Flight of The Honeybees

Read article at As bees go missing, a $9.3B crisis lurks.

.. The insects aren't very good travelers either. When a truck carrying bees gets caught in a summer traffic jam, for instance, hives quickly overheat, despite the fact that the millions of workers inside them furiously fan their wings in an attempt to prevent it, says Wes Card, a beekeeper whose Merrimack Valley Apiaries in Billerica, Mass., pollinates crops from California to Maine.

"Then every minute counts," he adds, for unless the driver can quickly find a way to pull off the road and hose down the hives with cooling water, desperately hot queens emerge from their inner sanctums and typically wind up venturing into nearby colonies on the truck, where they are perceived as alien invaders and promptly killed.

One of CCD's strangest symptoms, say bee experts, is a phenomenon that might be called the madness of the nurses. Nurse bees are workers that nurture a hive's preadult bees, called brood. Workers begin their adult lives as nurses, and only during the final third or so of their six-week lives do they become foragers, venturing outside the hive to collect nectar and pollen.

Researchers have discovered that the young nurses are maintained in a kind of immature, thickheaded state by chemical signals emanating from the queen. Nurses aren't supposed to leave the hive. They're not ready to cope with the big outside world, which requires a mature bee's smarts. Besides, with nurses on leave, the all-important brood would wither.

Yet empty hives struck by CCD are often found with intact brood, which means nurses were on the job shortly before all the bees flew off forever. Beekeepers find this gross dereliction of duty much weirder than the disappearance of foragers, which essentially work themselves to death and often die outside the hive.

Says Hackenberg: "Basically, I've never seen bees go off and leave brood. That's the real kicker."

Perhaps the nurses aren't really acting crazy when they fly away. Instead, their strange behavior may represent a perfectly natural attempt by doomed workers to protect their sisters from killer microbes.

After all, a hive's workers represent a famously close-knit sorority, geared by evolution to act strictly in the best interests of their colonies. Beekeepers have long known that sick bees generally leave the hive to die, minimizing the risk that they will infect others.

To beekeepers' dismay, the farm bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, which calls for $286 billion to be spent over the next five years on everything from school snacks to biofuels, earmarked no funds specifically for CCD research.


Are The Bees Dying off Due to Stress?

Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists.

Sep 06, Bee researchers close in on Colony Collapse Disorder. (Physorg.com)

Somewhat related:

How drones find queens: Odorant receptor for queen pheromone identified.


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