Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 4, 1976 · Page 72
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 72

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 4, 1976
Page 72
Start Free Trial

Honeybees... How They Talk By Earl L. Core WestVirgima University It-is generally ^cepted that man I alone has language and that this is what has placed him in the apex of ! the evolutionary ladder. Lincoln Barnett, in The Treasure of Our~ Tongue (1964) says that "man alone can reach back into the depths of time and evoke the collective knowledge of all his forebears -- the sum total of their wisdom and folly, aspirations and achievements, triumphs, failures, and- dreams since the morning of human life on earth. The talisman with which he effects this miracle of transcending time and death is language." Nevertheless, though only man had language, virtually all mammals instruct their young for a time in behavior patterns and skills common to their species, and some of the lower animals are able to communicate with each other in a simple manner. A species that has been much studied in the past few years, with respect to communication, is the common honeybee, an insect of ereat value to man. Honeybees, as is well known, live in large communities, numbering many thousands of individuals, perhaps as many as 80,000 in a single colony. All these are the offspring of the one queen bee, and her total offspring numbers many more than these. Many'pf them live and work for a few weeks or months and then die, constantly being replaced by others, while the queen bee lives on and is fertile for four or five years. The affairs of state do not trouble her.head; her most important duty is to lay eggs, and this is a full-time job. She may-lay 1,500 eggs a day, an average of about one egg a minute day and night. The most numerous of the offspring are the so-called worker bees. These are sterile females with ovaries that normally do not function. But although lacking this female characteristic, they do possess and excel in other features'of their sex: domestic tidiness, food gathering, care of the young, etc. In spring a few drones appear in colonies of bees. These are males and their only function is their sexual activity. In summer, their function no longer required, their presence in the hive comes to be resented by the workers. They are paras- ites, occupying space and consuming food without performing services in return. This leads to a dramatic battle, in which the males are attacked and driven out of the hives. They .are unable to defend themselves against the workers because they have no sting, no fighting spirit, and they are greatly out-numbered. They are unable to find food on their own and starve at the very entrance of the hive, to which food is continually being carried by the workers. There is a well-organized division of labor among the workers, who change their jobs as they grow older. During the first days of their life their job is to keep the cells clean. Later they take over the care of the young. The eggs of the queen hatch into weak, whitish creatures resembling fly maggots; within two or three weeks-they develop into winged bees. During the early stage the workers feed them a nourishing food secreted f r o m t h e i r s a l i v a r y glands. After serving for a period as nursemaids, the workers take up other occupations. They make their first short excursions from the hive, they sweep out the hive, throw out-the refuse, produce wax and build new honey combs, they serve as guards at the entrance to the hive. Finally, after about three weeks, " the workers start on their last job. foraging for nectar and carrying it back to the hive. This phase lasts until the end of their lives, rarely longer than four or five more weeks. When the rapid increase in the number of bees in the hive in the spring reaches a certain point, a new bee colony is founded. A new colony needs a new queen and the workers have seen to it that one is available. Whether'an egg develops into a worker or into a queen bee depends upon the treatment given to the larva, If the larva is brought up in a special large cell and fed large quantities of a special food ("royal jelly"), a fully developed female results. When the new queen is fully developed the bees "swarm": Half of them leave the hive with the old queen and the new.queen takes over. The swarming bees collect in a cluster around the queen, at Hive 4 \ \ \ \ \ gfe Food VTffT Dance \ ^^^^TM^. * f\ ( \ ^J Hive k \ \l ) - o- 7 / | N '-^ Sun Food ^ £? \ T^P \ ' y 60 '. \\ \ Dance \ -»·*· / A«C 1 ^ L v ^v. -r^ \ ^ i4 ^ A \ \ \\ / ^xj -- o^y / \ Sun ^ Food \ \ \ Hive ^ \ \ \ \ \ \ Dance \ S~f-^ \ yf \J \ \ 1 \ X ^/ ' T ~?~ Sun Three examples of the honeybee food dance. which time the alert beekeeper can collect them without much trouble and install them in a new hive. . , Honeybees are the only insects, out of a million or more different kinds, that provide any important part of the food of man. Nearly 200 million pounds of honey are eollect- ' ed for the market every year, in the United States alone, this scarcely a third of what the bees make every year. But honeybees, along with about ten thousand other species of bees in the world, perform another task of value to man, said to be 50 times as important as all the honey they make. This is the pollination of flowerng plants. Some of our most valuable plants, including fruit trees, can produce seeds and fruit only with pollen brought to them by insects. In general, the pollen is gathered only incidentally while the workers are engaged in collecting nectar'. On a given day a bee visits only one kind of flower on a journey from the hive to the flowers and back