell. Remember this simple relationship: 3+6+12 equals 21 days. Like many things in the hive, these are averages, and the timing is not in exact 24-hour measurements. Temperature and nutrition apparently impact development rates.

Queen cells in an incubator. Genetic differences in queen development time can produce an early emerging queen capable of destroying all these cells in a matter of hours.

The Egg

After first inserting her head into a cell to determine its size, the queen deposits one worker egg. As she positions her body into the cell, she releases some of the sperm stored in her spermatheca to accomplish fertilization. Queens may deposit both fertilized and unfertilized eggs, both workers and drones in worker cells, depending on the size of the cells. All worker eggs are fertilized, and a good queen will produce a pattern of 95% or more worker cells and a few missed cells where diploid drone eggs are deposited (they are removed soon after hatching). This is the time period for the union of the sperm and egg with the resulting embryo feeding on the yolk in the egg. There is rapid growth of the embryonic bee during this short three-day period. Eggs are held vertically, head down, by a small amount of cement at the bottom of the egg. At the end of three days, the outer egg shell, called the chorion, softens as it is reabsorbed into the body. The egg flattens onto the bottom of the cell and becomes the larva.

The Larva

Once the larva hatches, it immediately enters a period of continuous feeding and extremely rapid growth. In six days the bee grows from a tiny egg to a large larva. Nurse bees feed the larva many times per hour and provide a surplus of royal jelly at the bottom of the cell for the first 48-50 hours. This is the same food as fed to a queen bee larva throughout her larval period. After this initial feeding, the diet of the larva changes to a more complex diet that inhibits the formation of queen characteristics and promotes the formation of worker features. The special diet, called worker jelly, contains additional carbohydrates and lipid molecules that turn characteristics of worker development on and turn characteristics of the queen caste off. The worker larva floats on a bed of royal jelly.
When raising queen bees, this is the start of the perfect time to remove larvae and put her into a queen cup. The larva floats on the bed of royal jelly and molts at least four times before the final molt to become the pupa. The molting skin is extremely thin and hard to detect. During the sixth day, the bees place a beeswax ‘cap’ on the cell, even though the larva inside has not completed the larval developmental phase. At this time, the larval body changes into an intermediate prepupal form, which is intermediate between the larva and the pupal stage.

Bees pass through a four stage metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupae and adult. These two are the larva and pupae (with eyes darkening, the purple eye stage).

The Pupa

The larva spins a thin brown silk cocoon with special glands located in the head. Then, she molts the final time to become the pupa, with characteristics in the form of the bee but without wing development and integument pigmentation. The first parts of the bee’s external body to change color are the two compound eyes, first to pink and then to purple. Internally, the body is becoming more differentiated, with the formation of adult bee organs, like the honey stomach, developing out of the simpler larval digestive tract. Just how many changes take place during the ‘quiet’ or ‘resting’ phase of development is not known, but it is both large and essential to the adult bee’s many roles in the hive.

The Emerging Individual

Twenty-one days after the queen has deposited a tiny egg in the cell, the worker bee emerges, soft of body, unable to sting and covered with body hairs that have not yet dried in the atmosphere of the hive. Some refer to emergence as ‘hatching’, but we restrict the term hatching to refer to the egg-to-larval transformation, and the term ‘emergence’ for the worker bees cutting the the protective silk capping off her cell and walking, ready to begin her initial adult bee duties. These callow bees are responsive to the queen bee and quickly learn her odors which helps them in various parts of their adult life.

Differences in Developmental Rates

European races of honey bees follow a similar developmental pattern. When compared to African honey bees, the European queen and worker bee require additional time for development than the same castes in the African bees.

European vs. African Honey Bee Developmental Time from Egg to Adult

From Ellis, J., University of Florida and A. Ellis, Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Commercial Services. FDACS.DPI|EDIS. Accessed online 9 Aug. 2015.

European
Queen…16 days
Worker…21 days
Drone…24 days

African
Queen…14 days
Worker…19-20 days
Drone…24 days

Division of Labor

The Nurse Bee (In the Brood Nest)
These young bees quickly assume duties. No other bee provides instruction or hints at the job ahead. There is no mentoring or internship.

Cell cleaning – Newly emerged bees clean the cells of newly emerged cells; they remove remaining royal jelly, larval fecal materials and trim the capping of the cell. They also remove any lingering varroa mites still in development and destroy them. Once the cell is clean, I suspect they either remove any objectionable odor that might repel the queen, or they coat the empty cell with a special odor or pheromone that stimulates the queen bee to deposit a new egg into the cell, thus starting the brood production cycle all over again.

The developing brood is being fed by a nurse bee, a member of house bees that has not yet started to fly. R. Williamson photo.

