Agricultural researchers in China have discovered that bees stay back at work if the next day might turn out rainy.
Bob Holmes

New Scientist
1 Feb 2016 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2016 - 5:05 PM

Busy bees get busier if the next day looks rainy.

This is according to Xu-Jiang He and colleagues at Jiangxi Agricultural University in Nanchang, China, who attached tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to 300 worker honeybees from each of three hives.

They used these to monitor when the bees left the hive, how long they were gone and when they quit work in the evening.

The bees spent more time out of the hive foraging and stopped work later in the afternoon when the following day proved to be rainy rather than sunny. They seemed to be responding to cues such as changes in humidity, temperature and barometric pressure that preceded rainstorms.

Stores for hoarders?

The finding is surprising because honeybees should not need to set aside extra stores of food for a rainy day, says Gene Robinson, a honeybee expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Honeybee foraging ecology is not based on immediate need. They are a hoarding species,” he says.

Robinson notes that He’s team only tracked the bees for 34 days, so other factors such as blooming times of flowers could also have affected their behaviour.

If the Chinese researchers are correct, though, their discovery will help shape our understanding of how and whyhoneybees forage when they do, says Robinson.

And that, in turn, may help in managing the impact of climate change and human activity on bees, which are the world’s most important pollinating insects.

Journal reference: Insect ScienceDOI: 10.1111/1744-7917.12298

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