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Bee Foraging Skills Marred by Chilly Hives

May 22 2003

Variations in hive temperature during development can have a lasting effect on honey bees’ communication and learning abilities, according to “Behavioral performance in adult honey bees is influenced by the temperature experienced during their pupal development.” Bees keep hive temperatures consistently between 33 and 36 degrees Celsius, compensating for heat by bringing in water and for cold by vigorously contracting their muscles. To determine how temperature variations during development affect adult behavior, Jürgen Tautz and colleagues raised groups of bee pupae in incubators held constant at either 32, 34.5, or 36 degrees Celsius. After reaching adulthood, all temperature-controlled bees appeared to behave normally inside the hive. However, differences emerged when the bees left the hive to forage. Many of the bees raised at 32 degrees actually never returned to the hive. The few that did return performed short, incomplete waggle dances, the series of movements that communicates food location to other bees. In contrast, bees raised at 36 degrees returned and performed normal waggle dances. Furthermore, when tested for a learned response to scent, bees raised in colder temperatures scored significantly lower than those raised at 36 degrees. These results suggest that colder temperatures during development may lead to lower learning and communication skills. Foraging appears to be more demanding of these skills, compared to housekeeping tasks inside the hive that may be better suited to bees with lesser abilities.

“Behavioral performance in adult honey bees is influenced by the temperature experienced during their pupal development” by Jürgen Tautz, Sven Maier, Claudia Groh, Wolfgang Rossler, and Axel Brockmann, published online before print May 22, 2003 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA , 10.1073/pnas.1232346100

Abstract © 2003 PNAS