Feeding brood – Newly emerged bees quickly feed themselves pollen and nectar and are fed by other worker bees as part of the ‘community stomach’ of the hive, which includes food and chemical components collected from the queen. The feeding process stimulates the digestive tract of the bee to process the food and convert the proteins and carbohydrates into royal jelly. When beekeepers feed colonies of bees, only a small percentage of the bees collect food from the feeder device, but all the bees in the colony benefit from the feeding due to food-sharing behavior.
Royal jelly production – Each worker bee undergoes a period of abundant royal jelly production when the season and food supply allows. Most of the year this feeding is almost immediately after food intake, but in the Fall and early Winter, the royal jelly production is delayed as the colony takes a break in brood rearing. The appearance of the first larvae in January (in the northern hemisphere) stimulates royal jelly secretion by select nurse bees.

Brood regulators – It appears that these young bees determine the amount of royal jelly to produce, and, thus, the amount of brood to rear, based on stimulation by the increasing day length as well as the food budget of the hive. Here the ‘community stomach’ controls population growth. Bees with proper nutrients in their body cells and their digestive tract produce more royal jelly only when there is an abundance of food stored in both the combs and coming into the hive from foragers that find early season food. Quality food reserves in the body cells of over-wintering nurse bees are essential for the care and feeding of a healthy brood cycle early in the season. If in the prior season the colony had poor food reserves, it was exposed to parasitic mites and diseases, or the colony was undergoing any other stress, then the nurse bees are less fit for brood rearing. It is not the temperature outside the hive that determines the amount of brood that a colony produces, but the bee population and nutritional status of the nurse bees. This relationship makes these young bees critical to starting the new season properly.

Queen attendants – Nurse bees also feed and care for the queen. They regulate the amount of food she receives and they themselves are subject to complex factors that include the food reserves, the nutritional composition of the ‘community stomach’ and the population of young bees inside the hive. Part of this network is the feedback the nurse bees provide to the queen by returning modified queen substance to the queen – she then responds to her own chemical signals (pheromones and hormones). The queen retinue of attendants constantly changes. Look for queens with large retinues, at least ten and perhaps over a dozen worker bees, while resting. Queens with small retinues often do poorly in the hive.

http://www.beeculture.com/colony-development-part-i/

How Honey Bees Telescope Their Abdomen

Science Daily  Entomological Society of America  July 25, 2016

Honey bees are able to wiggle their abdomens in a variety of ways. Now new research shows how they are able to do it. Specialized membranes that connect a honey bee's abdominal segments are thicker on the top of the abdomen than on the bottom, report the scientists. This asymmetry allows the segments to lengthen on top and contract on the bottom, resulting in the unidirectional curling the researchers observed in the bees they filmed.
 

Honey bees are able to wiggle their abdomens in a variety of ways. Now new research published in the Journal of Insect Science shows how they are able to do it.

In 2015, a team of researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing used a high-speed camera to observe how honey bees curl their abdomens while in flight and under restraint, confirming that bees can manipulate the shape of their abdomens, but only in one direction -- down, toward the bee's underside.

Now the same team has identified the mechanism behind that movement. Specialized membranes that connect a honey bee's abdominal segments are thicker on the top of the abdomen than on the bottom, allowing curling in just one direction.

Honey bee abdomens contain up to nine overlapping segments that are similar to little armored plates. A thin, flexible layer of cells called the folded intersegmental membrane (FIM) connects the tough outer plates, allowing each concentric segment not just to attach to its neighbor, but to slide into the next one. The authors call this movement "telescoping."

"Our research on the ultrastructure of the FIM is of great significance to reveal the bending and flexing motion mechanism of the honey bee abdomen," said Professor Shaoze Yan, one of the co-authors. "During nectar feeding, a honey bee's abdomen does high-frequency respiratory exercises and assists the suction behavior of mouthparts to improve the intake efficiency."

In this experiment, the researchers looked at forager honey bees using the same combination of high-speed videography and scanning electron microscopy as they did in 2015. The engineers recorded the abdominal wiggling of live honey bees and the internal shapes of dissected bee abdomens. The flying videos were shot at 500 frames per second, and the dissected abdomens were imaged in thin slices.

The microscopy showed that the membranes along the top of the honey bee's abdomen are two times thicker than those on the bottom. This asymmetry allows the segments to lengthen on top and contract on the bottom, resulting in the unidirectional curling the researchers observed in the bees they filmed.

It's a design that the paper's authors suggest is ripe for exploration by more engineers, perhaps for use in aircraft design or other applications.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160725104109.htm

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EBYIFks1c0


Story Source: Entomological Society of America.  

  1. Jieliang Zhao, Shaoze Yan, Jianing Wu. Critical Structure for Telescopic Movement of Honeybee (Insecta: Apidae) Abdomen: Folded Intersegmental MembraneThe Journal of Insect Science, July 2016 DOI:10.1093/jisesa/iew049

To Douse Hot Hives, Honeybee Colonies Launch Water Squadrons

Science News     By Susan Milius    July 20, 2016

New study reveals roles, communication among social insects at time of crisis

SUPER GULP When a honeybee colony gets too hot, specialist drinker bees fly off to collect water (one shown tanking up at a pond dotted with duckweed plants). When a honeybee colony gets hot and bothered, the crisis sets tongues wagging. Middle-aged bees stick their tongues into the mouths of their elders, launching these special drinker bees to go collect water. That’s just one detail uncovered during a new study of how a colony superorganism cools in hot weather.

