Monday, March 5, 2012

500 mile warranty or the life of a Honeybee

As my wife and I go into our third year as beekeepers, we continue to not only learn but to relearn about beekeeping.  We have gained some new beekeeper friends that are just starting out and have wisely chosen to take a class from our local bee club. (Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association) As we discuss beekeeping with our new friends we find ourselves saying, "Yea, we learned that a few years ago but some of the details aren't so fresh."  My wife, my queen bee, is always on the lookout for more bee knowledge and brings me along to add another set if eyes and ears.  Recently we have started to listen to podcasts that are extremely helpful to both refresh and expand our beekeeping knowledge.  Below are my notes from a recent podcast.  Feel free to go over and listen to it for yourself.  Any comments or things I misheard are welcome.

So what are the numbers again on a honeybee?
American Bee Journal Feb 2012 pg 131

21 Days - It takes 21 days on average for a worker bee to become an adult.

3   Days in the egg stage    Day 0   - Day 3  (Queen determined here. Best on day 1.)
6   Days in the larva stage   Day 4   - Day 9
12 Days in the Pupa stage  Day 10 - Day 21

Honeybee warranty beegins (About 38 days in summer or 500 miles) 

If you listen to the podcast, Kevin Inglin does a great job detailing the life of a honeybee once she emerges until her final flight. 

4   Days - New bee                            Day 1 - 4
8   Days - Nurse bee                          Day  5 - 12
9   Days - Middle Aged Bee (MAB)      Day 13 - 21
17 Days - Forager bee                        Day 22 - Day 38

Please note these are average days and are subject to change depending on the environment. (temperature, abundance of food, abundance of workers in the colony, overall health of the colony)

New Bee jobs -  New bees mostly hang out continuing to develop and cleaning their cell.  They spend time sleeping as they develop.

Nurse Bee jobs - Nurse bees feed the queen, brood and foragers.  Turns out that in addition to Queen pheromone, there is also Brood pheromone.  According to Kevin's information, it acts as the fountain of youth for bees.  The closer to the brood pheromone, the longer they live.  That is one explanation for the length of life of a winter bee which can bee as long as 200 days.

Honey bees deposit vitellogenin molecules in fat bodies in their abdomen and heads. The fat bodies apparently acts as a food storage reservoir. The glycolipoprotein vitellogenin has additional functionality as it acts as an antioxidant to prolong Queen bee and forager lifespan as well as a hormone that affects future foraging behavior.[1] The health of a honey bee colony is dependent upon the vitellogenin reserves of the nurse bees - the foragers having low levels of vitellogenin. As expendable laborers, the foragers are fed just enough protein to keep them working their risky task of collecting nectar and pollen. Vitellogenin levels are important during the nest stage and thus influence honey bee worker division of labor.
A nurse bee's vitellogenin titer that developed in the first four days after emergence, affects its subsequent age to begin foraging and whether it preferentially forages for nectar or pollen. If young workers are short on food their first days of life, they tend to begin foraging early and preferentially for nectar. If they are moderately fed, they forage at normal age preferentially for nectar. If they are abundantly fed, immediately after emergence, their vitellogenin titer is high and they begin foraging later in life, preferentially collecting pollen. Pollen is the only available protein source for honey bees.

Middle Age Bees (MAB) jobs -  These bees are best at comb creation, guarding the hive and receiving nectar.

Forager Bee jobs - Finally we get to the last stage of a worker bee's life.  They literally work from sunrise to sundown gathering pollen, nectar and propolis.  They also act as guard bees after they return to the hive at night to sleep.  Foragers literally work themselves to death.  As their wings wear out, it works their little flight muscles more and more.  According to Kevin's information, the muscles last about 500 miles worth of flight. 

Push pull phenomenon - According to Kevin's information, bees can change jobs to a certain extent.  If there are insufficient foragers, MABs are drafted.  Too many foragers, they can revert back to a MAB.  The closer to the brood, the more of the elixir of life.  So adult bees are pushed through the different stages of life but can bee pulled back as needed, to a certain extent.  I don't think a bee can go from forager to new bee.

Wow, how miraculous.

Final question for beekeepers to debate.  Design or Chance?  If you are a Darwinian evolutionist I would love to hear your explanation of all of this. If you believe in a supreme omnipotent being, I think I know your answer.  According to Occam's razor the simplest approach is usually the correct one.  Guess we could ponder this for quite awhile.

Bee Boy out...

Oh, for more information, here is a great book.

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