Did you know a honey bee has hairy eyes? Micro-Science takes you beyond the reach of your own eyes to reveal the tiny details you won’t believe are there.
by Sid Perkins via news.sciencemag.org
The electric fields that build up on honey bees as they fly, flutter their wings, or rub body parts together may allow the insects to talk to each other, a new study suggests. Tests show that the electric fields, which can be quite strong, deflect the bees’ antennae, which, in turn, provide signals to the brain through specialized organs at their bases.
Scientists have long known that flying insects gain an electrical charge when they buzz around. That charge, typically positive, accumulates as the wings zip through the air—much as electrical charge accumulates on a person shuffling across a carpet. And because an insect’s exoskeleton has a waxy surface that acts as an electrical insulator, that charge isn’t easily dissipated, even when the insect lands on objects, says Randolf Menzel, a neurobiologist at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.
Although researchers have suspected for decades that such electrical fields aid pollination by helping the tiny grains stick to insects visiting a flower, only more recently have they investigated how insects sense and respond to such fields. Just last month, for example, a team reported that bumblebees may use electrical fields to identify flowers recently visited by other insects from those that may still hold lucrative stores of nectar and pollen. A flower that a bee had recently landed on might have an altered electrical field, the researchers speculated.
Now, in a series of lab tests, Menzel and colleagues have studied how honey bees respond to electrical fields. In experiments conducted in small chambers with conductive walls that isolated the bees from external electrical fields, the researchers showed that a small, electrically charged wand brought close to a honey bee can cause its antennae to bend. Other tests, using antennae removed from honey bees, indicated that electrically induced deflections triggered reactions in a group of sensory cells, called the Johnston’s organ, located near the base of the antennae. In yet other experiments, honey bees learned that a sugary reward was available when they detected a particular pattern of electrical field.
Altogether, these tests suggest that the electrical fields that build up on bees due to their flight or movement are stimuli that could be used in social communication, the researchers report online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The team’s findings “are very significant,” says Fred Dyer, a behavioral biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “I hadn’t heard about the possibility that honey bees could use electrical fields.”
One of the honey bees’ forms of communication is the “waggle dance.” When the insects have located a dense patch of flowers or a source of water, they skitter across the honeycomb in their hive in a pattern related to the direction of and the distance to the site. Fellow worker bees then take that information and forage accordingly. The biggest mystery about the dance, Dyer says, is which senses the bees use—often in the deep, dark recesses of their hive—to conduct their communication. “People have proposed a variety of methods: direct contact between bees, air currents from the buzzing of their wings, odors, even vibrations transmitted through the honeycomb itself,” he says.
But the team’s new findings introduce yet another mode of communication available to the insects, Dyer says. He notes that the group found that antenna deflections induced by an electrically charged honey bee wing are about 10 times the size of those that would be caused by airflow from the wing fluttering at the same distance—a sign that electrical fields could be an important signal.
“They show that the electrical fields are there and that they’re within the range of what the animal can sense,” Dyer says. “Their claim of evidence is quite compelling.”
Bees and Math
“Bees…by virtue of a certain geometrical forethought…know that the hexagon is greater than the square and the triangle, and will hold more honey for the same expenditure of material. — Pappus of Alexandria
Bees have not studied tessellations theory. However, some of their behavior patterns can be explained mathematically. One such phenomena which mother nature instilled in the bee is the nature to use the least expenditure of energy and materials. The bees somehow know that the square, the triangle and the hexagon are the only three self-tessellating regular polygons. Of the three, the hexagon has the smallest perimeter for a given area. So, when bees are constructing hexagonal prism cells in the hive, they use less wax and do less work to enclose the same space than if tessellating space with prisms of square or triangular bases. The honeycomb walls are made up of cells which are 1/80 of an inch thick, yet can support 30 times their own weight. A honeycomb of 14.5”x8.8” can hold more than five pounds of honey. That also explains why they are so heavy. The bees are creating hexagonal prisms in three rhombic sections, and the walls of the cell meet at exactly 120 degree angles. What is even more amazing, is the fact that the bees work simultaneously on different sections forming a comb with no visible seams. It is built vertically downward, and the bees use parts of their bodies as measuring instruments. In fact, their heads act as plummets.”
Click above to see some fun kids activities – one of which helps to illustrate why bees build hexagons via thedeltacs.com.
