This was Graham Royle’s first lecture. Although it was an interesting subject, unfortunately it was accompanied by a powerpoint presentation and so the usual eyelid problems ensued. Here are my notes, as well as I can decipher them.
THE COLONY MIND. Evolution. Bees are 100 million years old; social bees, 70 million years, humans 200,000 years. A colony of bees is a superorganism whose integrated beneficial activity requires excellent communication. How? It’s dark, crowded and ‘noisy’ in a hive or a tree trunk. Pheromones, trophallaxis, sound (they have no ears but can pick up the vibes via the comb soundboard). Queen piping is an example and Graham played us a recording of some. Dancing.
Decisions: Seasonal growth; foraging; defence; reproduction (swarming) nest site selection; temperature: they’re poikilothermic (whatever that means!) their metabolism needs warmth of about 35C (you and I are about 37C) for brood development and they form a cluster when the temperature drops to 15C (I guess that is about the 57F I was told about 36 years ago!). Larger colonies eat about 1lb of honey per 1,000 bees over winter; smaller colonies 3lb/1,000.
Annual cycle. Whereas bumble bees hibernate, honeybees are alive and alert all year round and so have learnt to regulate their temperature communally and colonially to reproduce by swarming when conditions are right. Evolution has taught them how to keep most predators at bay. The more brood there is, the more pollen they collect. Pollen collection is increased if brood is near the entrance.
The genetic relationship between sisters and offspring was mentioned; workers being closer to their full sisters than half-sisters, and as queen mate, on average, with about 13 drones, this may account for the large number of queen cells that sometimes appears: each sub-family of full sisters working to ensure that the queen cell that contains more of their genes leads a swarm or a cast.
One final point of which I made particular note is that, according to Tom Seeley, bees prefer an entrance of less than 75 square centimetres. This seems rather large to me and I wonder whether a decimal point has gone astray! Can anybody enlighten me?