Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Loafer bees vital to cultural development of hive

APIARISTON - Workers, drones and queens are widely known for the tasks of gathering, production and continuity that perpetuate the highly eusocial bee civilization.

The casual observer may not know, however, that many of the bee's intellectual advances came from the little-known loafer bee, a kind of outcast in the traditional division of hive labor. The much-maligned loafer gets almost no attention, because it seeks none of the credit for a hive's commercial output. It does, however, deserve accolades for more subtle contributions.

For example, it was a loafer bee that first fermented honey into mead. "The workers and drones spend all week making honey and keeping the hive warm, stuff like that," said self-styled beeologist Orin Dearey. "It took a forward-thinking bee, somebody off the clock to try something new."

A loafer bee probably came up with the idea of pollinating hemp, Dearey believes. "It's not regarded as a honey-producing plant, but it has lots of uses bees don't usually consider. They could probably make stronger, greener hives with it."

Although we cannot hear it, Dearey contends that bees make music, and the loafer bee is the composer, arranger and conductor. "If they ever take up hacky-sack, you can bet it's going to be the loafer bee leading the way."
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