Bees on BBC1 9:00pm 23/3/10

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New Bee
Aug 12, 2009
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Apparently Richard Hammond is presenting some new research that has discovered 'heater bees' that keep the cluster & brood warm & that the temperature of the brood determines what tasks the full-grown bee will perform.


Queen Bee
Nov 29, 2008
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Excellent, thanks for the reminder! For those amongst us who are not Hamster fans, they can always watch in the hope he prangs the hive and gets horribly stung!:)


House Bee
Mar 21, 2010
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I asked Jurgen about this, and he indicates they have added a rather optimistic journalistic slant to his research. So take it all with a bit of a pinch of salt!



Queen Bee
Oct 1, 2009
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original text and few pic

Organisms are exposed to the uncertain influence of their environment.
Amphibians suffer from dryness, birds from lack of
food, butterflies from the cold. The freedom to move provides
most animals with the possibility of avoiding unfavorable situations,
and searching for better conditions. Amphibians bury
themselves in the earth; birds change their locality, and in extreme
cases as for migratory birds, their continent; butterflies
select sunny places. The environment provides possibilities from
which animals choose the best solution. Selection ensures that
species that have found an appropriate solution survive, whereas
those that do not vanish completely.
The environment is not really only a palette from which organisms
either choose well, or suffer unhappily. Environments
can also be constructed. Earthworms form the substrate in which
they live, through their feeding and burrowing habits. The leaves
of trees shade, and thereby influence the leaves sprouting beneath
them. Aquatic animals affect the acidity of small ponds by their
excretions. Such influences on the environment, if not neutral,
are followed by reactions that in turn impact on the animals involved.
Such reactions are often negative: if the water in small
ponds becomes too acid via the effects of animals living there,
this kills the polluters.
But what if organisms could arrange their environment to
their advantage, and include specifically manipulated positive
effects? Would this not introduce an entirely new quality to the
game of “environment, organism, and adaptation”?

The temperature of the brood nest is a
controlling factor in the self-constructed
environment with which bees influence the
characteristics of their future sisters.

And what if the environment shaped by the organisms could
determine, or influence the characteristics of the organisms
themselves? Would that not lead to a system in which cause and
effect—and even the limits of the classical environment–organism
model—become blurred?
In an evolutionary time span, an actively shaped environment
that incorporated properties influenced by the organisms living
within it would merge with the genes of the organisms that
shaped it, resulting in a unity in which the elements would develop
Such organisms would have freed themselves from being
slaves of an environment to which they had to adapt in order to
survive and reproduce.
Steps toward independence from the environment have been
taken by humans, but also by honeybees—comparatively, those
taken by honeybees are perhaps more fundamental than those of
humans. For us, the usual method of conditioning our environment
is determined by constructional possibilities, and depends
on the prevailing natural environment. It is possible that in conditioning
our living and working areas, we merely achieve a feeling
of comfort that satisfies an existing need, rather than truly
changing ourselves over the short or long term.
In the 30 million years of their evolution, colony-building
bees have achieved what is yet to be shown for humans—they can
shape their environment to their own advantage.
We are gradually beginning to understand the highly complex
and numerous feedbacks and interactions between bees and
their self-controlled environment. One of the latest advances is
the recognition that the temperature of the brood nest is of great
importance for the entire biology of honeybees.
Hot Bees, and Warm Pupae
The brood nest of honeybees (Fig. 8.1) is an extremely important
and sensitive part of their living world that they control with
amazing precision, and the temperature of the area that contains
the capped pupa cells is particularly exactly regulated.
Beekeepers have long known about the warmth that is developed
in the brood nest of honeybees, and that can be detected
even with the bare hand. For some time, it was believed that the
brood itself produces the localized high temperature, and that
bees went there to warm themselves. This opinion was shown to
be incorrect, and was replaced by a much more exciting insight
into the biological significance of the nest climate of honeybees.
The employment of heat-sensitive cameras in particular, coupled
with patient behavioral observation and careful manipulation
of bees and bee colonies, have provided completely new
perspectives, the consequences of which are far from being fully
Animals are able to produce warmth by metabolizing energyrich
substances such as fat and carbohydrates, or through muscular
contraction, as we do when shivering with cold. Honeybees
warm themselves by shivering with their flight muscles, which
not only are used for flying, but as we have seen in Chap. 4, also
are responsible for the production of vibratory pulses in waggle
dance communication. Warmth is produced by these muscles in
a slightly different way. Bees uncouple these muscles from the
wings by means of the ingenious action of tiny steering muscles,
and by contracting and relaxing these, increase their metabolic
rate. Antagonistic muscles work against one another, and muscle
trembles ensue that result in vibrations. These are far weaker
than those produced by the dancers. In terms of heat production,

The result of this trembling can be appreciated in pictures from a
thermo-sensitive camera (Fig. 8.2).
Many insects, including honeybees, have developed the ability
to heat their flight muscles through such contractions, to prepare
themselves for flight. The solitary evolutionary predecessors of
honeybees, which do not form colonies, probably already possessed
this ability, and a possible way to control the nest temperature.
This inheritance was one of the most important physiological
requirements for the development of colony-forming
Thermocamera pictures have been taken of many insects preparing
to fly, and show that moths, for example, heat their flight
muscles before they take off into the cool night air. The same
warm-up occurs in the flight muscles of honeybees that are preparing
to fly, and this is the original function of an ability that
honeybees have exploited to achieve a very different end.
A view of the brood comb through the lens of a thermocamera
reveals “hot” heater bees with “glowing” thoraces clearly outlined
on the capped cell region (Fig. 8.3).
These bees press their thoraces down onto the cell cap that lies
beneath them, and transfer their warmth to the pupae enclosed
beneath the cell cap.


