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Friday, March 22, 2002


Asian hive bee

* Japanese name: Nihon mitsubachi
* Scientific name: Apis cerana
* Description: Asian hive bees are social insects. Hairy and bullet-shaped, they have well-developed tongues and back legs with special hairs that mesh together to form a flexible basket for carrying pollen. Bees are very strong and are able to carry heavy loads of pollen (sometimes up to half their body weight). Workers can often be seen returning to their nests, laden with yellow pollen. Queens are 19 mm long and worker females and the rarer males are 13 mm.
* Where to find them: From Hokkaido to Kyushu, in hilly countryside, all year round.
* Food: Nectar and pollen. When they're not in their nests, bees spend much of their time in and on flowers, so they become dusted with pollen. Flying to another flower transfers pollen, which fertilizes the flower. Larvae in the nest are fed by the workers. Larvae that will become workers are raised on pollen and nectar, but the select few that will become queens are fed "royal jelly." This is a special mixture of fat and protein secreted by glands in the mouths of the workers. The diet ensures that the insects grow larger than usual and develop the egg-laying ability of queens. Some humans even eat royal jelly, as a health food.
* Special features: Social insects form some of the most complex animal communities in the natural world. The systems work because the queen is the only member of the society allowed to reproduce and the workers devote themselves to helping her, without laying eggs of their own. At least, that's the idea. Asian hive bee workers, like those of some other social insects, buck the system. One study found that in any nest, 1.5 percent of workers develop eggs. This might not sound like much, but it is serious enough that bees have evolved a policing system to enforce the "law" of the hive. Worker bees inspect the eggs and eat any that have been laid by other workers. How do the police bees tell the difference between queen-laid and worker-laid eggs? The queen's eggs are marked with a "royal pheromone," a chemical that only the queen can make.

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