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Emerging Science Note/Bee It Hot or Cold

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports how colder temperatures during their youths can make honey bees stupid.


A honeybee freshly hatching from its heated cell. (Photo: © Beegroup Würzburg/Fiola Bock.)   

CURWOOD: Coming up: the more things change, the more they stay the same on Capitol Hill.

First, this Note on Emerging Science from Maggie Villiger.

[MUSIC: Science Note Theme]

VILLIGER: Honeybees exert a lot of energy keeping their hive at just the right temperature, between about 91 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit. They bring in water and fan it to cool things down, and they warm things up by vigorously contracting their muscles.

Recently, researchers investigated what effect temperature changes might have on bees as they develop. They focused in on the three-week pupal stage, since the bee’s entire body and nervous system is rebuilt during this period before it emerges as an adult.

So, scientists let groups of pupae develop in their lab at the low and high end of the normal beehive temperature range. When the adult bees emerge from their cells, they all seem to behave normally. But when the bees left the hive, deficits became apparent.

   A hot heater bee seen through a temperature sensitive videosystem (red color means hot) is sitting on top of the lids covering cells in which the pupae develop (bottom). The heat is transmitted through the lids onto the heads of the pupae. (Photo: © Beegroup Würzburg/Marco Kleinhenz/Brigitte Bujok/Jürgen Tautz.)

The bees raised at 89 degrees were worse at foraging and communicating food locations through elaborate waggle dances than were their sisters raised at 97 degrees. In fact, many of the “cold bees” never even made it home again once they left the nest, and some of them actually turned up in neighboring hives. These cold-raised bees were also much worse learners than the warmer bees in a conditioning experiment.

The scientists are currently looking at how these functional deficits may correlate with details of the bees’ nervous systems.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living On Earth.

[MUSIC UP: Paul Horn “Carmo” “Altitude of the Sun” CBS (1975)]



Dept. of Sociophysiology, University of Wuerzburg


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