People have long been interested in morphological and behavioral differences between different worker castes in ants.

Camponotus_floridanus-head_1

(Photograph of a head of a major worker of Camponotus floridanus by April Nobile / ©AntWeb.org / CC-BY-SA-3.0, retrieved from Wikimedia)

A recent study published in Science teases apart some of the proximate mechanisms controlling foraging behavior in the Florida carpenter ant, Camponotus floridanus. Particularly, it focuses on the environmental factors that control genes by switching them on and off, an area of study called epigenetics. The study authors found that minor workers foraged much earlier in their lives than major workers, but by injecting major worker ant brains with compounds that reduced histone acetylation, they were able to stimulate foraging behavior in younger major ants.

This video summarizes parts of the study.

What do you think about the few blips in the video, such as the narration talks about foraging over the image of a minor worker carrying a pupa (brood tending?), as well as the first, slightly shaky definition of epigenetics?

What do you think of this study?

 

References

Sindya N. Bhanoo, Ants Can Change Their Roles, Study Finds New York Times, Dec. 31, 2015. (A version of this article appears in print on January 5, 2016, on page D2 of the New York edition with the headline: Insects: Chemicals Can Turn an Ant Society on Its Head.)

Daniel F. Simola, et al. Epigenetic (re)programming of caste-specific behavior in the ant Camponotus floridanus, Science  01 Jan 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6268.
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac6633

Our next book about bees, A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson, is an enjoyable combination of memoir and natural history discourse. It came out in paperback last spring,

The author is a British biologist and conservationist who works at the University of Sussex, where he specializes in the ecology of bumblebees. He is an excellent storyteller, mixing humor, adventure, and insightful observations into a highly-readable stew.

I was particularly taken with his team's use of sniffer dogs to try to locate wild bumble bee nests, which can be quite elusive and hard to study. In an interesting twist, the dog handler became more adept at finding nests than the dog, which led to questions about how the odors of different bumble bee nests may vary.

The text features quotes from a variety of sources, including  Mary Kay Ash, Charles Darwin and Monty Python. The most memorable, however, is Goulson's own:

"We have barely begun to understand the complexity of interactions between living creatures on earth, yet we often choose to squander the irreplaceable, to discard those things that both keep us alive and make life worth living. Perhaps if we learn to save a bee today we can save the world tomorrow?" ~ Dave Goulson, page 241

 

cosmos-bumble-bee-234

If you are curious about what bumble bees have to do with red clover in New Zealand, tomatoes grown in greenhouses in Spain, and sniffer dogs, then A Sting in the Tale is a perfect book for you.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (April 28, 2015)
ISBN-10: 125007097X
ISBN-13: 978-1250070975

See the Books About Bees tag for more reviews.

 

Bee Books

Disclosures: This book was supplied by my local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Have you ever wondered about what kind of bee it was that you saw in a wildflower or photographed last week? The newly-published book, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America's Bees by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia J. Messinger Carril, will help you discover and identify the diversity of bees around you.

 

The first chapter is an introduction to bees for the general public, including what bees are, what they eat, a description of bee life cycles, etc. Chapter two has complete details about how to attract and promote bees in your community.  Included are instructions for making bee blocks, bumble bee nests, and plant lists for bee gardens in different regions.

The main contents, or "meat," of the book are six chapters, each of which is devoted to a family of bees:

  • Andrenidae
  • Colletidae
  • Melittidae
  • Halictidae
  • Megachilidae
  • Apidae

 

These chapters feature identification tips and discussions of the common subfamilies, genera and some species belonging to that family. Sidebars reveal size distributions and range maps of the bees in a particular group. The discussions of the unique features and biology of the various genera and species make for fascinating reading.

To be clear, this is not a pocket field guide that you would carry with you in a backpack. At 8" by 10" and 288 pages, it is a weighty tome. It features over 900 color photographs and is an excellent desk reference.

 

solitary-bee

If you have ever asked, "what kind of bee is that?" The Bees in Your Backyard is the book for you. It is a must have for bee lovers of all stripes.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 24, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0691160775
ISBN-13: 978-0691160771

See the Books About Bees tag for more reviews.

 

Bee Books

Disclosures: This book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.