bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Who's your father?

Genetic diversity helps bees keep their nest at the optimum temperature. To keep their nest and brood at a fairly constant temperature of 32-36 degrees Celsius, honeybees either huddle for warmth or fan with their wings to cool.

Julia Jones of the University of Sydney, Australia has discovered that bees with different fathers start fanning at slightly different temperatures and that the greater the diversity of the workers' genes, the better the temperature regulation. If all the bees had the same genes, there would be sudden colony-wide shifts in temperature regulation activity and greater heat fluctuations. Because queens usually mate with upwards of ten drones, there is usually a reasonably diverse genertic mix in any one colony.

“It’s been shown before that honeybees with different genotypes have different thresholds for certain things — for instance, they’re attracted to different concentrations of nectar,” says Jones [quoted in New Scientist]. “But this is the first time any benefit has been shown from different behaviour thresholds based on genotype in the bees.”


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