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Honey Bees

The social structure of honey bees is the caste system of queen, drones, and workers. Unlike the stingless bee, the honey bee queen is the one to leave the old colony to form a new one. The move to a new nest begins with a swarming of bees and ends when a suitable place, such as the hollow in a tree, is found to establish a new colony. A young queen will take over the old colony.

Of interest to entomologists is the so-called "dance language" of honey bees. A worker can communicate the location of a food source, how far away it is, and the type of flower that will be found. Some of this information is transmitted by the scent the flower has left on the messenger's body, but there are other features to this communication. One is a circle dance that communicates sources of the nectar. The other dance involves wagging the tail and the abdominal region, which indicates the distance. The tail wagging is accompanied by wing vibrations produced at the same rate. The closer the source of the food, the more wags. Different species of honey bees follow different dance tempos.

Direction to the food source is shown by the angle of the bee to the sun when it is wagging its tail. Besides this "dance communication," bees seem to know when flowers have a supply of nectar available. This built-in biological clock is not as well understood as their "dance language." The person responsible for unraveling the dance language of honey bees was Karl von Frisch, who received a Nobel Prize in 1973 for this work.

Honey bees are susceptible to debilitation of their honey production by bee mites, a parasite that reduces their natural pollinating and honey-making activities. In the mid 1980s, 150 million honey bees had to be destroyed in several parts of the United States to eliminate the infestation of these mites. Other diseases that honey bees are susceptible to include foulbrood, which attacks larvae or pupae, stress diseases, such as sacbrood and nosema, which can shorten the lives of adult bees, and acarine disease, another mite disease. Animal predators that are dangerous to bees are mice, birds, bears, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and opossums. The first line of defense of a bee is of course its sting.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ballistic galvanometer to Big–bang theoryBees - Bee Families, Solitary Bees, Social Bees, Honey Bees, Beekeeping, Killer Bees