Of the 20,000 varieties of bees in existence, the Australian Tetragonula carbonaria is one of the 500 varieties without a stinger. Do you think that makes them defenseless? Well, think again.
If any bug or insect tries to mess with this bee, it gets sprayed with a mixture of wax, plant resin, and mud- thereby being mummified alive. In fact, these bees are known for being in long drawn out battles with other such stingerless neighbors, that lead to bee casualties, a regular coup d’etat.
Why such possessiveness, you might ask. Well, after seeing the hive they construct, you wouldn’t anymore. A Reddit sub displayed a picture of T. Carbonaria rearing the young in spiral-shaped towers called brood combs, that have thousands of eggs interlinked to each other on the staircase like structure.
Tim Heard of CSIRO (The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) mentions that the photo on Reddit is simply a single layer of the hive. There could be at least 10-20 layers in all if it was fully developed. One layer, as the photo displayed, is a part of a continuous spiral structure.
The tiny circular pods that make up the comb are the brood cells. This is where the bees develop from eggs to a full-grown bee in 50 days. This has all been mentioned in Heard’s book “The Australian Native Bee Book”. These cells are created through the secretions of wax from the abdominal glands of worker bees, which then get mixed with the plant resin. This forms a cement-like material called cerumen.
After construction, the cells are provided with provisions as the nurse bees regurgitate enough nutrients for a bee to grow completely. After that, the Queen bee lays eggs on all the provisions. And at the end of it all, the cells are capped off, so that the bees can grow in a closed environment.
As one cell gets constructed, worker bees move onto the next. They keep building cells, in a spiral shape. And, as the bees grow up and leave the cells, one can actually see the retreating edge or the empty cavities that they leave behind. The exit usually starts from the center, and the trail moves outwards.
Even though the cavity keeps on increasing at the lower levels, worker bees keep on building over them. Heard figures that if the Queen had enough eggs to lay, the entire community would live together at one place indefinitely.
Why is the pattern spiral?
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For centuries, almost every beekeeper, or scientist have tried to figure out why the spiral shape of the hive, without any success. Heard has decided to leave it, proclaiming that it could either be adaptive or a random event. He shifts more towards adaptive, for this way of building hives reduces the amount of space required, thereby making the structure even more compact. Also, it helps them allow air to pass through all the layers.
But whatever be the case, it is indeed fascinating.
IMAGE CREDIT: Tim Heard