Sunday, January 17, 2010

Honey Bees Regulate the Hive

Honey bees, like all insects, are cold-bloodied animals. The bodies of cold-bloodied animals take on the temperature of the animal’s surroundings. A fish’s body is the same temperature as the water surrounding it. Cold-bloodedness provides a survival advantage in that these creatures can exist in a habitat without a continuous supply of food. Warm-blooded animals, like birds, cats, and humans, maintain a constant body temperature throughout the year. In the winter, their bodies are considerably warmer than their surroundings. To maintain a regulated body temperature, warm-blooded animals must consume a regular supply of food. Warm-bloodedness offers a survival advantage in mobility. Warm-blooded animals are often better equipped to hunt or gather food resources.

The honey bee is unique, however. It is the only insect that has a mechanism for regulating its body temperature as well as the temperature of the entire colony. The honey bee is also the only insect in the temperate region that remains alive and active during cold weather. The bees survive by huddling together in a cluster of bees. Eating its high-energy food of honey, the honey bee is able to generate heat of about 104 degrees in its flight muscles. A number of honey bees in the less tightly packed center of the winter cluster generate heat by vibrating their flight muscles. A tightly packed crust of bees holds the heat inside the winter cluster. When the bees in the crust chill to the point that they cannot move, they are allowed to enter the warm cluster. Bees from the center move to the outside. Our flocks of domestic waterfowl and wild birds that have taken our farm as home developed their own strategy for winter survival. With the lakes covered in ice, the birds took turns keeping a small area of water open while the other birds fed. Here some mallards, a Canada goose, and an American Buff goose keep moving to prevent their open water from freezing over.

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