Using lightbulbs to make heat waves in beehives, researchers have traced how honeybees communicate about collecting water and work together in deploying it as air-conditioning. The tests show just how important water is for protecting a colony from overheating, Thomas Seeley of Cornell University and his colleagues report online July 20 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Water collection is an aspect of bee biology that we know little about, says insect physiologist Sue Nicolson of the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Collecting pollen and nectar have gotten more attention, perhaps because honeybees store them. Water mostly gets picked up as needed.

Bees often get as much water as they need in the nectar they sip. But they do need extra water at times, such as during overheating in the center of the nest where eggs and young are coddled. When researchers artificially heated that zone in two colonies confined in a greenhouse, worker bees fought back. They used their wings to fan hot air out of the hive. “You can put your hand in the opening of a hive on a hot day and feel the blast of air that’s being pushed out,” Seeley says. Several hundred bees also moved out of the nest to cluster in a beardlike mass nearby. Their evacuation reduces body heat within the nest and opens up passageways for greater airflow, he says.

The bees also had a Plan C — evaporative cooling. Middle-aged bees inside a hive walked toward the nest entrance to where a small number of elderly bees, less than 1 percent of the colony, hang out and wait until water is needed. Heat by itself doesn’t activate these bees, especially since they’re not in the overheating core. Seeley now proposes that the burst of middle-aged bees’ repeated begging for water by tongue extension eventually sends the water-collecting bees into action. They return carrying some 80 percent of their weight in water. “The water carrier comes in looking really fat, and the water receivers start out looking very skinny,” Seeley says. “Over a minute when the transfer takes place, their forms reverse.” Then the receiving bees go to the hot zone, regurgitate their load of water and use their tongues to spread it over the fevered surfaces.

In a water-deprivation experiment, bees prevented from gathering water could not prevent temperatures from rising dangerously, up to 44° Celsius, in their hive. When researchers permitted water-collector squadrons to tank up again, colonies could control temperatures. Even for multitalented bees, water is necessary for cooling, the researchers conclude.

After a severe heat stress, the researchers noticed some bees with plumped-up abdomens hanging inside the colony. “Sometime they would be lined up like bottles of beer in the refrigerator,” Seeley says. Bottled beverages is what they were, he argues, storing water and remaining available if the coming night proved as water-stressed as the day.

 “Honeybees continue to amaze,” says Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland in College Park, who studies bee health. “Even after centuries of study, we have something new.” 

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/douse-hot-hives-honeybee-colonies-launch-water-squadrons

Don't Take Honeybees For Granted!

Chatham Daily News    By Kim Cooper    June 29, 2016

You may feel that the work you do is sometimes taken for granted, but the work of the honeybee is really taken for granted.

We all know honeybees gather nectar to produce honey, but they perform another vital function — pollination of agricultural crops, home gardens, and orchards.

As bees travel in search of nectar, they transfer pollen from plant to plant. This fertilizes the plants and enables them to bear fruit.

Approximately 30% of the human diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and the honeybee is responsible for 80% of this pollination. That is amazing!

Bees collect pollen and nectar. Pollen is a very high-protein food for bees. Plants give up some pollen in exchange for the bees' services in transferring pollen from other plants. Nectar is sucked up through the bee’s proboscis, mixed with enzymes in the stomach, and carried back to the hive, where it is stored in wax cells and evaporated into honey.

Some bees tend to stay with a specific kind of flower. For example, a honeybee that visits an apple blossom on its first flight, will usually visit only apple blossoms until there are no more, and then they would change to another flower.

Did you know the honeybee is the only insect in the world that makes food for humans?

So, if you happen to see honeybees during a summer outing, don’t be so hard on them. They are not out to get you. Their stinger is simply a defense mechanism. Their job is to get nectar and spread pollen. They are just doing their job.

We do have a number of local honey operations where you can purchase honey products. They are: Camden Meadows in Dresden (519-683-2033); Mike Dodok Apiaries in Chatham (519-351-8338); and Shiloh Homestead in Muirkirk (519-678-3747). You can also purchase locally grown honey at many of our farm markets and stores.

Why buy local honey? Some say local honey will cure your seasonal allergies, and others say it's just plain good. Whether you want to reduce your carbon footprint or support local agriculture, buying honey that's made by bees in your own area is a good thing to do.

But there's another reason you should purchase locally made honey — your own safety.

International honey launderers sometimes ship contaminated honey from China to the U.S., using intermediaries to falsify shipping labels and documents. The honey you purchase in your grocery chain might be labeled as a product of Australia, Thailand, or India, but there's a good chance it came from China. Barrels of honey travel from China to one of several other countries, where they are relabeled and reshipped to North America to be distributed by packing companies unaware of the scheme.

