And now, a moment of beeeeeeees.


Earlier this week, I posted an item about a weird experiment at Los Alamos National Laboratory in which she-bees were trained to stick out their tongues when they smell explosives. BoingBoing reader Cliff Van Eaton happens to be a bee expert, and he lives in Papamoa, New Zealand. He's so knowledgeable, he sounds like he has degrees in bees! He's going to school us on bees now:

It isn't very often that honey bees make an appearance on Boing Boing, but when they do it's great since they're something I more or less know something about. I've been a professional apiculturalist (advisor to beekeepers on bee disease control, pollination and honey production) for 30 years. Here's a book on a particularly nasty disease of honey bees I co-wrote, edited and produced: (Link).

A couple of points of nomenclature and clarification:

1. A well-trained honey bee scientist wouldn't spell the name "honeybee", even though you'll find it mistakenly spelled this way in a number of dictionaries (as well as on the MS spell checker), and even in Wikipedia. The biological convention is that the name of an insect is separated into two words when the insect is what the name implies. So "honey bee" is separated into two words, since its a bee that collects honey, whereas "butterfly" is one word since it isn't a fly that produces butter.

2. The scientific name for the western hive bee pictured [in the BoingBoing post about the Los Alamos experiment] is Apis mellifera. The genus (first name of the two) is always capitalised, whereas the species name (the second of the two) isn't. And I'd bet dollars to donuts that the bee in the picture is actually an Italian honey bee, aka Apis mellifera ligustica.

3. Worker honey bees live more than a couple of weeks, even during the height of the summer. They actually live about six weeks, but only forage actively outside the hive in the last two weeks of their life. They don't die of old age per se. They just don't come back to the hive one day when their wings wear out and they can no longer achieve lift off. During the winter, when honey bees cluster within the hive and don't forage, they can live for up to 5 months.

4. Worker honey bees aren't only female by genetic composition (i.e., diploids), they also have rudimentary ovaries. The comment in this post says they have "no functioning genital organs". I'm not sure what "genital organs" means in this case (both queens and workers have vaginal orifices), but suffice to say worker honey bees do have reproductive organs that are capable of laying eggs, and this often happens when a hive loses its queen. What they can't generally do, however, is produce fertilised (i.e., diploid) eggs, since they don't mate with drones, and also don't have a spermatheca (a sac present in queen bees that retains the sperm obtained during mating flights).

Once again, thanks to you and your mates for doing Boing Boing. I really appreciate all the work you put in.

Thanks, Cliff!

Image: A bee at the Del Mar fairgrounds, collecting pollen. Photographer: Jon Sullivan (via this Wikipedia entry).

Man, I tell you, I love bees!

Previously: Los Alamos Lab trains bees to stick out tongues at bombs

Update: Whoah, Steve Jurvetson shot more bee porn! Link to full-size.


Reader comment: Bryan William Jones of the University of Utah School of Medicine says, "

More bee porn can be seen here.
Bruce Derling says,
More bee porn from Northern Ireland.
Kate says,
Still more bee porn. I took this picture of a lovely little bee in one of my mom's sunflowers in El Mirage, AZ. Link.
Matt Goff says,
At the risk of overloading on bee porn, here is a shot I took in Mendocino County, CA: Link.

Mariana sends a comic about bee porn: Link.

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