MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. Honey bees, especially the young, are highly sensitive to temperature and to protect developing bees, adults work together to maintain temperatures within a narrow range. Recently published research led by Philip T. Starks, a biologist at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences, is the first to show that worker bees dissipate excess heat within a hive in process similar to how humans and other mammals cool themselves through their blood vessels and skin.
"This study shows how workers effectively dissipate the heat absorbed via heat-shielding, a mechanism used to thwart localized heat stressors," says Starks. The research is published in the June 10 edition of the journal Naturwissenschaften, which appeared online April 24.
This discovery also supports the theoretical construct of the bee hive as a superorganisman entity in which its many members carry out specialized and vital functions to keep the whole functioning as a unit.
Young bees develop within wax cells. For healthy development, the youngsters must be maintained between 32degrees Celsius, or 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, adults can withstand temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit
Previous research has shown that workers bees, among other duties, control the thermostat essential to the hive's survival.
When temperatures dip, worker bees create heat by contracting their thoracic muscles, similar to shivering in mammals. To protect the vulnerable brood when it's hot, workers fan the comb, spread fluid to induce evaporative cooling, or when the heat stress is localized - absorb heat by pressing themselves against the brood nest wall (a behavior known as heat-shielding).
But until the Tufts study, scientists did not know how the bees got rid of the heat after they had absorbed it.
Starks' team included doctoral
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