Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Understanding “washboarding” behavior in the honey bee

Katie Bohrer and Jeffery S. Pettis. USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory, Bldg. 476 BARC-E, Beltsville, MD 20705

Worker honey bees exhibit a “group” activity known as rocking  or washboarding on the internal and external surfaces of the hive.  This behavior is believed to be associated with general cleaning activities but virtually nothing is known as to the age of worker engaged in the behavior, under what circumstances workers washboard and the function of the behavior.  We investigated the frequency of washboarding behavior in relation to worker age, time of day and surface texture.  Marked worker bees began washboarding when 13 days of age, with a peak in washboarding occurring when workers were 15-25 days of age.  Washboarding behavior increased from to and remained elevated until and was even noted to continue past dark at 9:00pm.  We presented workers with a panel containing three textures, unpainted wood, slate and glass on hives that were washboarding.  Comparisons of washboarding behavior on the three textures revealed that washboarding increased from glass to wood to slate but these differences were not significant.  Washboarding behavior appears to be age dependant with bees most likely to washboard between 15-25 days of age.  Washboarding increases during the day and peaks through the afternoon.  Workers may respond to rough texture and washboard more on those surfaces as we found an increase in the behavior from bees on glass, wood, and slate but further testing is needed to confirm this.  The function of this behavior remains to be elucidated.

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