New Bee
Aug 12, 2009
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Excellent, thanks for the reminder! For those amongst us who are not Hamster fans, they can always watch in the hope he prangs the hive and gets horribly stung!:)

No such luck - he was under the guidance of Andover & District BKA's chairman, who also supplied the bees.

Aparently he's thinking about getting some bees for his place in Gloucestershire, so there's still some hope!

Some more notes on the research:

Honey bees secret world of heat revealed

Honey bees precisely control the temperature inside their hives to determine which job their young will perform in the colony when mature, new research has revealed.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Published: 9:00PM GMT 13 Mar 2010

Bees, and other social insects such as ants, share jobs within a colony so each individual has specific role that benefits the colony as a whole Photo: AP
The secret of honey bees' success has been discovered living deep inside their hives - a special type of bee which acts like a living radiator, warming the nest and controlling the colony's complex social structure.
The "heater bees" have been found to play a crucial, and previously unappreciated, role in the survival of honey bee colonies.
Using new technology that allows scientists to see the temperature inside the bee hives, researchers have been able to see how heater bees use their own bodies to provide a unique form of central heating within a hive.
They have found that these specialised bees, whose body temperatures are considerably higher than other bees in the colony, not only keep the hive warm but also control the social make-up within a colony.
Bees, and other social insects such as ants, share jobs within a colony so each individual has specific role that benefits the colony as a whole.
It is this division of labour that has allowed bees to become so successful as they behave like a highly organised, single "superorganism" rather than a cluster of selfish individuals.
Heater bees are responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood nest in a hive, where young bees, known as pupae, are sealed into wax cells while they develop into mature bees.
The scientists discovered that the heater bees work to subtly change the temperature of each developing pupae by around a degree and this small change determines what kind of honey bee it will become.
Those kept at 35 degrees C turn into the intelligent forager bees that leave the nest in search of nectar and pollen.
Those kept at 34 degrees C emerge as "house keeper" bees that never leave the nest, conducting chores such as feeding the larvae and cleaning the nest.
Professor Jürgen Tautz, head of the bee group at Würzburg University, in Germany, said this allows the heater bees to control what sort of job a bee will fulfil when it matures and so ensure there are always enough bees filling each role within the colony.
He said: "The bees are controlling the environment they live in to make sure they can fill a need within the colony.
"Each bee in a colony performs a different profession – there are guard bees, nest building bees, brood caretaking bee, queen caretaking bee and forager bees, which are the ones we are familiar with as they leave the colony.
"By carefully regulating the temperature of each pupae, they change the way it develops and the likelihood of the role it will fulfil when it emerges as an adult."
The findings will be revealed later this month in a new BBC series Richard Hammond's Invisible World, where technology is used to give a glimpse into previously unseen worlds.
Thermal imaging cameras reveal how individual heater bees warm up the nest to precisely the right temperature.
By beating the muscles that would normally power their wings, heater bees increase the temperature of their bodies up to 44 degrees C – nearly 10 degrees hotter than a normal bee.
They then crawl into empty cells within the brood nest, transmitting heat to the surrounding cells where the bee pupae are developing. The waxy cells also help circulate the heat around the rest of the hive.
In the past beekeepers have seen these empty cells as undesirable and have attempted to breed queens that did not leave them empty, but Professor Tautz now claims they are an essential part of ensuring the health of a bee colony.
Warmth is essential for bees as they need a body temperature of around 35 degrees C to be able to fly.
The heater bees, which can number from just a few to many hundreds depending on the outside temperature and size of the hive, also press themselves against individual cells to top up the temperature of each pupae to ensure it develops into the right kind of bee.
Professor Tautz added: "The old idea was that the pupae in the brood nest were producing the heat and bees moved in there to keep warm, but what we have seen is that there are adult bees who are responsible to maintaining the temperature.
"They decouple their wings so the muscles run at full power without moving the wings and this allows them to raise their body temperature extremely high.
"Their body temperature can reach up to 44 degrees centigrade. In theory they should cook themselves at that temperature, but somehow they are able to withstand this high temperature.
"By creeping into empty cells, one heater bee can transmit heat to 70 pupae around them. It is a central heating system for the colony.
"Now we know that these empty cells are important, then bee keepers can try to avoid selecting for queens that don't leave these cells empty. It can help to ensure that colonies can regulate their temperature properly and have the right mix of individuals."
Temperature is known to have an influence on the development of young in other animal species.
In crocodiles, the sex of hatchlings is determined by the average temperature of the eggs during a key point in the incubation period, so if they are kept above 34.5 degrees C the offspring will be male.
Many species of fish and turtles also use temperature to determine the sex of their young.
Dr David Aston, chair of the British Beekeepers Association's technical and environmental committee, said: "There has never been a good reason for the presence of individual empty cells across the face of the comb.
"Now Professor Tautz has provided an explanation and beekeepers will look more closely at the brood combs to see if they can observe heater bees at work."
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