That’s even more reason to support our bee sector by buying local honey, which is delicious and good for you.

Think about this – The Lord is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in times of trouble.

Just some bee-eautiful food for thought.

Remember that here in Chatham-Kent ‘We Grow for the World’. Check out our community’s agricultural website at: www.wegrowfortheworld.com

http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/2016/06/29/dont-take-honeybees-for-granted

Trackers Reveal that Honeybees Forecast the Weather to Plan Their Work Day

The Telegraph   By Hana Carter   February 3, 2016

Trackers were placed on 300 honeybees to monitor the impact that weather had on the insects' foraging

Honeybees may be able to predict the weather to help plan their productive work day.

The results were discovered by Xu-Jiang He and a team from Jiangxi Agricultural University in Nanchang, China, after they attached radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to 300 worker honeybees from three hives.

The trackers were used to monitor when the bees left the hive, how long they were gone for and when they stopped working in the evening.

The experts found that the bees spent more time out of the hive foraging and stopped work later in the afternoon when the following day was a rainy one. They seemed to be responding to cues such as changes in humidity, temperature and barometric pressure that preceded rainstorms.

Gene Robinson, a honeybee expert at the University of Illinois, said the finding was surprising. He said: “Honeybee foraging ecology is not based on immediate need. They are hoarding species. If the Chinese researchers are correct, their discovery will help shape our understanding of how and why honeybees forage when they do.”

The Behavioural Ecology of Swarming in Honey Bees

National Honey Show   Published January 6, 2016
A lecture given by Juliana Rangel at the 2015 National Honey Show entitled "The Behavioural Ecology of Swarming in Honey Bees". The National Honey Show gratefully acknowledge the Nineveh Charitable Trust for their support and the sponsorship by Maisemore Apiaries Ltd.

Wimps or Warriors? Honey Bee Larvae Absorb the Social Culture of the Hive, Study Finds

 Science Daily   Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign    October 29, 2015

Even as larvae, honey bees are tuned in to the social culture of the hive, becoming more or less aggressive depending on who raises them. The researchers don't yet know how the social information is being transmitted to the larvae. Credit: © gertrudda / Fotolia

Even as larvae, honey bees are tuned in to the social culture of the hive, becoming more or less aggressive depending on who raises them, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.

"We are interested in the general issue of how social information gets under the skin, and we decided to take a chance and ask about very young bees that are weeks away from adulthood," said University of Illinois entomology professor and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who led the research with postdoctoral researcher Clare Rittschof and Pennsylvania State University professor Christina Grozinger.

"In a previous study, we cross-fostered adult bees from gentle colonies into more aggressive colonies and vice versa, and then we measured their brain gene expression," Robinson said. "We found that the bees had a complex pattern of gene expression, partly influenced by their own personal genetic identity and partly influenced by the environment of the colony they were living in. This led us to wonder when they become so sensitive to their social environment."

In the new study, the researchers again cross-fostered bees, but this time as larvae in order to manipulate the bees' early life experiences. The larvae were from a variety of queens, with sister larvae divided between high- and low-aggression colonies.

The larvae were removed from their foster hives and put into a neutral laboratory environment one day before they emerged as adults. The researchers tested their aggressiveness by exposing them to an intruder bee.

They were surprised to see that the bees retained the social information they had acquired as larvae. Those raised in aggressive colonies were 10 to 15 percent more aggressive than those raised in the gentler colonies.

"Even sisters born of the same queen but reared in different colonies differed in aggression, demonstrating the potency of this environmental effect," Robinson said.

The finding was surprising in part because bee larvae undergo metamorphosis, which radically changes the structure of their bodies and brains.

"It's hard to imagine what elements of the brain are influenced during the larval period that then survive the massive reorganization of the brain to bias behavior in this way," Robinson said.

The aggressive honey bees also had more robust immune responses than their gentler counterparts, the team found.

"We challenged them with pesticides and found that the aggressive bees were more resistant to pesticide," Grozinger said. "That's surprising considering what we know from vertebrates, where stress in early life leads to a diminishment of resilience. With the bees, we saw an increase in resilience."

This finding also suggests that the effects of the social environment on young bees could extend beyond brain function and behavior, Robinson said.

The researchers don't yet know how the social information is being transmitted to the larvae. They tested whether the bees differed in size, which would suggest that they had been fed differently, but found no size differences between aggressive and gentle bees.

"Adult honey bees are well known for their sociality, their communication skills and their ability to adjust their behavior in response to the needs of the hive," Rittschof said.

"In mammals, including humans, the effects of early life social interactions often persist throughout adulthood despite additional social experiences," she said. "A similar pattern in honey bees has broad implications for our understanding of social behavior within the hive and in comparison with other species." 