The Medicine of Altruism - words by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
“When I consider the lack of cooperation in human society, I can only conclude that it stems from ignorance of our interdependent nature. I am often moved by the example of small insects, such as bees. The laws of nature dictate that bees work together in order to survive. As a result, they possess an instinctive sense of social responsibility. They have no constitution, laws, police, religion or moral training, but because of their nature they labour faithfully together. Occasionally they may fight, but in general the whole colony survives on the basis of cooperation. Human beings, on the other hand, have constitutions, vast legal systems and police forces; we have religion, remarkable intelligence and a heart with great capacity to love. But despite our many extraordinary qualities, in actual practice we lag behind those small insects; in some ways, I feel we are poorer than the bees…
To me, it is clear: a genuine sense of responsibility can result only if we develop compassion. Only a spontaneous feeling of empathy for others can really motivate us to act on their behalf.”
ORIGINAL PAPER: Honeybees can discriminate between Monet and Picasso paintings
by Wen Wu, Antonio M. Moreno, Jason M. Tangen and Judith Reinhard
via JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE PHYSIOLOGY
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extend beyond learning simple colours, shapes or patterns. They can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces. This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates. Here, we investigated whether this capacity extends to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso. We show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize. This suggests that honeybees are able to discriminate Monet paintings from Picasso ones by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style. Our study further suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals—from insects to humans—to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.
HONEYLOVER OF THE MONTH: Ruth Askren
BEES RESCUED FROM: A pile of abandoned carpet-padding in a garage in Bel Aire, two back-to-back wooden fences between neighbors’ yards in Van Nuys; a swarm on a cactus in Pacific Palisades; a tree trap-out in Baldwin Hills; and an overcrowded hive a beekeeper wanted to get rid of.
When I was a kid I would catch bees and keep them in a jar for a few hours, just to watch them (– I did this with lizards and spiders too!). I became a beekeeper in my 50’s as a project for my aging dad and I to do together, because we both love to tinker, and beekeeping is definitely a hobby for tinkerers! A retired engineer, he enjoyed designing a great anti-ant hive stand and often comes up with new and ingenious solutions for various bee problems. My hives are on my parents’ property in Pacific Palisades, where Dad can keep an eye on them.
As I wanted to learn more than I could teach myself, I joined the Backwards Beekeepers club and soon began participating in volunteer feral bee-rescues. Saving bee colonies seemed a logical outcome of my naturalist tendencies. I loved being able to see into the world of wild creatures, not in a jar! And, like my dad, I’m obsessed with tools and this work enables me to use most every kind! Learning about others’ beekeeping methods has been a fun and satisfying part of the project. Now I run Bee Capture, a bee rescue business (www.beecapture.com), taking bees out of walls, attics and trees all over the LA basin.
LISTEN: Dancing In the Dark: The Intelligence of Bees (54min)
Bees are remarkable among insects. They can count, remember human faces, and communicate through dance routines performed entirely in the dark. But are they intelligent? Even creative? Bee aficionado Stephen Humphrey, along with a hive of leading bee researchers and scientists, investigates the mental lives of bees.
ARTICLE: How Honey Bees Keep Their Hives Warm Given That They are Cold Blooded
“Today I found out how Honey bees keep their hives warm even though they are cold blooded.
Up until only a few years ago, it was thought by many scientists that the Honey bee hives were kept warm by pupae in the brood and that the bees would often congregate there to warm themselves up from the pupae. Recently, this was found not to be the case when a new Honey bee job was discovered, that of “heater bees”. Bees of almost all ages can perform this function by either vibrating their abdomens or they can also decouple their wings from their muscles, allowing them to vigorously use these muscles without actually moving their wings. This can heat their bodies up to about 111° Fahrenheit (44° C), which is about 16° F (9° C) hotter than their normal body temperature.
Another new discovery that went with this was why queen bees leave certain cells in the brood empty. It was previously thought this was an undesirable quality of a queen, so queens that left less empty cells were sought out. In fact, these empty cells are essential to a healthy hive. Before the discovery of heater bees using infrared technology, it was thought the bees that crawled in these empty cells were cleaning them out. What’s actually happening is that the heater bees will crawl inside these cells to keep the surrounding cells at the proper temperature, able to warm a maximum of about 70 or so cells per heater bee.
The heater bees can also directly regulating temperature in individual cells by standing over and pressing their thorax against an individual cell, something which scientists used to think was just the bees resting. In reality, they are working their wing muscles extremely hard to heat up the cell with their heightened body temperature…”
[read the full article on todayifoundout.com]
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