Bumble bees that prefer the central area of the hive where food is stored are more likely to replace forager bees when hives are disrupted, finds a study this week in Nature Communications.
James Crall and colleagues developed an automated tracking system to individually follow approximately 1,700 bees from 19 semi-natural colonies over several weeks. This tracking showed that individual bees are very faithful to certain areas of the hive and have very specialized tasks such as caring for young or tending food supplies. The authors then experimentally disturbed the hive by removing forager bees and subsequently identified which types of bees became the new foragers. The probability of switching to foraging was highest in bees most centrally located and with the most interaction with the food storage area, suggesting that these individuals were most aware of the resource needs of the hive.
By revealing the intricate individual and collective behaviours of bumble bee hives, the study highlights the superorganism’s resilience to change. The authors conclude that such flexibility could be crucial for bumble bees, which have small colonies (approximately 50-200 workers) and often live in harsh and dynamic climates.