An international team of ecologists have discovered evidence of a massive Game of Thrones-style war between two species of stingless bees in Brisbane, Australia. These bees battled to the death for months on end, all over possession of a honey-filled hive, in a massacre that would make George R. R. Martin proud. Paul Cunningham of Queensland University of Technology is lead author of the paper published in the journal The American Naturalist.
Tetragonula carbonaria is a species of stingless bee native to Australia. They are commonly regarded as sugarbag bees because of the honey they produce in their hives. While this honey is desired by humans for consumption, it also makes the bees a target for invasion by other colonies who seek to control the vast stores of food. Thousands of raiders will descend upon the hive, ready to fight to the death, usurping the home colony and taking control of the territory. It was initially assumed that these wars would occur between different colonies of the same species, but Cunningham’s team found that this was not the case.
“The defending colony was, as we expected, Tetragonula carbonaria, but the attacking colony turned out to be a related species originating from further north, called Tetragonula hockingsi,” co-author James Hereward said in a press release.
A swarm of hockingsi worker bees blitzed the carbonaria hive, pulling out bees and mercilessly killing them. The ultimate goal of the hockingsi bees was to get their own queen in there, therefore taking control of the hive and its honey. Though carbonaria and hockingsi are both stingless species, they are incredibly formidable fighters due to their strong jaws and unceasing commitment. When opposing bees latch onto one another to fight, they never let go.
“Neither the attacker nor defender survives in these one-on-one death battles, during which a carpet of dead and dying bees can be seen on the ground. It is a sheer numbers game as to who wins,” Cunningham added. “It took three consecutive attacks over several weeks before the hockingsi bees won out. When they eventually broke through the defenses, they smothered the hive in a huge swarm, mercilessly ejecting the resident workers, drones and young queens. It was carnage!”
Months after the fighting ceased and the bees had settled, the team performed genetic analysis of the bees currently living in the hive. It confirmed that the hockingsi colony had successfully overthrown the carbonaria bees. The current queen of the hive was a hockingsi, a daughter of the queen whose army led the attack.
This melee was not an isolated incident. The team studied 250 hives over the course of five years, finding evidence of 46 separate bee slaughters, though the outcomes were not always predictable.
“And the hockingsi bees are not always the winners,” Cunningham concluded. “We still have many questions to answer, such as what instigates the attacks, and whether the young in the usurped hive are spared and reared as slaves, or killed outright.”
Information about the Caring Bee
Bees are dependent on pollen as a protein source and on flower nectar or oils as an energy source. Adult females collect pollen primarily to feed their larvae. The pollen they inevitably lose in going from flower to flower is important to plants because some pollen lands on the pistils (reproductive structures) of other flowers of the same species, resulting in cross-pollination. Bees are, in fact, the most important pollinating insects, and their interdependence with plants makes them an excellent example of the type of symbiosis known as mutualism, an association between unlike organisms that is beneficial to both parties.
Most bees have specialized branched or feathery body hairs that help in the collection of pollen. Female bees, like many other hymenopterans, have a defensive sting. Some bees produce honey from flower nectar. Honey bees and stingless bees commonly hoard large quantities of honey-a characteristic that is exploited by beekeepers, who harvest the honey for human consumption.
There are about 20,000 species of bees worldwide. Some species may not yet have been discovered, and many are either not named or have not been well studied. Bees are found throughout the world except at the highest altitudes, in polar regions, and on some small oceanic islands. The greatest diversity of bee species is found in warm, arid or semiarid areas, especially in the American Southwest and Mexico. Bees range in size from tiny species only 2 mm (0.08 in) in length to rather large insects up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long. Many bees are black or gray, but others are bright yellow, red, or metallic green or blue.
The primitive bees, like their relatives the wasps, are solitary. Each female makes her own burrow, in which she constructs earthen chambers to contain her young. She deposits pollen moistened with nectar or oil into individual cells until enough food has accumulated to provide for the young bee from egg hatching until the larva reaches full size. She then lays an egg on the pollen mass and seals the cell before going on to construct another cell.
Some bees are communal. They are like solitary bees except that several females of the same generation use the same nest, each making her own cells for housing her eggs, larvae, and pupae. A few kinds of bees are semisocial-they live in small colonies of two to seven bees of the same generation, one of which is the queen, or principal egg layer; the others are worker bees. About 1000 species of bees live in small colonies consisting of a queen and a few daughter workers. In these colonies, the differences in appearance and behavior between workers and queens are scarcely distinguishable. Such species, called primitively eusocial, form temporary colonies that die out in autumn, and only the fertilized queens survive the winter. Bumble bees are familiar examples.
