Bees don’t slack on the job, even when they are ill
Scientists think the insects are ‘hardwired’ to search, no matter how they feel.
Struggle to get into work when you feel under the weather? You should take inspiration from the hard-working honeybee and spring out of bed.
New research has shown that honeybees remain excellent searchers even when they are ill.
The bees are hardwired to search the landscape efficiently, allowing them to continue working for the greater good of their hives.
Scientists in Cornwall used radar technology to track individual bees and were able to show they remained nimble and travelled hundreds or thousands of metres even when they had infections or viruses.
Honeybees tirelessly commute between rewarding flower patches and their hive and their remarkable navigational skills rely on distinct landmarks, such as trees or houses, which they very efficiently find and memorise on orientation flights.
Experts fitted a transponder – a tiny dipole aerial much lighter than the nectar or pollen normally carried by the bee – to the thorax.
Tracking each bee individually allowed them to pick up a radar signal from the transponder showing where and how it was flying. The aerial is harmless to the bee and removable.
Bees, like humans, can fall ill and getting around during periods of sickness can become very challenging.
The study shows that even very sick bees are still able to search their surroundings optimally in so-called Levy flight patterns.
Lead author Dr Stephan Wolf, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “The honeybees we observed had remarkably robust searching abilities, which indicate this might be hardwired in the bees rather than learned, making bees strong enough to withstand pathogens and possibly other stressors, and allowing them to still contribute to their colony by, for example, foraging for food.”
During the study the team monitored 78 bees, some of which were unwell.
The researchers discovered that the unhealthy bees did not fly as far or for as long as the healthy bees but they continued to search in the same manner, suggesting that the pattern was inbuilt.