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Bee Hives as Thermostats
October 20, 2009 13:25

A bee

Large crowds of bees are able to regulate their temperature, which allows them to survive either during sever frosts (-20 degrees Centigrade), or during exhausting heat (+35 degrees Centigrade), Russian scientists found out.

Honey bee (genusApis in Latin) is a widely spread insect – bees can be found near the equator, as well as inside the Arctic Circle. What mysterious adaptations allow bees to live and flourish under such different climatic conditions? This is especially interesting since we know that these insects cannot regulate their body temperature like homoiothermal (warm-blooded) animals. Russian scientists have performed a range of experiments and showed that bees had a tendency to form an agglomeration, when air temperature dropped significantly. During studies, researchers measured temperature and heating output of bee agglomerations. The results were quite interesting: the more bees formed the agglomeration and the denser it became, the more effective its thermal regulation appeared to be.

In other words, the bee agglomeration resembles a homoiothermal animal. A bee family, consisting of 550 insects, feels comfortable enough at temperature of environment being 8.7-10.4. When agglomeration contains as many as 40 thousand bees, they successfully resist severe frost of -21.8.



Dense agglomeration, which shape is close to that of a ball, allows reducing its specific surface area and heat losses of the bee family and cutting air exchange between agglomeration’s thermal centre and its environment. When outside air temperatures change significantly, bees tend to change their geometry and localization in the hive (between honeycombs).

Bees tend to form small agglomerations even when air temperature outside is 16–20 above zero, and when temperature decreases to plus 10, all bees unite in a single “organism”.

Researchers emphasize the fact that agglomerations of wintering bees do not have any unique central organs or mechanisms, which control and regulate their average hive temperature – as for mammals, they do have such body temperature regulating organ, it is called “hypothalamus”. Every bee behaves as an independent individual and can experience temperature variations, depending on its position in the hive. Bee agglomerations usually have higher temperature inside and lower – near its surface.

Bees, which find themselves inside the agglomeration, are under most comfortable conditions, since they have constant body temperature and do not participate in active heat generating processes, which take place in the hive. Bees, which are not so lucky and are located near or on the agglomeration surface, produce heat via micro-vibrations of their wing muscles. Some bees migrate inside the hive, when they get too cold or in order to refill food stocks. This bee migration from agglomeration periphery actually is the reason why temperature inside bee agglomeration is not too high – the difference is levelled by the migration.

Source: Science & Life

Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian Scientists     

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