The Cocktail Queen Bees Use To Disease-Proof Their Babies

Healthy Pets  BY Dr. Becker September 29, 2015

Honeybees are amazing creatures of the insect world, helping to pollinate 87 of the top 115 food crops. Bees transfer pollen from plant to plant, which allows the plants to make seeds and reproduce. Without bees, many of the foods we love – from citrus fruits and broccoli to almonds and cantaloupe – would cease to exist. Not to mention raw honey…

Yet, their impressive contribution to the world's food supply is only oneof their many points of intrigue. If you could peek inside a honeybee hive, you'd see a highly organized society with each bee taking on a very specific role for the overall good of the hive.

The queen bee (there is only one per hive) also has the important job of transferring immunity to all of her babies, and a new study uncovered just how this remarkable feat is accomplished.

How Queen Bees 'Vaccinate' Their Babies 

Research published in PLOS Pathogens found that queen bees inoculate all of their young via a process that begins with eating.1 The queen bee spends most of her life inside the hive, being brought meals by worker bees.

She eats a substance known as royal jelly, which is created by digested pollen and nectar the worker bees gather each day. But with the pollen and nectar, the queen also receives exposure to bacteria and pathogens in the worker bees' environment.

When the queen bee ingests this mixture, she digests the bacteria and stores them in an organ similar to the liver (called the "fat body"). The bacteria are then bound to a protein called vitellogenin and carried via the bloodstream to developing eggs. The babies are therefore inoculated before they're born and enter the world already immune to diseases present in their environment.2

The researchers are hopeful their discovery may help them provide protection to bees against diseases known to destroy hives. They hope to replicate the natural process using a "cocktail the bees would eat." Study co-author Gro Amdam of Arizona State University told Discovery News:3

"Because this vaccination process is naturally occurring, this process would be cheap and ultimately simple to implement. It has the potential to both improve and secure food production for humans."

Unfortunately, bees aren't only under attack from bacteria and viruses but also from human activities, including pesticide use. Discovery News further reported:4

"During the past six decades alone, managed honeybee colonies in the United States have declined from 6 million in 1947 to only 2.5 million today."

The Fascinating Caste System In A Beehive

The queen bee represents just one member of the hive, which may number close to 80,000 depending on the season. Worker bees represent the bulk of the hive, and they are all female (although they're sexually immature and not able to reproduce).

While the queen bee may live for several years, a worker bee lives for about six weeks in the summer or up to nine months in the winter. Each takes on a series of "chores" in its lifetime. According to the Backyard Beekeepers Association:5

"The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid; construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21 days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar.

For worker bees, it takes 21 days from egg to emergence. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once."

Each hive also has 300 to 3,000 drone bees, which are male bees kept for the purpose of mating with the queen. She only mates once (with several drone bees) and then is fertile for life, laying up to 2,000 eggs per day. If the queen bee dies, the worker bees will choose a new young female to take her place, raising her by feeding her royal jelly. National Geographic reported:6

"This elixir enables the worker to develop into a fertile queen. Queens also regulate the hive's activities by producing chemicals that guide the behavior of the other bees."

While the male drone bees have no stinger, they have a barbed sex organ and will die after mating. The male bees are also expelled from the hive in the autumn, as they're only needed for mating during the summer.7

Honeybees Are At Risk, Here's How You Can Help

Since 2006, US beekeepers have lost a striking 29.6 percent of their honeybee colonies annually due to a disease dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD). The condition causes bees to become disoriented, leaving their hives, and never returning.

Hives across the country have been decimated, and while there's still no definitive cause, pesticides, viruses, mites, fungi, and antibiotics may play a role.

The widespread use of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, appears to be particularly damaging to bees, and last year a Harvard study concluded,"Neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering CCD" in previously healthy honeybee hives.

It's also been suggested that CCD may weaken bees' immunity, leaving them vulnerable to other infections or parasites. If you'd like to help bees in your area, consider planting a bee-friendly garden. The Honeybee Conservancy recommends:8

  • Replacing part of your lawn with flowering plants
     
  • Selecting single flower tops, such as daisies and marigolds, which produce more nectar and are easier to access than double flower tops (such as double impatiens
  • Planting at least three different types of flowers so you have a longer bloom time. For instance:

    Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac for spring blooms.
    Bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons, foxglove, and hosta for the summer.
    Zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel, and goldenrod are late bloomers for fall.

    Read at: http://goo.gl/8mUvvi

How Bees Naturally Vaccinate Their Babies

Phys.org    July 31, 2015

When a bee is born, they are already "vaccinated" against some diseases found in their environment. This immune system priming is passed along to the larvae from the queen bee via a blood protein called vitellogenin. Credit: Christofer BangWhen it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how they do it.

Researchers from Arizona State University, University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä and Norwegian University of Life Sciences made the discovery after studying a bee blood protein called vitellogenin. The scientists found that this protein plays a critical, but previously unknown role in providing bee  protection against disease.

