Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Smell of Sweet Success

The search for food in nature is a very crucial event to any living organism. I know for sure that when I’m hungry I make sure that I try find the most amount of food for the lowest price. This is very much the same with living organisms, such as bees, except the “price” of acquiring food isn’t exactly money, but energy used to get find and attain the food. Observations of honeybees show that us honeybees actually use a motion formation, called the waggle dance, to inform their fellow bees the distance and direction of a newly discovered food source. Bumblebees on the other hand cannot inform their fellow bees of the location of a food source in the manner of the honeybee.

Bumblebees release a recruitment pheromone in the nest to encourage the other bees to leave the nest and search for food. This chemical signal may send a generic message to the bees, telling other bees to just go out and search for food, but could there be more information being passed to the bumblebees from the release of this pheromone? Students from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences observed honeybees’ foraging patterns after exposing honeybees to anise-scent (the scent of anise flowers) and the recruitment pheromone. The students discovered that because the bumblebees were exposed to a scent along with a release of recruitment pheromone, the bees “learned” that anise scented flowers were the most fruitful. This experiment recreated the situation of when a bee that founds a good food source, returns to the nest releasing recruitment pheromone, and spreads the scent of the ‘flower scent’ around the nest.

When the bees in the nest detect a new combination of smell along with recruitment pheromone, the bees learn that the new scent must be from nectar-rich flowers, and they leave the nest in search for the flowers with the same scent. The pheromone itself didn’t effect how well the bees learned the smell, but significantly motivated the other honeybees to go out and forage. The honeybees’ waggle dance at first seemed to be a more efficient foraging signal than the bumblebees’ chemical signal, but now the bumblebees aren’t far behind. With what we now know with the new discovery related to bumblebees, advancements may be possible in commercial pollination fields concerning bumblebees.

Update 11/5/08

The article did not elaborate about a decline in bumblebee population, but I did research the subject a little. A decline in the bumblebee population was recorded in the late 90's due to a disease outbreak in the commercially used Western Bumble Bees. Factors also contributing to the declination of bumblebee population may be any combination of: the destruction/alteration of their habitat, pesticides, invasive species, or climate change. Climate change in itself is a massive alteration of a habitat, and as we all know, the climate due to global warming is most definitely not as routine as has been prior to the increase of carbon dioxide levels beginning in the mid to late 70s. Use of insecticides have also been known to result in massive kills of bumblebee populations.

About the effectiveness of the bumblebees' chemical signal compared to the honeybees' waggle dance, I would have to say the chemical signal is just as effective as the honeybees' dance. The factor that I would say that makes the waggle dance a little bit more effective though is that we know that distance, quality, and direction of a food source is relayed in the dance signal. These factors may or may not be interpreted within the chemical signal from the bumblebees, but we just have not completely discovered it if that's the case.

-Kiel Boutelle
Week 7
-This blog post was based on an article from Science Daily (Oct. 27, 2008)


At 1:22 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Very interesting article. I wonder if other insects have similar signals techniques like those of the honeybees or bumblebees.

-Joanne Philippeaux

At 9:10 AM, Blogger PWH said...

This is an interesting find. I wonder which method the honeybees or the bumblebees is more energy efficient? I wonder between the honeybees dance and the bumblebees phermone release which uses more energy? Also which has a greater energy return in terms of how much more quickly food can be found between the 2 methods?

Posted by: Lindsay Goodyear

At 10:17 AM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Did they mention anything about the declining bumblebee population? I have read that they are becoming endangered.

Jimmy Sullivan

At 2:24 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This reminds me of Pavlov's experiment only with bees. I didn't realize that creatures so small such as bees could be conditioned like that. I also read somewhere that bumblebees are slowly becoming endangered. To me this says that the honeybees waggle dance is apparently more cost effective then bumblebees method.

Patrick Salome

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how this relates to the lesson we had in class...I would love to see bees actually doing the waggle dance. I wonder how they choose between the two methods and which is more efficient?

-Julie Riley

At 6:48 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I find this article both interesting and wonder how closely related bumblebees and honeybees are to each other. did they at one point have a similar method of communicating food, or have they been different all along. Also, is releasing a pheromone more efficient than doing a dance?

Ahmed Sandakli

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, I didn't know honeybees and bumblebees had different signaling methods in the hive. I wonder what would happen if the bees were exposed to just the scent and not the pheromones.

-Jane de Verges

At 7:48 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is a very interesting article. Are you trying to say that the mechanisms employed by the bumblebees to tell others about a food source are not as evolved at the honeybees? I would feel like the "wiggle" the honeybees do is more costly than just passing around pheromones.

-Helen Thi

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be good to know which group, bumble bee or honeybee, gets more honey on average, so that one can determine which system is more efficient.
-Sasha Rogers

At 9:49 PM, Blogger PWH said...

It would interesting to know which developed first the waggle dance in the honeybee or the phermone in the bubblebee.

Charles Scondras

At 10:09 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Were the bumblebees able to find the flowers just as efficiently as the honeybees by the smell alone without knowing the direction?

~Ashley Maillet

At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting article. I wonder how these different techniques of finding food evolved. Also I wonder if at one time did they ever have similar methods of finding food.

Alex Pavidapha

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I knew about the honeybees' dance but never thought about bumblebee communication. Is one method more effective than another?

Amy Kawazoe


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