The eusocial, or truly social, bees live in large colonies consisting of females of two overlapping generations: mothers (queens) and daughters (workers). Males play no part in the colony’s organization and only mate with the queens. Larvae are fed progressively-that is, cells are opened as necessary or are left open so that workers can tend the larvae. Highly eusocial bees, a few hundred species, form permanent colonies in which the queen and worker castes are markedly different in structure, each specialized for its own activities and unable to survive without the other. Colonies of eusocial bees are complex, highly coordinated societies. Individual bees may have highly specialized functions within the colony. The tasks of defense, food collection and storage, reproduction, and many other activities are regulated by the colony’s response to environmental conditions inside and outside the hive. Individuals communicate by means of chemical messages, touch, sound, and, in the case of honey bees, a symbolic dance language. The nests of many eusocial bees are very elaborate and may be constructed partially of wax secreted by the bees.
Bee Parasites and Diseases
Parasitic, or cuckoo, bees are those that do not forage or make nests themselves but use the nests and food of other species of bees to provide for their parasitic young. Parasitic bees are of two types: cleptoparasitic bees and social parasites. Cleptoparasitic bees invade the nests of solitary bees, hide their eggs in the brood chambers before the hosts lay theirs, and close the chambers. The young of the parasitic bees then feed on the food that was stored in the chamber by the host female. The eggs or young larvae of the host bee are killed either by the parasitic female or by her larvae. Social parasites are bees that kill the resident queen, lay their own eggs in the host’s cells, and then force the host’s workers to raise the young parasitic bees. Females of parasitic bees lack such special features as pollen baskets or pollen brushes since they do not forage for food for their young.
Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobsoni are parasitic mites that feed on the bodily fluids of adult, pupal and larval bees. Varroa mites can be seen with the naked eye as a small red or brown spot on the bee’s thorax. Varroa mites are carriers for a virus that is particularly damaging to the bees. Bees infected with this virus during their development will often have visibly deformed wings.
Varroa mites have led to the virtual elimination of feral bee colonies in many areas, and are a major problem for kept bees in apiaries. Some feral populations are now recovering—it appears they have been naturally selected for Varroa resistance.
Varroa mites were first discovered in Southeast Asia in about 1904, but are now present on all continents except Australia. They were discovered in the United States in 1987, in New Zealand in 2000, and in Devon, United Kingdom in 1992.
These mites are generally not a problem for a strongly growing hive. When the hive population growth is reduced in preparation for winter or due to poor late summer forage, the mite population growth can overtake that of the bees and can then destroy the hive. Often a colony will simply abscond (leave as in a swarm, but leaving no population behind) under such conditions.
Varroa in combination with deformed wing virus and bacteria have been theoretically implicated in colony collapse disorder.
Treatment – A variety of treatments are currently marketed or practiced to attempt to control these mites. The treatments are generally segregated into chemical and mechanical controls.
Common chemical controls include “hard” chemicals such as Amitraz (marketed as Apivar), fluvalinate (marketed as Apistan), and coumaphos (marketed as CheckMite). “Soft” chemical controls include thymol (marketed as ApiLife-VAR and Apiguard), sucrose octanoate esters (marketed as Sucrocide), oxalic acid and formic acid (sold in gel packs as Mite-Away, but also used in other formulations). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when used in beehives as directed, these treatments kill a large proportion of the mites while not substantially disrupting bee behavior or life span. Use of chemical controls is generally regulated and varies from country to country. With few exceptions, they are not intended for use during production of marketable honey.
Common mechanical controls generally rely on disruption of some aspect of the mites’ lifecycle. These controls are generally intended not to eliminate all mites, but merely to maintain the infestation at a level which the colony can tolerate. Examples of mechanical controls include drone brood sacrifice (varroa mites are preferentially attracted to the drone brood), powdered sugar dusting (which encourages cleaning behavior and dislodges some mites), screened bottom boards (so any dislodged mites fall through the bottom and away from the colony), brood interruption and, perhaps, downsizing of the brood cell size. A device called the varroa mite control entrance (VMCE) is under development as of 2008. The VMCE works in conjunction with a screened bottom board, by dislodging varroa mites from bees as they enter and exit a hive.
Acarine (Tracheal) mites
Acarapis woodi is a small parasitic mite that infests the airways of the honey bee. The first known infestation of the mites occurred in the British Isles in the early 20th century. First observed on the Isle of Wight in 1904, the mystery illness known as Isle of Wight Disease was not identified as being caused by a parasite until 1921. It quickly spread to the rest of Great Britain. It was regarded as having wiped out the entire native bee population of the British Isles (although later genetic studies have found remnants that did survive) and it dealt a devastating blow to British beekeeping. Brother Adam at the Buckfast Abbey developed a resistant hybrid bee known as the Buckfast bee, which is now available worldwide to combat acarine disease.
Diagnosis for tracheal mites generally involves the dissection and microscopic examination of a sample of bees from the hive.