The findings appear today in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

"The process by which  transfer immunity to their babies was a big mystery until now. What we found is that it's as simple as eating," said Gro Amdam, a professor with ASU's School of Life Sciences and co-author of the paper. "Our amazing discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin. This exemplifies how long-term investments in basic research pay off."

Co-author Dalial Freitak, a postdoctoral researcher with University of Helsinki adds: "I have been working on bee immune priming since the start of my doctoral studies. Now almost 10 years later, I feel like I've solved an important part of the puzzle. It's a wonderful and very rewarding feeling!"

HOW IT WORKS

In a honey bee colony, the queen...

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-07-bees-naturally-vaccinate-babies.html#jCp

Ask the Naturalist: Why Do Bees Clean Themselves?

Bay Nature  By Eric Mussen and Elina Nino   July 30, 2015

Photo: Dann Thombs/Flickr
Bay Nature’s marketing director had a recent experience with a very tidy-looking honeybee:

“I was sitting in my car this afternoon when I noticed a cute little bee on my windshield appearing to desperately clean something off itself. At first I thought, oh no, it fell into something and now it’s going to die from whatever contaminated it. I took a cup and put the bee inside, but it rebelled and flew out. When I returned home I googled it and learned that bees do this — clean off pollen, etc. — and especially their eyes before flying home to their hives!”

We decided to get to the bottom of this extraordinary bee behavior and reached out to Eric Mussen, an entomologist at the Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. He and colleague Elina Nino, an Extension apiculturist, sent in this explanation:

———–
Answer: The inside of a bee hive is considered to be a pretty clean environment. The bees produce honey there and we eat it. But, why are honey bees and their hive so clean? It is in their genes.

Honey bees are akin to animated robots that move around in their environment responding to stimuli with behaviors that have served them well for millions of years. Building wax combs to use for food storage and baby bee production allows the bees to keep tens of thousands of bees huddled close together. However, if any type of microbial outbreak occurs, all this closeness could lead to an epidemic and colony death.

The bees exhibit a behavior that deals with that problem. They collect resins from various plant sources. They return to the hive with these sticky masses where their sisters help to unload them. Beekeepers call this substance bee glue (propolis) because it is used to fill small cracks in the hive and cements the boxes together. It also is mixed with beeswax and used as a thin varnish to line the walls of the hives and sometimes portion of combs. Those resins have surprising antimicrobial properties that are effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. So, the bees are encased in a shell of antibiotics. Some have suggested that the inside of a hive is as clean as a hospital room, but we are not quite sure about that.

As for the bees themselves, it is common to see them using their legs or mouthparts to clean off other parts of their bodies. For bees, we might think that they are simply moving around or brushing off pollen that they picked up when foraging. However, honey bees live in a suit of armor called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is waterproof and protects the insects from invasive microbes. But bees also have to sense what is going on around them, so they have sensory receptors on the surface of their exoskeleton. The most obvious sensory organs on bees are their compound eyes. Honey bees can see objects, detect polarized sunlight, and have good color discrimination, similar to that of humans, but shifted a bit in the color spectrum. Bees wipe their eyes every so often to keep them clean. We humans have eye lids that keep our eyes clean and moist.

The rest of the sensory organs on the exoskeleton are sensilla (stiff hairs and protuberances) or pits that serve as sensory receptors. The tips of honey bees’ antennae have many touch receptors, odor receptors, and a special sensory organ called Johnston’s organ that tells them how fast they are flying. Other sensilla bend when the bee changes positions, so it remains aligned with gravity when it is building comb cells. Sensilla on a queen bee’s antennae help her determine the size of a comb cell, which determines if she lays a worker- or drone-destined egg. So, all those sensilla must remain dust and pollen-free to function properly, allowing bees to remain as busy as, well, bees.

Read at: https://baynature.org/articles/ask-the-naturalist-why-do-honeybees-clean-themselves/

SEE MORE ARTICLES IN: ASK THE NATURALIST

With Just One Queen, How Do Honey Bees Avoid Inbreeding?

Entomology Today   April 30, 2015

Like other social insects, honey bees live in colonies consisting mainly of closely-related members. However, high genetic diversity among the workers is important for the whole colony’s survival because it makes them better equipped to perform the diverse tasks required in the colony, and it means they will likely be less susceptible to disease.

But how can the queen, the colony’s only fertile female, prevent inbreeding and maintain genetic variation?

The queen bee solves the problem in two ways. One is through polyandry — she mates with a score of drones and uses their sperm to fertilize the eggs randomly so that workers often have different fathers. The second is through extremely high rates of recombination.

Recombination, or crossing-over, occurs when sperm and egg cells are formed and segments of each chromosome pair are interchanged. This process plays a crucial role in the maintanance of genetic variation. Matthew Webster and Andreas Wallberg at the Biomedical Centre, Uppsala University, have studied recombination in honey bees. The extreme recombination rates found in this species seem to be crucial for their survival.

