Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Magic of Bees

Dr. Frank Linton is passionate about bees.  Peter Hufford, Robin Brooke and I got to share in a bit of that passion when we visited Frank's observation bee hive yesterday morning.  Teaching duties keep me from having the time to share more fully all that I learned, but let me just hit a few of the highlights:
  • Honey bees communicate information about the location of food by "dancing".
  • They point relative to the direction and "waggle" relative to the distance of the food.
  • They are the only know species of animal to communicate this way.
  • There is a 10 million dollar project underway at Harvard to build a robotic bee.
  • Bees maintain a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit around the developing young by converting honey into heat (by flapping their wings).
  • If the temperature gets below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the hive will die.
  • Hives generally have only one queen, though about 5 percent have two (sister or mother/daughter) queens.
  • Honey can keep a looong time.   Edible honey  was found in Egyptian tombs.
  • Below a certain moisture content, sugar becomes a preservative, because it binds chemically with water molecules, literally sucking the living water out of any microscopic plant, animal, or fungus that might come in contact with it.
  • A bee hive can be moved less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles, and the bees will be able to find it.  Move it more than 3 feet and less than 3 miles, and the hive will die because the bees will be lost.
I left the visit with a much better understanding of Dr. Linton's fascination with bees, and was reminded once again why I am so attracted to project based, interdisciplinary learning.  The "fields of discipline" that come into play when looking at bees -- chemistry, insect and plant biology, information science, linguistics, mathematics, economics, history -- can not be neatly separated into academic silos of knowledge.  Understanding honey bees involves the interplay of all of them, and more.

I am greatly looking forward to our work this semester on the Measure activity for Sugar.