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Honey Bees

Bees Are Not That Dumb

Does a higher level of carbon dioxide, CO2, dry out your mucous more quickly?

Many people seem to be suffering from "dry" noses and throats, and there is now a wide selection of saline nasal sprays at the various stores I have visited. I don't recall that in the past.

Mucous is your protective shield for the lining of your nose and the rest of your respiratory tract, is it not? Is it being depleted?

How do I get a handle on this issue? How would I verify it? What would it mean? What would it prove?

While pondering this, I heard about the epidemic of tracheal mites infesting the honey bees, threatening them and the whole industry.

Hmmm, could I connect the two problems?

Do bees make mucous? Is it made in their trachi? Does it get there some other way?

Would mucousless trachi make better abodes for mites? (Can you visualize a multi-legged mite trying to lift one of his legs up, but it is mired in mucous)?

Despite the potential, investigating this just seemed too enormous a task, and there were other things that needed attention. Back burner stuff . . .

Then, I heard one of those "factoids" on the radio explaining why smoking bees (laying smoke on them, not rolling them up in a little rectangular piece of tissue-like paper and putting a match to them just before inhaling) makes them calm.

The announcer claimed that the smoke killed parasites on the bees' bodies, so the bees relaxed and enjoyed getting rid of their unwanted guests. (I wonder: was that due to the smoke or possibly the carbon monoxide in the smoke)? I don't think this was part of a larger story. No reference or source mentioned. Just a tidbit and on to something else. That's a "factoid," I guess.

But, wow! Not only something about bees, but the suggestion that smoke could be therapeutic. Wow, wow, wow!

Enough incentive - - - to the bee books!

Smoking bees is an important tool in bee keeping. It permits the beekeeper to perform a lot of housekeeping tasks and gather the honey without the bees becoming agitated.

The books I obtained did not give the above explanation for why smoking calmed the bees. Instead, the usual explanation is some primal memory regarding forest fires.

When bees detect smoke, they gorge on the stored honey and then calmly wait to see if the hive is in severe danger and must be abandoned.

This explanation leaves me cold. Imagine gorging yourself on Thanksgiving and then sitting down in your easy chair to calmly wait to see if that smoke you smelled while eating the pumpkin pie requires that you evacuate the premises. Calm? Intelligent behavior? I think bees are not that dumb.

I like the first explanation I heard better. But, I must be careful. My preferences don't count. Must be scientific. Must not ascribe human intelligence or characteristics to any critter even if these are my namesakes.

For my purposes, the first explanation also fits better.

Wait, could there be two different phenomena? The "factoid" never mentioned gorging on the stored honey? It seems awfully disruptive if the bees gorge every time they are smoked. Do they always?

Why would the beekeeper smoke the bees to collect honey if that makes the bees gorge on it? That there's just too much honey is one possibility. They can't take it all. Plenty left over for the beekeeper.

Smoking bees is a recommended treatment for one parasite, however. Get this - - - the beekeeper is supposed to put tobacco leaf in the smoker. It is the nicotine that apparently does the job. CAUTION: Be careful! We are told nicotine can also kill the bees! (Do you suppose the active ingredient is really the carbon monoxide)?

My head is spinning. How do I make sense of all this stuff?

Did the Surgeon General edit these bee books?

Are smoke and smoking good things that help kill some bad things, and may protect us? (Again, is it the carbon monoxide in the smoke? One chemistry text claims monoxide helps memory - - - that would explain the rise in Alzheimer’s (almost nothing makes it anymore because it is required to be converted to CO2). Why do we hear that nicotine is good for preventing, what, Parkinson’s)? Set it aside!

The main commercial honeybee in the United States is the Italian. Two other species are the Russian and the Yugoslavian.

Beekeepers rate the species on such traits as gentleness, susceptibility to disease, tendency to swarm, propilizing, and honey production.

But, what is this "propilizing?"

Propilizing is simply the gluing or sealing of cracks or foreign objects in the hive. It is the bees "weatherizing" plus some house keeping chores. (If they can't get it (for example, a dead predator) out of the hive, they propilize, i.e., seal it up, just like the murderer who sealed the dead body up with brick and mortar in the new addition to the fireplace)!

Oh, my God! The Department of Energy/Ecology/EPA/CDC/Surgeon General/Lung Association lies have corrupted our honeybees! No wonder they have tracheal mites! Just like mom and pop and their offspring suffering from allergies and asthma after propilizing their homes! The honeybees too have been snockered by that "weatherizing" anti-smoking crap!

Whoa, big guy, slow down! Take it one step at a time, ok?

