The social Organization of Honeybees
A truly striking aspect in the world of insects is the evolution of the honeybee colony. Apis Mellifera, the most widely distributed species of honeybee is know to flourish all over the earth’s suface from the tropics to the sub-artic areas. There are however three other species of honeybee which are all found in South-eastern Asia. These species include Apis Florea and Apis Dorsata, both of which build their single cones under the branch of a tree or on the overhangs of rocks. The third, Apis Cerana is very much like Apis Mellifera in that it will nest in hollow trees or rock cravaces, building a nest using several parelle combs. Other similarities between Apis Cerana and Apis Mellifera are found in their anatomy and social organization. However, because of their wide dispersal Apis Mellifera will be the species diccused in the following accounts.
A fertile female called the ‘queen’ is contained within the colony at all times of the year. Along with the queen is a developing brood and masses of infertile females called ‘workers’. In the spring and summer male or ‘drone’ bees are present.
There is a clear -cut division of labour between a colony’s queen and it’s workers. The queen is much larger than the workers due to it’s mandibular glands and her abdomen which contains which containes 300 or more ovavioles. A higher longevity and metabollic rate allows the queento lay over 1000 eggs oer day. Worker bees have a larger brain which explains their more complex behaviour patterns. They also pocess a corbiculae (pollen-gathering appartus) and plumose hairs on their hind legs. Worker bees also have wax and hypopharyngeal glands.
Duties of Workers:
Aside from egg laying, all other duties in a comb are preformed by the workers. In general, the morphologically identical workers live for 4-6 weeks. Of this time the first 2-3 weeks are spent doing nest work. And the remanider on foraging. As a worker bee grows older, it’s prefered task changes.
“In General, with increase in age, bees undertake four overlapping series of tasks as follows:
a) Cell Cleaning
b) Feeding larvae, comb building
c) Comb building; nectar reception; pollen packing; cell cleaning; removing debris; guarding
When only a few hours old, a new worker bee begins to clean itself and the area around it. At three days old the wrokers are able to feed the larvae with food that mostly comes from the hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of the workers. When a worker is around 1-3 weeks old, it can produce wax that is secreated from four pairs of glands on the ventral surface of the abdomen. Bees wax has many important uses for the hive. It is used to build and repair combs, and to cover the cells containing pupae or honey. At some point in their life cycle the worker bees will go foraging. This will most likely happen when they are between 10-30 days old. When foraging, bees will collect nectar, pollen and resin obtained from plant buds (called propolis), and water. The pollen and propolis are carried in the corbiculae, and the nectar and water in the crop-which is often called the ‘honey stomach’ when referring to bees. Unlike many of the other duties dicussed, there does not seem to be any pattern relating age to foraging duties, but it is known that most bees go foraging at some point in their lives.
In a honeybee comb, there are two main types of hexagonal cells. The smaller of the two is used for rearing worker brood, and the larger type is used for development of drone brood. Both types of cells however may be used for food storage. For example if honey is to be stored, an empty drone cell may be extened to twice the depth.
A new cell in a comb consists entirely of wax, however after a brood has finished being developed inside of them, they are lined with the left over cocoons, and in there bases is a collection of faeces from the larvae that were once occupying them. Some combs become very dark brown or even black. This is a result of repeated use as larvae cells. The explanition comes from the fact that The cocoons left behind are a light brown color, and with extended use develop their dark color. The lighter, yellowish colored combs get their color from the light colored wax and the absorption of colors from pollen.
The collection and storage of excess nectar and pollen has enabled the honeybee to survive through cold climates as well as heat spells in the tropics.
Organization and Communication within the Nest:
The darkness of the nest offers little chance of any visual comminucation. The means of communication must therefore be either auditory, tactile or chemical. Auditory communication is not a dependable theroy as honeybees cannot accept any airborne sound. The many members of a nest are frequently touching eachother with their antenna, however no tactile communication has ever been discovered. There is no evidence that the evolution of antennal contact has develpoed into a highly advanced code system. This leaves the communication by chemicals either accepted as tast or smell to be very important. One way the transfer of chemical information can occur is by the transfter of food.
In a honey bee colony, food is passed from worker to worker, and from worker to drone and then the queen. Regurgitated form the honeystomach, the food passed consists of water, nectar, honey, and sometimes glandular secretions. The transfer of food occurs when one bee is begging for food, and the other offering. A begging bee will attempt to insert it’s proboscis between the mandibles of the offerer in hopes that a drop of regurgated food will be the result. Studies conducted have shown that the oder of the head is of great importance. Bees have been known to beg from a small cotton ball that has been rubbed agaionst the head of another offering bee. Food is passed quickly through a colony from older foraging bees, to workers that are feeding brood, producing wax, and ripening nectar. An important factor of this transfering of food occurs when an experienced forager gives food to a potential forager allowing it to determine both the scent and taste of the supply they are to seek in the future. It is not surprising that any changes in food quality, or quantity is appreciated.
Pheromones are the major means of comunication within the nest. These chemical substanced, produced and discharged externally by a member of the nest portay very specific behaviourlal ans psychological responces in another member. One type of chemical stimuli is one that is released outside the nest and around the nest entrance. This is to attract other honeybees in the area. Pheromones released by a stinging worker will attract other bees to the target. Inside the nest, phermones are released by the brood which signal workers to continue foraging and also inhibit the development of the workers ovaries. The queen may have 32 or more different types of pheremones produced in her head. The concentration of the pheremone produced and the length of time that it remains in production, as well as it’s persistence may all vary. Used in different situations, the same pheremone may have different effects. The method of transfer is not completely known, but some possible maens of transmittence is through the air, physical contact, and food distribution. It is thougth that the most efficant way of pheremone distribution in nests of Apis Mellifera and Apis Cerana would be through the air. The closed interior of their nests and the absence of wind or other scents would allow for pheremone production and stability.
Although there has been no evidence of any major anntenna comminucation,