By sequencing the entire genome of 30 African honey bees, the research team has been able to study recombination at a level of detail not previously possible. The frequency of recombination in the honey bee is higher than measured in any other animal and is more than 20 times higher than in humans.

Recombination affects how efficiently natural selection can promote favorable genetic variants. In line with this, the researchers have found that genes involved in the new adaptations to the environment in honey bees also undergo more recombination. But recombination is not entirely risk free.

“Recombination is not only beneficial for bees,” Webster said. “When parts of chromosomes [are] broken and exchanged, errors can sometimes occur during their repair due to a process called ‘GC-biased gene conversion.'”

This process leads to gradual fixation of mutations that may be harmful to the honey bee. Although a similar process occurs in humans, it is more than ten times stronger in honey bees. Over time, recombination is expected to lead to a deterioration of the gene pool, a process that seems to have accelerated in bees. The extreme recombination rates — crucial for maintaining genetically diverse honey bee colonies — come with a high price.

“There are no free lunches, not even for a honey bee,” Webster said.

Read at: http://entomologytoday.org/2015/04/30/with-just-one-queen-how-do-honey-bees-avoid-inbreeding/

Read more at: Extreme Recombination Frequencies Shape Genome Variation and Evolution in the Honeybee, Apis mellifera

Pollen Deprived Bees Don't Make Good Dancers

The New York Times   By Sindya N. Bhanoo   April 20, 2015

Worker bees without access to adequate pollen early in life turn out to be poor foragers, and dancers, as adults.

The bees’ so-called waggle dance, a figure-eight movement, is used to tell other members of the colony how far and in what direction to fly to find flowers. If the pollen-deprived bees went out to forage, they often did not return, said Heather Mattila, a biologist at Wellesley College..

Dr. Mattila and Hailey Scofield, an undergraduate student, raised one group of bees with limited access to pollen and another with adequate pollen. They combined the bees in one hive and observed them. Their study was published this month in PLOS One.

“Pollen-stressed workers were less likely to waggle dance, and if they danced, the information they conveyed was less precise,” Dr. Mattila said.

Outside the lab, bees encounter pollen stress regularly. At the beginning of spring, for instance, cold weather makes it difficult to search for pollen, and flowers have not fully bloomed.

Poor foraging and waggle dancing could add to the decline in honeybees, and threaten crops like apples and almonds that depend on the insects for pollination, Dr. Mattila said.

Read at: http://goo.gl/g1UB7r

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/science/pollen-deprived-bees-dont-make-good-dancers.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Honeybee Navigation and Communication

World Organic News    By Mary MacGregor Reid   March 22, 2015

Honeybees navigate according to a map-like spatial memory

Using radar scientists tracked the flight paths of displaced bees – the bees are captured leaving the hive or a feeder they are familiar with and are released in unexpected sites in their general territory. Behavioural routines are recorded:

1) Straight flights in which they fly the course that they were on when they were captured on a foraging flight or that they learned from directions given from bee dances (those are called recruited bees).
2) Slow search flights where they fly with frequent direction changes in order to get their bearings.
3) Straight rapid flights to the hive or the feeder even from unexpected places in their territory where they have no visual connection to either hive or feeder.

“Two essential criteria of a map-like spatial memory are met by these results: bees can set course at any arbitrary location in their familiar area, and they can choose between at least two goals. This finding suggests a rich, map-like organization of spatial memory in navigating honey bees.”

Menzel, R. et al (2004) Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (website) http://www.pnas.org/content/102/8/3040.abstract

F3.medium

Diagram showing homing flights via the feeder (Fs) to the hive (H)

It is commonly accepted that bees use the sun as a reference point in both communication (waggle dance) and navigation, and that this is an innate understanding. Attempts to model this have apparently been unsuccessful.

Karl Von Frisch received the Nobel Prize for discovering one of the most difficult to fathom complexities of honeybee behaviour; their ability to ‘talk’ to each other abstractly through the Figure 8 Dance of the honeybee. The direction the bee moves in relation to the hive indicates direction pf pollen source. If it moves vertically upwards the direction to the source is directly towards the sun. The duration of the waggle signifies the distance. A waggle dance consists of one to 100 or more circuits, each of which consists of two phases: the waggle phase and the return phase. A worker bee’s waggle dance involves running through a small figure-eight pattern: a waggle followed by a turn to the right to circle back to the starting point (return phase), another waggle run, followed by a turn and circle to the left, and so on in a regular alternation between right and left turns after waggle runs. Waggle-dancing bees produce and release two alkanes that also seem to act as additional communication.

Unusual fact: Apparently honeybees cannot see white, hence the colour of beekeeping suits.

Read at: http://www.worldorganicnews.com/?p=13667 
http://marymacgregor-reid.com/2015/03/22/honeybee-navigation-and-communication/

Queen Bee Microbiomes Differ From Those of Worker Bees

 DigitalJournal.com/Science   By Sravanth Verma     March 14, 2015 

Researchers from the University of Indiana have published the very first comprehensive analysis of queen honey bee gut bacteria, and have reported that these defer markedly from those of worker bees.

