London: The secret of honey bees' success
has finally been discovered, after scientists have found that
a special type of "heater" bee warms the hive and controls the
complex social structure of the colony.
A new study has revealed that these heater bees act
like living radiators to control the temperature inside their
hives and determine which job their young will perform in the
colony when mature.
Using new technology, the scientists have found that
heater bees, whose body temperatures are considerably higher
than other bees in the colony, use their own bodies to provide
a unique form of central heating within a hive.
According to them, the heater bees are responsible for
maintaining the temperature of the brood nest in a hive, where
young bees, known as pupae, are sealed into wax cells while
they develop into mature bees.
The scientists discovered that the heater bees work
to subtly change the temperature of each developing pupae by
around a degree and this small change determines what kind of
honey bee it will become, a newspaper reported.
Those kept at 35 degrees C turn into the intelligent
forager bees that leave the nest in search of nectar. Those
kept at 34 degrees C emerge as "house keeper" bees that never
leave the nest, conducting chores such as feeding the larvae
and cleaning the nest.
"Their (heater bees) body temperature can reach up to
44 degrees centigrade. In theory they should cook themselves
at that temperature, but somehow they are able to withstand
this high temperature.
"By creeping into empty cells, one heater bee can
transmit heat to 70 pupae around them. It is a central heating
system for the colony.
"The bees are controlling the environment they live in
to make sure they can fill a need within the colony. Each bee
in a colony performs a different profession – there are guard
bees, nest building bees, brood caretaking bee, queen care-
taking bee and forager bees.
"By carefully regulating the temperature of each
pupae, they change the way it develops and the likelihood of
the role it will fulfil when it emerges as an adult," Prof
Jürgen Tautz, head of the bee group at Würzburg University in
Germany, who led the study, said.
The findings will be revealed later this month in a
new 'BBC' series 'Richard Hammond's 'Invisible World', where
technology is used to give a glimpse into previously unseen
First Published: Sunday, March 14, 2010, 23:43