bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Piping the queen out

As most beekeepers know, the queen doesn't actually control her colony, though she appears to react to signals from her workers. Now Andrew Pierce and Stanley Schneider of the University of North Carolina have documented what actually happens -- or at least a later stage in the swarming process:

workers use the vibration signal to prepare the queen for swarming by making intrusions into her “court” and vibrating her hundreds of times an hour. She responds by changing her behavior -- reducing her food intake, slowing egg laying and becoming more active. At this point, the workers begin to send a second signal that researchers call “worker piping” at a fevered pitch. Piping, which consists of bees making contact and vibrating their wing muscles rapidly, appears to be a general instruction to fly.
Just what we always expected: big sisters always get their way.

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