 

The gut bacteria (gut microbiomes) are generally transmitted through the maternal line, in contrast with the findings of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Study co-author Irene L.G. Newton, also an assistant professor of biology at the University of Indiana said, “In the case of the honey bee, we found that the microbiome in queen bees did not reflect those of worker bees — not even the progeny of the queen or her attendants. In fact, queen bees lack many of the bacterial groups that are considered to be core to worker microbiomes.”

Unlike most other mammals, including human beings, honey bees' gut bacteria transmission takes place through the insect's environment and social context, which is referred to as horizontal transmission. Thus, the striking differences between queen bee and worker bee diet and environment are reflected in the microbiome. Queens usually consume protein-laden royal jelly and have very limited exposure to the outside world and the rest of the comb, besides her nest. Workers by contrast feed on “bee bread” and travel about quite a bit.

“In some ways, the development of the queen microbiome mirrors that of workers, with larval queens’ associated bacteria resembling those found in worker larvae,” Newton said. “But, by the time they mature, queens have developed a microbial signature distinct from the rest of the colony.”

Honey production and bee-keeping is a multi-million dollar business thanks to the many uses and benefits of honey. Bee keepers sometimes remove a queen bee and transfer them to new hives. Based on this study, such practices may not have a detrimental effect on colony health.

“Because the queen microbiome does not reflect the workers within a specific colony, the physical movement of queens from one colony environment to another does not seem to have any major effects on either the queen gut or worker gut communities,” Newton said.

The study titled "Characterization of the honey bee microbiome throughout the queen-rearing process" was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, in February 2015.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/science/queen-bee-microbiomes-differ-from-those-of-worker-bees/article/428288#ixzz3V91zcwuS

Bees Have the Most Amazing Legs

The Yorkshire Post   By Andrew Brown   February 28, 2015

The honeybee has developed to make the fullest use of every part of its body, with many parts doing two jobs at once.

Legs are a handy tool in the pollen race. 

Bees have the most amazing legs. Not, you understand, that I’ve taken a fancy to them. I may be getting old and developing eccentricities but that would be a step too far. It is rather that the more I discover about what they do with them the more I am hugely impressed.

We humans have evolved so that our legs do one job pretty well. They take us from place to place and hold us up, but they don’t have a sense of smell. Indeed, the very idea seems absurd.

But honeybees have developed to make the fullest possible use of every micrometre of their bodies. Almost every part of their anatomy seems designed to do two jobs at once.

If a bee needs to smell something it can do so through its antennae but it can also detect chemical odours through its feet. Since bees send chemical messages that help them do things like recognise each other and know whether their Queen is strong, this also means that bees are talking to each other via their legs.

They also get messages that way about where to find food. Most people have heard of the honeybee waggle dance. This famously lets one bee do a figure of eight dance which tells other bees which direction to go to find a food source, how far away it is and what plan there.

What few people realise is that the dance is done in the dark. Bees can’t see the figure of eight that the dancing bee is making. Remarkably it is their legs that get the message. They feel the vibrations that are being made on the wax comb where the bee is dancing and, in the pitch black interior of the hive, this is enough for them to be able to learn where they need to fly.

When they arrive at the source of food the bee can be left with a bit of a problem. There may be lots of pollen on the plant but it isn’t exactly easy for a flying insect to carry back great quantities of food.

The solution to this problem is beautifully simple. Honeybees have a basket on their back legs and they can fill that basket with pollen, pack it down tightly and use it to bring the protein and vitamins that they need back to the hive. This ability has clearly evolved over millions of years to prevent them forgetting their shopping bag.

When they arrive back at the hive you can see the pollen. It comes in different colours according to the time of year and the source of the food. Late in the season my bees were bringing back yellow pollen from Himalayan Balsam. In high summer it was more orange and may have come from dandelions - an excellent source of pollen and nectar.

At the start of spring I hope they will be going to the plentiful hazelnut trees in our local hedgerows. These are pollinated by the wind and so have no nectar but they are full of protein rich pollen and that is invaluable early in the year.

The operative word is hoping. Early spring is the really risky time for honeybees. They can usually get through the cold alright. But by spring they need to start breeding and that takes a lot of energy at exactly the time when they have used up the bulk of their winter stores.

The old tired bees that have lived through the winter have to fetch enough food to raise new energetic bees to replace them. There are occasional days when I understand exactly how they feel.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the rear legs of my bees with some nervousness. If the weather is dry and it’s warm enough, and it isn’t too windy, then they’ll be out there. And if I see enough of them coming back with brightly coloured sacks full of pollen on their back legs then I’ll know everything is going to be alright and they’ve come through the worst. They’ll be ready to take on another year and so, I trust, will I.

Read at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/rural/farming/legs-are-a-handy-tool-in-the-pollen-race-1-7129694