Honey Bees in an Observation Hive

(Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Republic of South Africa, Apiculture Group)

Standard Observation Hive

Our group represents the Apiculture Section of the Department of Zoology & Entomology, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Republic of South Africa. We are studying the biology of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera L., Hymenoptera: Apidae). In particular, we are interested in population biology, and conflicts in honeybee societies. 

Honeybee colonies comprise of two castes of female individuals: one queen, which usually monopolizes reproduction and thousands of workers, who perform all other tasks necessary to maintain the colony (such as feeding of brood, foraging, guarding and new comb construction). However, despite the fact that workers cannot mate, they are also able to reproduce via parthenogenesis (virgin birth). They produce unfertilized eggs, which in bees usually develop into males (drones in the honeybee). This establishes a potential conflict over reproduction under queenright (colony with a queen) or queenless conditions. 

However, the queen acts as a central processing unit of worker fertility via emitting queen pheromones, which suppress worker fertility. These pheromones are distributed over the hive by workers in her Royal Court who lick the queen and subsequently by so-called messenger bees spreading them throughout the colony. 

Individual labeling of bees

Recent studies on the distribution of workers among the colonies indicate a considerable variance for the actual spatial distribution of workers. Some workers are attracted to the queen, while others tend to stay away from her. Given the distance of the workers actually reflects the amount of queen pheromones accumulated by a worker during its life time, these distances can possibly explain differences in worker reproductive potential found in earlier studies. 

Workers which tend to stay away from the queen might maintain a higher reproductive potential compared to workers staying close to the queen. Moreover, the spatial distribution of workers early in their lives may have an impact on their tasks later in life. The occurrence of specialist worker bees is well established and different behavioral thresholds for different tasks such as guarding, undertaking and nectar or pollen foraging may be a result of different environmental stimuli in different parts of the hive early in a worker bee’s lifetime. Therefore our group is particularly interested in the distribution of individuals in a spatial context also in relation to space and the actual behavioral and developmental patterns in the bee hive. This may be a key factor for many phenomena involved in intracolonial conflicts in the honeybee and in other eusocial insects.

To investigate the distances between a single worker and the queen in observation hives in a fast and easy way with a high degree of accuracy is of paramount importance. 

Take a look at the JavaView applet that treats this problem. It was written by Eike Preuß at the Technical University Berlin, Germany, based on JavaView, an interactive viewer for 3D geometries and a numerical software library. If you have problems with browsing the page and starting the applet look here for general help and help on the browser properties.

Rhodes University, 6140 Grahamstown, Republic of South Africa
Apiculture Group
Department of Zoology and Entomology

Group members are Prof. HR Hepburn R.Hepburn@ru.ac.za
Dr. P Neumann P.Neumann@ru.ac.za
P Illgner (PhD Student) P.Illgner@ru.ac.za
CWW Pirk (PhD Student) C.pirk@ru.ac.za
AJ Solbrig (MSc Student) A.Solbrig@ru.ac.za
AM Fluegge (MSc Student) flugahab@gmx.de
WRE Hoffmann (MSc Student) vespula@gmx.de
Department of Statistics Prof. S Radloff S.Radloff@ru.ac.za

© 2000 Last modified: 30.10.12 --- Eike Preuß --- Zuse Institute Berlin, Germany