Relate the bee stuff to what else you know. The bees that do the most propilizing should be the ones who are suffering from the most diseases, the ones who are most violent, the ones most likely to engage in "mass migration" (it's called "swarming" in beekeeper lingo, and if the bees swarm without the keeper being prepared, he could lose half the bees. They are off to find a new home).

Show these correlations and you have something, right? Easy, right?

Wow! A little further reading reveals that one recommended way to reduce the likelihood of or delay swarming is to provide better ventilation! Right on!

But, wait a minute. The ones who propilize most are least likely to swarm. Huh?

And, there does not seem to be any thing that can be said about disease. The results are mixed. Who knows?

Well, at least the gentleness trait seems to be with me. Least propilizing, most gentle. Less bee domestic violence in unsealed households, eh?

A small victory for my theorizing anyway. But, what went wrong? I thought I had nailed it. More CO2, more disease, more violence, more mass migration, etc. What happened? Must I concede defeat? I've just been wasting my time? Can it be? Say it ain't so . . .

No data on relative carbon dioxide levels. Is there a different level that would be typical in the hive of each species? There's a research project a begging. Been done?

Are you aware that the queen bee controls all activity within the hive? She does it with chemical secretions called pheromones. Sealing the cracks increases the efficiency of the ventilation system and can maximize the effect of the queen's pheromones upon the bees.

Ventilation system?

Ah, I get it, my theories are intact!

You can have a ventilation system and still have high CO2. If you are just re-circulating the indoor air without bringing in adequate fresh air from outside, ventilation can be useless or worse!

Bees are not that dumb!

They are not as stupid or gullible as humans. Bees do not put weather stripping around their front and back doors. They do not seal them. In fact, they don't even have doors. In fact, there is only one opening which serves as both front and back door. Wow! What was I worried about?

Bees are not that dumb!

Some bees stand at the front door and fan fresh air into the hive. Others stand at the back door and fan unfresh air out of the hive. Within the hive, the other bees orient themselves to fan the air efficiently throughout the hive! Imagine!

We humans (species Americanus, anyway) are expected to seal everything up tight. No open doors for us or our school kids. Not even a window that will open. If you are shot inside a school and need to get out, you must break the window. Remember that boy at Columbine?

We humans are lazy compared to the honeybee. We allow our ventilation systems to fail, be turned off, be compromised, and to get filthy and breed disease.

Maybe that is on purpose. If the system gets dirty, that provides something besides CO2 to blame. (I.e., "it is the mold ("toxic" or "black," your choice) and scum growing in the system that are making people sick)."

How come we never hear about any heads rolling for allowing the system to get filthy?

It is never mentioned that molds and scum thrive on CO2 or that people are getting just as sick where there are no molds or scum, that is, if you exclude the scum in charge.

So, the bees that do the most sealing could have the lowest CO2 level. But, in order to maximize the effect of the pheromones, to let the rest of the hive stew in the queen’s juices, it seems there would be maximum sealing and minimum fanning of air through the hive. Voila, a drug enhanced society, strictly regulated by the head female in charge! (Is this where we are headed? All those female school marms trying to put little Joey on Ritalin. Recall females have a greater tolerance for CO2).

It seems safe to say that the greater the propilizing the greater the authority of the queen through pheromones. This implies that the queen controls swarming if more propilizing means less swarming. Imagine the bees getting restless, wanting to split. Restless? Doesn’t this word describe boys in school? It is now called ADD. If I were a chemist, perhaps I could analyze the pheromone that keeps the bees from bolting and develop a medication. Maybe I would call it Ritalin.

There could be a blockage in or around the hive that is beyond the bees’ control. And, what if the outdoor CO2 level just gets too high for the action of the queen’s pheromone/Ritalin? Would the bees then leave? Could this explain the recently discovered decrease in bees, called Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD, - - - unexpected swarming? (Are you tired of acronyms yet)? I would guess the bees have gone to the high ground and other areas with less concentrated CO2.

Remember also that the war on carbon monoxide has been very successful. There’s not as much of it around to help kill bacteria and viruses or mites. Do you suppose it ever did that?

The greater the propilizing, the more ferocious the bees, the less gentle. Now, is the ferocity or aggressiveness due to a pheromone or the higher CO2 level that must be present if the effect of the pheromones is to be maximized?

A little more bee info: It is CO2 from humans and animals that enrages the African "Killer" bees. "Go postal," you winged, furry, black and yellow beasties, "go postal!" Actually, it shouldn’t matter what the source is - - - or what the species.

Curious item - - - when groups of kids attack elderly people at a bus stop, for instance, the authorities have been calling it "swarming." If they know something, they are not sharing.

Never did get to the bottom of the mucous problem, but I think you may have your own ideas now. Just mite bee.

Copyright © 2008, 2009 Donald L. Beeman. All rights reserved.