GORMANSTON 2015 – part 9

Time for coffee and biscuits, then back to the hall for the next lecture: Jamie Ellis on ‘Honeybees as Superorganisms’. I got the timing wrong, assuming that it was an 11.30 start rather than 11.15, so I snuck in and sat at the back. I wasn’t the last.

I wonder whether there had been the usual hassle with computer and projector as Jamie seemed only just to have started. I managed to make two pages of notes, some of which are legible and from which I glean the following information.

Superorganism: super = above. Complex structure of interdependence. Is the honeybee colony an organism? Yes. The bee is the cell and the colony is the bee. Cell or tissue generation and ‘rejuvenation’.

If a cohort of bees is removed, other bees will ‘fill the gap’ by changing to the task of the missing older/younger bees. This is mostly controlled by pheromones.

Glands and secretions: endocrine system – hormones – pheromones to the bees are hormones to the colony.

They gather food from a 3 – 5 mile radius, which equals 28 – 79 square miles! The foraging pattern tends to be amoeboid.

Trophyllaxis and ‘communal stomach’ spreads food resources throughout the nest: group digestion.  True food – royal jelly for bees is as milk for mammals.

Respiration – gas exchange. Side fanners circulate air inside the hive at a rate of three breaths a minute in the daytime and 0.4 at night.

Worker excretion – bees ease their bowels about 40 yards away from the hive.

Wax for storage. Pesticides are lystophyllic (spelling?) and are stored in wax. Wax moths recycle all comb every 2 – 3 years. Wax is almost the liver/kidneys of the colony.

Thermoregulation: the brood nest is kept at about 95 degrees F: therefore bees are cold blooded  but their colonies warm blooded.

Communication by pheromones, the Nasenov gland providing a homing signal. Dancing is adjusted for the movement of the sun during flight time. 3 ocelli can detect the position of the sun on cloudy days. Bees have local dialects.

Communication through the comb – vibration using the comb as a phone – a cell phone!

Colony immune response. Honeybees have far fewer genes that code for immune response than other insects but the colony response is stronger.

Colonies that collect propolis have fewer problems than those that don’t. Colonies get ‘fever’, raising the core temperature if pathogens are present.

The superorganism’s method of reproduction is swarming, and also the production of drones.

All organisms die. When is a honeybee colony dead?  When it swarms? When the queen dies? When genetic information is lost? – when is that?

“A  superorganism is more than the sum of its parts” Tautz – “The Buzz About Bees”.

Queens tend to fly to further drone congregation areas than drones do.

Then came lunch. Maraid was waltzing around in clad in her Honey Queen sash for the last time before she’s superseded.


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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