Sunday Spinelessness – A visit form a queen

By David Winter 07/08/2011

You can tell from the increasingly brief nature of these posts, that I have quite a lot on at the moment. Between trying to polish off these thesis chapters, finish edits to paper I contributed a little bit do and teaching my very first lecture last week I’ve been a little busy. I do have time to share a couple of photos I took to record the visit of queen bumblebee.

It’s really not bumblebee season in Dunedin, so I was quite surprised to hear that familiar baritone buzz in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago. In temperate climates like Dunedin’s, bumblebee nests survive the winter by putting all their investment into a few queens who mate at the tail end of summer then hibernate in some warm-looking spot (often a disused rat’s nest), biding their time so they can establish a new nest in the spring. I don’t know if the bee that made it to my kitchen had been fooled by a couple of warm days, or if it was a straggler from a nest that had tried to make it through the autumn (in Northern New Zealand bumbleebee colonies can find enough flowers to eek out an existence over the winter, but I can’t see that working down here), by the time she got to me she wasn’t doing very well (note the splayed, face down posture)

The buzzing I’d heard wasn’t so much the bee flying about searching for a way out as her attempts to build enough temperature in her flight muscles to let her take off. The muscles themselves need to be around 30 °C before they can work, but bumblebees can operate when the outside temperature is as low as 6°C by uncoupling their flight muscles from their wings and vibrating them. As David Attenborough explains, bumblebees are warmblooded insects!

My visiting queen didn’t appear to be winning her battle with the thermoregulation, so I scooped her and but her under a desk lamp in the hope it would help. The fact I might be able to take photos of her at the same time was, of course, just a happy side effect of trying to help her out. I really failed to take any interesting photos, but I do quite like this detail of the hairy abdomen and veined wings:

I hoped focusing on the tail-end of the bumblebee might reveal the fact that bees (and their relatives the wasps and the ants) have two pairs of wings (which is the ancestral state for insects). But, in fact, the smaller set of wings are so tightly connecting with the larger ones it’s impossible to see here. You’ll have to look at some disembodied wings to see that I’m not making it all up.

You’ll be glad to know a couple of minutes under the lamp, and her concerted efforts, were enough get the queen back in the air – she was last seen flying upwards and hopefully towards a good spot avoid the snow that fell here recently.

0 Responses to “Sunday Spinelessness – A visit form a queen”

  • Just watched that Attenborough program last night – the IR photos of bee in flower were great 🙂
    How did the lecture go?

  • He’s getting pretty good at nature docos that Attenborough bloke 🙂

    I think the lecture went OK, it’s a bit hard to tell. Didn’t see anyone going to sleep, and actually had people brace enough to offer their answers in the ‘talk amongst yourselves for 5 mins then tell me what you think about x.” sections.

    Thankfully it was on species concepts, I subject I could probably talk about for 50 mins without slides, so it was a comfortable sort of a start

  • Really good to hear that you’re getting that sort of student involvement – good for you! I noticed, on my teaching appraisals from last semester, that quite a few of my first-years commented on how much they valued the quick quizzes & talk-amongst-yourselves discussions 🙂

  • Cheers,

    It was actually already in the lecture plan I got given. I was planning on finding places to insert them anyway, because i ran across this long but very interesting video on the problems of teaching physics and decided alot of the problems he was talking about are actually pretty universal – and students might be better and convincing each other about these concepts than I can be!

  • ah, Eric Mazur 🙂 That’s a really good video. You’re right, many of the problems (& their solutions) are universal.