A Talk on the Amazing Honeybee by Professor Ratnieks


On April 24, 2012, the University of Portsmouth had largest audience for Cafe Scientifique it ever has since its development in 2006. The crowd was standing room only at the Cafe Parisien with over 70 people listening to the discussion lead by Francis Ratnieks the only Professor of Apiculture in the UK, who talked on the honeybees amazing qualities.

Prior to Professor Ratnieks devoting his attention how the honeybees navigate, use their eyes, manage problems, organize their colonies and so on, he had an interest in many of the species of insects including moths and butterflies as a boy.

Honeybees relationship with man goes back to prehistoric times it is believed. Even though there are presently alternatives to beeswax and honey, the crops still need the pollination bees can provide. We once did not think twice about this fact, but now we have reason to worry as the bee population is declining.

Professor Ratnieks states that bees are still quite common, with Britain having 253 species, 20 of which are bumblebees and only 1 is our honeybee. Although, the honeybee is native to Great Britain an almost blonde bee recently has started colonizing the south coast of Britain and could have been imported. It seems to like feeding on the flowering ivy in Portsmouth, especially in September. It has only been around this area for about the last 10 years. Bumblebees and honeybees can be distinguished by the pollen baskets located on their back legs. These are more slender on the honeybee as opposed to the bumblebee. We understand that a bee hived in the middle of Portsmouth is capable of feeding all over the island.

The researchers would study bees even if people did not find them useful, just to explore questions on their behavior socially, organization skills singularly and as a group, and how the colonies work without one single bee as the leader.

Ratnieks advises that if anyone wants to study the bees, he/she must not be afraid of being stung. Researchers capture bees inside glass hives using a tube for observing the wondrous secrets. This is a tool not unlike a microscope or a telescope. It helps the researchers to note the number of the eggs laid by a queen, which can be as many as 2000 a day, as the other female bees forage, defend, raise and build. In addition, the worker bee can be noticed laying eggs and the other workers trying to kill the eggs or eat them. The way honeybees communicate by scent is a powerful observation, especially with queen substance and with their complex dance. They form figure-8 shapes and follow the dun to point out particular location for tree resin, flowers or water. It is absolutely amazing!