Research Challenges Widespread Belief That Honeybees Naturally Insulate Their Colonies Against Cold

honeybees, cold stress, clustering, thermal regulation, beekeeping
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A study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface challenges the long-held belief that honeybees naturally insulate their colonies against cold by clustering together. The study’s author, Derek Mitchell, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, found that clustering actually increases the bees’ thermal stress, rather than reducing it.

Mitchell’s study used a combination of thermal imaging and computational modeling to examine the temperature distribution within honeybee clusters. He found that the bees at the center of the cluster remained warm, but those at the edges were significantly colder. This is because the bees’ bodies are not very good at insulating heat, and the cluster’s shape allows heat to escape quickly from the edges.

Mitchell also found that the bees’ clustering behavior actually makes them more susceptible to cold stress. When bees cluster, they increase their metabolic rate in order to generate heat. This increased metabolic rate produces more carbon dioxide, which can accumulate within the cluster and make the bees disoriented and sluggish.

Mitchell’s findings have important implications for beekeeping. Beekeepers have traditionally believed that clustering helps bees to survive cold temperatures, and they have designed hives to accommodate this behavior. However, Mitchell’s study suggests that clustering may actually be harmful to bees, and that beekeepers should reconsider their hive designs.

Mitchell is calling for further research into the effects of cold stress on honeybees. He believes that his findings could help to develop new strategies for protecting bees from cold weather, which could help to reduce the decline of bee populations.

Here are some of the key takeaways from Mitchell’s study:

  • Clustering does not effectively insulate honeybees against cold temperatures.
  • Clustering increases the bees’ thermal stress.
  • Beekeepers should reconsider their hive designs to accommodate the bees’ needs for thermal regulation.
  • Further research is needed into the effects of cold stress on honeybees.

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