Regular readers of my blog will have read my frequent complaints about poor powerpoint presentations, so, by contrast, I have nothing but praise for Jamie Ellis’ performance using that medium. First, there was plenty of light so we could easily see him as well as the screen. He walked around a lot, frequently waving his hands, so there was plenty of action to keep the audience alert and, best of all, he was funny! His lecture was at 4pm on the first day, a time when people would easily start nodding: I can assure you that nobody did!
His subject was Biology of the Honey Bee and he took it in stages. First the nest, which is shaped like a Rugby ball (how does an American know what a Rugby ball looks like?) with the brood area edged by a band of pollen and then honey.
Drones eat to live and live to mate, spending 2-4 hours a day in Drone Congregation Areas.
Workers can lay eggs if there’s no queen exuding pheromones to prevent them, but, being unfertilised, produce only drones, an exception to this rule being Apis mellifera capensis of South Africa which can produce diploid eggs from unmated workers.
Drones use muscles to squeeze their haemolymph (bee blood) to push their wedding tackle inside out and into the queen, known as eversion, leaving their wedding tackle protruding from the queen for the next drone along to remove before taking his turn.
The queen stores the sperm in her spermatheca which has a net bag around it to keep it oxygenated. She mates with up to 25 males, the quantity of sperm from them overfilling her spermatheca so, after it has been well-mixed, the surplus is discarded.
Workers hatch from the egg after 21 days, the queen 15 days, drones, 24 days.
Workers have age-related division of labour, their jobs changing as different glands develop. They can go back to earlier jobs if necessary or jump forward if the older bees are removed. During honey production, those doing the processing in the cells spend a lot of time effectively blowing bubbles.
The colony of bees being a superorganism, swarming is the colony’s means of reproduction. They reproduce like apple trees by means of both seeds and pollen, drones being the equivalent of pollen.
10 – 15% of colonies have 2 queens but beekeepers often don’t realise this as they stop looking after they’ve seen the first one.
Besides the round dance and the waggle dance, there’s an intermediate ‘sickle’ dance for food sources about half a furlong away.
The ocelli ( the 3 big eyes on the forehead) detect polarised light and so help navigation.
The caste system means that larvae from fertilised eggs become queens if overfed or workers if underfed, epigenetics turning appropriate genes off and on. Drones are from unfertilised eggs and are thus haploid, having a grandfather but no father.
I don’t think any of this was new to me but it was good to be reminded and it was worth coming for the comedy alone!