Two entomologists discussed the nuances of communication and temperature regulation in honey bees at a presentation hosted this past Tuesday by the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
The presentation, titled “Learning from Insects: How Our World is Shaped by Bees, Ants and Other Social Insects,” was given to commemorate the recent publication of “A World of Insects: A Harvard University Press Reader,” a compendium of excerpts from some of the most well-known entomology books ever published by Harvard University Press.
Professor Naomi Pierce, Curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, moderated the event, telling the crowd of over 200 people packed into the Geology Lecture Hall that much of entomology’s value lies in detailed field work.
“What you find here are not just landmark stories describing animal behavior[...]what is clearly evident in this book is a rich collection of natural history, something not taught as much at Harvard in this genomic age,” Pierce said.
Pierce introduced the evening’s speakers, Cornell University neurobiology and behavior professor Thomas Seeley and University of Vermont biology professor Bernd Heinrich.
Heinrich, a dark horse winner of the Boston Marathon in 1980, is known for his studies of ravens, where he drives a truck with carrion in the trunk in order to study the communication methods of the ravens that follow him.
Seeley first discussed the behaviors of bees relating to honey production and hive organization.
He emphasized the view of bee colonies operating “like a factory” whose input is nectar and whose output is honey.“Different individuals [do] different jobs in the overall process,” said Seeley. “There is a division of labor.”
Seeley also explained that bees have a surprisingly complex system of communication using body movements (“dances” and “signals”).
The more famous “waggle” dance and shaking signal are used to signal to bees in the hive that more foragers are needed in the field.
Seeley closed his part of the presentation by emphasizing the need to appreciate the complexity of the bee hive community, saying “I hope that the next time you smoozle some honey onto an English muffin or some toast you’ll give a little thought to the bees and their shaking and waggling.”
Heinrich took to the podium next, discussing mechanisms of body temperature regulation in honey bees. He explained that regulation of body temperature is correlated to the honey-making process, where bees will maintain higher temperatures while airborne in spite of cold air temperatures.
Heinrich explained that bees have a shiver mechanism for added warmth, and also have to regulate the temperature of their abdomens because the hollow cavities inside them are used for storage of nectar on the return trip to the hive, the so-called “honey stomach.”
Heinrich then addressed the quintessential feature of the honey bee: the buzz.
The bee’s buzzing sound is caused by body vibrations the bee produces to stay warm.
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