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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scientists attached radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to hundreds of individual honey bees and tracked them for several weeks. The effort yielded two discoveries: Some foraging bees are much busier than others; and if those busy bees disappear, others will take their place.
The findings are reported in the journal Animal Behaviour.
Tagging the bees revealed that about 20 percent of the foraging bees in a hive brought home more than half of the nectar and pollen gathered to feed the hive.
"We found that some bees are working very, very hard – as we would have expected," said University of Illinois Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene E. Robinson, who led the research. "But then we found some other bees that were not working as hard as the others."
Citizen scientist Paul Tenczar developed the technique for attaching RFID tags to bees and tracking their flight activity with monitors. He and Neuroscience Program graduate student Claudia Lutz measured the foraging activities of bees in several locations, including some in hives in a controlled foraging environment. (Watch a video about this work.)
Previous studies, primarily in ants, have found that some social insects work much harder than others in the same colony, Robinson said.
"The assumption has always been that these 'elite' individuals are in some way intrinsically better, that they were born that way," he said.
While it is well known that genetic differences underlie differences in many types of behavior, the new findings show that "sometimes it is important to give individuals a chance in a different situation to truly find out how different they are from each other," Robinson said.
Removal of the elite bees "was associated with an almost five-fold increase in activity level in previously low-activity foragers," the researchers wrote. The change occurred within 24 hours, Tenczar said. This demonstrates that other individuals within the hive also have the capacity to become elites when necessary, Robinson said.
"It is still possible that there truly are elite bees that have some differential abilities to work harder than others, but it's a larger group than first estimated," Robinson said. "Or it could be that all bees are capable of working at this level and there's some kind of colony-level regulation that has some of them working really, really hard, making many trips while others make fewer trips."
Perhaps the less-busy bees function as a kind of reserve force that can kick into high gear if something happens to the super-foragers, Robinson said.
"Our observation is that the colony bounces back to a situation where some bees are very active and some are less active," he said. "Why is that? We don't know. Do all bees have that capability? We still don't know."
VBA is working with the UVM Extension to promote the use of more pollinator plants that would enhance food resources for honeybees and other wild pollinators. As part of this initiative, the VBA would like to promote hay and pasture crops that are more ‘bee friendly’ without sacrificing forage quality that dairy and other livestock farmers are dependent upon. However, there is a need to conduct field trials on farms to actually determine the feasibility of various mixtures and management practices that would help the VBA meet these goals while dairy livestock farmers still meet their feed goals. Read more about the project here:
We recently submitted a final report for a two-year grant from the USDA and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The first year helped us to pay some of the cost for our members to attend the Eastern Apicultural Society annual conference held in Burlington in August of 2012. The second year enabled us to launch our Mobile Mentor program.
VBA Members: You now have the option of checking the status of your membership account, updating your membership information and renewing your membership in the Vermont Beekeepers Association online.
It's easy. Simply login to the site as you normally would and look under the User Menu on the right sidebar of the site's front page. You'll see a few new options:
State Apiculturalist Steve Parise has confirmed that Zombie Fly Apocephalus borealis has been detected here in Vermont. This fly is native to North America. This fly attacks its host by injecting eggs into the abdomen; the emerging fly larva eats the insides of its host. This results in "Zombie" like behavior of the host.
The honey bee sampling was taken from an observant beekeeper in Burlngton. The affected honey bees were sent to San Francisco State University for testing. John Hafernik, a researcher and professor of biology at San Francisco State University has started a website tracking the discovery of infected honey bees in the United Stated. "Zombee Watch"
A Burlington Free Press article was recently published about the Vermont beekeeper and his experience in detecting the Zombie Fly. Killer 'zombie fly' maggots found in Vermont honeybees
For additional information about Apocephalus borealis, please click this link: Apocephalus borealis