again to the hive. This fact is of great importance in their role as pollinators, since pollen from an apple blossom, for example, would do no good if placed on a peach blossom. How do bees know where to go to collect neetar? Apparently this is a matter of exploration. Experimentation by placing a dish of sugar water in the neighborhood of bee hives has shown that the dish may stand out of doors for days without being noticed. But as soon as a single bee has discovered it, dozens and even hundreds of bees quickly hurry to the dish. It is apparent that in some manner the first bee must have communicated its discovery to the others. How did they doit? Speculations concerning the language of bees have reigned for hundreds of ye'ars but it remained- for Karl von Frisch, an Austrian biologist born in Vienna in 1886, to discover the details as generally accepted today. These were de"scribed in his great book, The Dancing Bees" (1954). While some biologists today question some phases, the method of communication as pointed but below is now accepted by most people. Von Frisch built fo;- his experiment a special observation hive, with glass windows. Then he put a dish of sugar water or honey near the hive, and waited until it was visited by a bee. He marked the discoverer of the food source with a tiny dot of color on its back, and watched it as it returned to the hive. Once in the hive, the marked bee walks up the comb, sits for a while, then hands over its sweet cargo to a fellow worker. "Now," says von Frisch, "begins a spectacle so charming that words tail to communicate it. The bee begins a round dance on the comb. It walks in a full circle with quick, small steps,«once clockwise, then counterclockwise in quick alternation. This is repeated several times at other places on the comb, and eventually the dancer hastily dashes to the entrance to return to the feeding place. 'The dance creates great excitement among the surrounding bees. They follow behind and try to touch the abdomen of the dancer with their feelers until they too finally dash to the exit and leave the hive. Soon the first newcomers appear at the dish with honey. It is obvious that it was the dance that raised the alarm. But how did the newcomers find the feeding place?" Von Frisch continued his experiment, using flowers instead of glass dishes. To the bees, glass dishes are unnatural containers; flowers are their natural drinking cups. He put a few drops of sugar wa'- ter on a bunch of cyclamen flowers and also on a bunch of, say, phlox flowers in the same field. If the bees, in their search for food, happen to come to the cyclamen first, .those that follow come to the cyclamen, paying no'attention to the phlox. But if the sugar water is placed on the phlox, the approaching bees now visit it, instead of the cyclamen. This is a strange sight to one familiar with the pollination of- phlox; bees never visit it because the nectar is placed deep down in the flower tube and cannot be reached by bees; its pollination is by butterflies. .This suggests that the bees not only told each other about the presence of food, but also about the kind of flower from which it came. We may presume that the flower is identified by the scent. Von Frisch put sugar water on artificial paper flowers scented with oil. of orange, whereupon the foragers visited only the artificial flowers. But still other information is con-' veyed. The scout can tell the others . how far away the source of supply is, and in which direction. The distance is apparently communicated by the rhythm and speed of the dances. The direction of the food supply is indicated in a wonderful manner. "It is given," says Von Frisch in another book, "A/on and the Living World", by the direction of the straight runs during the wagging dance. Since the combs are hung up vertically, whereas the line of flight lies in a horizontal plane, the straight run of the dance cannot directly point in the direction of the food source. Instead, the bee uses-^the sun as compass reference in its communication. If the food is found somehwere between the hive and the position of the sun, the straight run is directed upward, while a downward run indicates the opposite location of the food. An upward straight run of 60 degrees to the left from the vertical indicates that the food is-60 degrees to the left from the sun's position and so on". Even when the sky is overcast the bees are able to locate the position of the sun. The bees dance only when they 'find an abundance of food; when the supply dwindles they go on collecting until nothing is left, but they tt: stop dancing and hence do not recruit new helpers. The natural course of events, then, Von Frisch concludes, is something like this: When a given kind of flower begins to bloom, its nectar accumulates. When a scout discovers this new source of supply it fills its crop easily; its instinct tells it to perform the dance when it returns to the hive. The bees in the hive understand the meaning of the dance and fly away in search of the scent brought in by the scout. Later, when the foragers have become very numerous, the supply begins to dwindle. The dancing ceases and " the number of foragers does not increase further. But those at work carry on until the job is finished. Nature is a large, wonderful garden. In the month of May a million kinds.of creatures are once more actively "at work, after the long rest through the winter months. Each plays its own role, guided by a '' great all-pervading intelligence that maintains a marvelous equilibrium. CHARLESTON.-W.VA.23m. ,

What members have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 8,600+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Try it free