Bee Behaviors Preprogrammed?

In reading the "Hive and the Honey Bee" book, I've come to a section about honey bee behaviors.

In this section of the book the author describes how we (humans) should not observe the activities of honey bees as the bees having feelings, emotions or acts of kindness or anger. Rather, the author feels we should consider the activities of the bees to be more simply a response of the bees as they interact with the stimulus around them.

Bee behavior should be interpreted in terms of cause and effect (stimulus and response) mechanisms rather than trying to imagine "feelings" or "intentions" of bees. [Dadant & Sons, 190]
For example, when a honey bees stings it may be easy for us (humans) to think a bee stings because they are angry or for retaliation for harming or killing other bees. However, the bees (according to the author) do not express feelings and instead are simply reacting to a stimulus (danger) that is present at the time.

Several portions of the chapter include studies by researchers who attempt to prove that most bee behavior is pre-programmed into the bee before birth, and goes onto describe the bee as tiny robotic machine simply following it's pre-programmed set of instructions based on the stimulus that it perceives.

One such example is a study where the researcher takes a frames of eggs and larva, removes all other bees from the frame and allows the eggs and larva to hatch in a brood box absent of any other living bees. The researcher then watched the development cycle of these bees and found once they hatched they exhibited all the same traits and behaviors as other adult bees. What's remarkable is these bees had no adult bees to learn from, and must have been pre-programmed with the set of instructions and knowledge of how to build wax comb, clean cells, care for other young (once they themselves were hatched), forage, make honey, etc.

For your reading pleasure, here is one of my favorite (and humorous) excerpts of this section:
[...] a bee returning with a load of pollen typically goes through several minutes of behavior associated with locating a cell and unballing the pollen pellets. An observer is likely to marvel at all the "searching" behavior, especially locating in the dark a suitable cell that already contains the same species of pollen. Actually, this is a whole pattern of behavior, much of which is relatively fixed, once initiated.

The phenomenon is shown in the honey bee by gently removing the pollen pellets from the hind legs of a bee that is entering the hive entrance. Such a bee continues the pollen unloading behavioral pattern, even to the point of unloading non-existent pollen pellets into the cells!
[Dadant & Sons, 189]

The final part of this chapter tried to determine how the honey bee is pre-programmed with a set of behaviors. The author cites several studies and research that concludes that specific genes control a large set of behaviors and responses to stimuli within the honey bee.

The excerpt below is an example around the housecleaning behavior (also called hygienic bees).
[t]he findings of Rothenbuhler (1968) that specific genes control the housecleaning behavior of worker bees that remove the remains of dead brood from brood cells. Workers containing one of the genes uncap the cells, but do not remove the dead brood. Other workers containing the other gene remove dead larvae or pupae from uncapped cells, but do not uncap cells. Both genes must be present in enough workers if there is to be effective housecleaning activity in the colony. [Dadant & Sons, 187]
I know that the next time I read that a supplier has hygienic bees, I'll know that the hygienic behavior is based on two different genes and with an understanding that hygienic behavior is based on enough of the bees in the colony having both genes.

It's also worth noting that a hygienic colony, having lots of bees with both genes, can easily loose their hygienic traits and behaviors if the queen is superseded or replaced with a queen that does not carry the same genes.

Comments For This Post: (1) | Post Your Comments! Hide The Comment Form
Mark Martin says...
Date:   December 17, 2014, 9:28 am

Very cool!  Always something new to learn about these amazing creatures!

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