Acarine mites, formerly known as tracheal mites are believed to have entered the US in 1984, via Mexico.
Mature female acarine mites leave the bee’s airway and climb out on a hair of the bee, where they wait until they can transfer to a young bee. Once on the new bee, they will move into the airways and begin laying eggs.
Treatment – Acarine mites are commonly controlled with grease patties (typically made from 1 part vegetable shortening mixed with 3–4 parts powdered sugar) placed on the top bars of the hive. The bees come to eat the sugar and pick up traces of shortening, which disrupts the mite’s ability to identify a young bee. Some of the mites waiting to transfer to a new host will remain on the original host. Others will transfer to a random bee—a proportion of which will die of other causes before the mite can reproduce.
Menthol, either allowed to vaporize from crystal form or mixed into the grease patties, is also often used to treat acarine mites.
Nosema apis is a microsporidian that invades the intestinal tracts of adult bees and causes nosema disease, also known as nosemosis. Nosema infection is also associated with black queen cell virus. It is normally only a problem when the bees can not leave the hive to eliminate waste (for example, during an extended cold spell in winter or when the hives are enclosed in a wintering barn). When the bees are unable to void (cleansing flights), they can develop dysentery.
Nosema disease is treated by increasing the ventilation through the hive. Some beekeepers treat hives with antibiotics such as fumagillan.
Nosemosis can also be prevented or minimized by removing much of the honey from the beehive, then feeding the bees on sugar water in the late fall. Sugar water made from refined sugar has lower ash content than flower nectar, reducing the risk of dysentery. Refined sugar, however, contains fewer nutrients than natural honey, which causes some controversy among beekeepers.
In 1996, a similar type of organism to Nosema apis was discovered on the Asian honey bee Apis cerana and subsequently named Nosema ceranae. This parasite apparently also infects the western honey bee.
Exposure to corn pollen containing genes for Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) production may weaken the bees’ defense against Nosema. In relation to feeding a group of bees with Bt corn pollen and a control group with non-Bt corn pollen: “in the first year, the bee colonies happened to be infested with parasites (microsporidia). This infestation led to a reduction in the number of bees and subsequently to reduced broods in the Bt-fed colonies as well as in the colonies fed on Bt-toxin-free pollen. The trial was therefore discontinued at an early stage. This effect was significantly more marked in the Bt-fed colonies. (The significant differences indicate an interaction of toxin and pathogen on the epithelial cells of the honeybee intestine. The underlying mechanism which causes this effect is unknown.)”
This study should be interpreted with caution given that there was no repetition of the experiment nor any attempt to find confounding factors. In addition, BT toxin and transgenic BT pollen showed no acute toxicity to any of the life stages of the bees examined, even when the BT toxin was fed at concentrations 100 times that found in transgenic BT pollen from maize.
Small hive beetle
Aethina tumida is a small, dark-colored beetle that lives in beehives. Originally from Africa, the first discovery of small hive beetles in the Western Hemisphere was made in St. Lucie County, Florida, in 1998. The next year, a specimen that had been collected from Charleston, South Carolina in 1996 was identified, and is believed to be the index case for the United States. By December 1999, small hive beetles were reported in Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, and was found in California by 2006.
The lifecycle of this beetle includes pupation in the ground outside of the hive. Controls to prevent ants from climbing into the hive are believed to also be effective against the hive beetle. Several beekeepers are experimenting with the use of diatomaceous earth around the hive as a way to disrupt the beetle’s lifecycle. The diatoms abrade the insects’ surfaces, causing them to dehydrate and die.
Treatment – Several pesticides are currently used against the small hive beetle. The chemical Fipronil (marketed as Combat Roach Gel) is commonly applied inside the corrugations of a piece of cardboard. Standard corrugations are large enough that a small hive beetle will enter the cardboard through the end, but small enough that honey bees can not enter (and thus are kept away from the pesticide). Alternative controls such as oil-based top bar traps are also available, but they have had very little commercial success.
Galleria mellonella (greater wax moths) will not attack the bees directly, but feed on the wax used by the bees to build their honeycomb. Their full development to adults requires access to used brood comb or brood cell cleanings—these contain protein essential for the larval development, in the form of brood cocoons. The destruction of the comb will spill or contaminate stored honey and may kill bee larvae.
When honey supers are stored for the winter in a mild climate, or in heated storage, the wax moth larvae can destroy portions of the comb, though they will not fully develop. Damaged comb may be scraped out and will be replaced by the bees. Wax moth larvae and eggs are killed by freezing, so storage in unheated sheds or barns in higher latitudes is the only control necessary.
Because wax moths cannot survive a cold winter, they are usually not a problem for beekeepers in the northern U.S. or Canada, unless they survive winter in heated storage, or are brought from the south by purchase or migration of beekeepers. They thrive and spread most rapidly with temperatures above 30 °C (90 °F), so some areas with only occasional days that hot, rarely have a problem with wax moths, unless the colony is already weak due to stress from other factors.
