Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Bee Chore - Heater Bees!

I'm devouring a fantastic bee book which I must tell you about. It's called The Buzz About Bees, Biology of a Superorganism by Jurgen Tautz. It was originally written and published in German and is translated (excellently) into English.

This book covers all the latest and greatest on the secret life of bees. Reading it has been fascinating with many "I never knew that" moments. Here's a few new things I learned from this book:

A Heater bee is actually another recently discovered task that some workers perform inside the hive. The heater bee will help to warm the brood in two very distinct ways.

Have you ever noticed how the queen doesn't always lay a perfect brood pattern and leaves the occasional cell empty? Well the heater bee uses that cell to warm the brood in the adjacent cells. Have you ever seen workers dunked all the way down inside a cell and not moving. For many years it was thought that the bee was cleaning but now they've used infrared and carefully sliced open the cell walls to observe.

The worker laying still inside the cell is actually moving her abdomen very quickly and is generating an incredible amount of heat, often up to 41 degrees Celsius. The worker will often continue in this activity for up to 30 minutes.

After that she'll be exhausted and all her energy reserves are burned up.... but that's when another newly discovered bee job comes into play. That job is for the Filling Station bees. These workers fill themselves and then go in search of energy starved bees in the hive. They give the heater bee that "sweet kiss", touching tongues together, which you'll often see when observing bees inside the hive.

Filling stations are those odd cells in the brood area which the bees fill with nectar to save long trips to find an energy boost.

Another task that heater bees carry out, also recently discovered, is to stand with their thorax resting on the cap of a cell. Then they do "stationary flying", which is vibrating their wing muscles which is how they warm themselves. This heat is transferred to the wax where it warms up that cell and the adjacent cells. For a long time it was thought these bees were simply standing still resting, but on closer study it was discovered they were busy working.

Bees of all ages will carry out the task of heater bee.
Did you learn something new? Stay tuned and I'll report on how similar honey combs are to dish soap bubbles and how bees can communicate their dances through vibrations in the wax.

You've got to get this book. Out of 5 stars, I'd rate it 10. It's full of great close-up photos too which are a pleasure to see. You can find it on Amazon at Buzz about Bees.
(My bees are doing great and I'll report on them later this week.... Gosh life gets busy in the spring doesn't it?!).
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