Treatment – A strong hive generally needs no treatment to control wax moths; the bees themselves will kill and clean out the moth larvae and webs. Wax moth larvae may fully develop in cell cleanings when such cleanings accumulate thickly where they are not accessible to the bees.
Wax moth development in comb is generally not a problem with top bar hives, as unused combs are usually left in the hive during the winter. Since this type of hive is not used in severe wintering conditions, the bees will be able to patrol and inspect the unused comb.
Wax moths can be controlled in stored comb by application of the aizawai variety of Bacillus thuringiensis spores by spraying. It is a very effective biological control and has an excellent safety record.
Wax moths can be controlled chemically with paradichlorobenzene (moth crystals or urinal disks). If chemical methods are used, the combs must be well-aired for several days before use. The use of naphthalene (mothballs) is discouraged because it accumulates in the wax, which can kill bees or contaminate honey stores. Control of wax moths by other means includes the freezing of the comb for at least 24 hours.
You can find lots more information on Bee Parisites, Mites and Diseases here, or you can download a helpful information and treatment pack (PDF) here.
Their sting has some benefits
A toxin in bee venom called melittin may prevent HIV. Melittin can kill HIV by poking holes into the virus’s protective envelope. (Meanwhile, when mellitin hitches a ride on certain nanoparticles, it will just bounce off normal cells and leave them unharmed.) Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis hope the toxin can be used in preventative gels.
Bee stings may also ease pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo found that molecules in bee venom increase your body’s level of glucocorticoid, an anti-inflammatory hormone.
When they change jobs, they change their brain chemistry
Bees are hardwired to do certain jobs. Scout bees, which search for new sources of food, are wired for adventure. Soldier bees, discovered in 2012, work as security guards their whole life. One percent of all middle-aged bees become undertakers—a genetic brain pattern compels them to remove dead bees from the hive. But most amazingly, regular honeybees—which perform multiple jobs in their lifetime—will change their brain chemistry before taking up a new gig.
Their brains defy time
When aging bees do jobs usually reserved for younger members, their brain stops aging. In fact, their brain ages in reverse. (Imagine if riding a tricycle didn’t just make you feel young—it actually made your brain tick like a younger person’s.) Scientists at Arizona State University believe the discovery can help us slow the onset of dementia.
They have personalities
Even in beehives, there are workers and shirkers. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that not all bees are interchangeable drones. Some bees are thrill-seekers. Others are a bit more timid. A 2011 study even found that agitated honeybees can be pessimistic, showing that, to some extent, bees might have feelings.
They have Viking-like supervision
Bees use the sun as a compass. But when it’s cloudy, there’s a backup—they navigate by polarized light, using special photoreceptors to find the sun’s place in the sky. The Vikings may have used a similar system: On sunny days, they navigated with sundials, but on cloudy days, sunstones—chunks of calcite that act like a Polaroid filter—helped them stay on course.
They’re nature’s most economical builders
Serial killers behave like bees. They commit their crimes close to home, but far away enough that the neighbors don’t get suspicious. Similarly, bees collect pollen near their hive, but far enough that predators can’t find the hive. To understand how this “buffer zone” works, scientists studied bee behavior and wrote up a few algorithms. Their findings improved computer models police use to find felons.
> Bees are the only insect in the world that make food that people can eat
> Honey contains all of the substances needed to sustain life, including enzymes, water, minerals and vitamins
> Eating honey can help you smarter! It is the only food to contain ‘pinocembrin’ that is an antioxidant that improves brain function.
> One bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon on honey in its entire life
> Many plants rely on insects like bees in order to be pollinated; which is why they provide nectar to say thanks
> A colony of bees can contain between 20,000 and 60,000 bees, but only one queen bee
> A bee’s wings beat 190 times a second, that’s 11,400 times a minute!
> Worker bees, who are all female, are the only ones who will attack you, and only if they feel threatened
> It has been estimated that it would take 1,100 bee stings to produce enough venom to be fatal
> Each colony smells different to bees, this is so they can tell where they live!
> It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of honey and they would have to visit 4 million flowers
> There are 900 cells in a bee’s brain
> The queen bee will lay around 1,500 eggs a day
> Bees have two separate stomachs; one for food and another just for nectar
> Honey has natural preservatives so that it won’t go bad
> A third of all the plants we eat have been pollinated by bees
> Bees have been around for more than 30 million years
> Bees communicate by smells called ‘pheromones’ and by performing special ‘dances’
> Bee keepers only take the honey that the bees do not need, but this can be as much as 45kg from one hive!
> There are lots of different types of honey which taste different depending on the flowers used to make it
Some Awesome and Factual Bee Pictures
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