How a Superorganism Came to Be(e)

Spring has arrived down under in Oz and the entire country is in full bloom. I am reading the weather report for Berlin (0°C already guys? I wish I could say I´m sorry, but having lived through winter for almost a year now due to my unorganized planning of this research trip, all I have to offer is a wry smile and a bit of schadenfreude), the sun is shining and I can see at least 15 different types of plants flowering on campus from my desk next to the 4th story window. The wattlebrush with flowers, which can only be described as small yellow, furry little balls of fun, can be found attracting bees all around the countryside. Did you know that the Australian soccer team actually owes its distinctive color combination of yellow and green jerseys to the colors of the wattlebrush in spring? Neither did I, but having a sport obsessed partner does have its perks when it comes to this sort of trivia. I bet I´ll be able to use this little nugget of information in the next pub night quiz!

With spring come the flowers; with the flowers come the bees. The little busy-bodies are swarming all over the place and the Australian lavender in the front yard of one the neighboring houses in my hood is literally abuzz with their frantic search for pollen, nectar and water. After visiting a neurobiology conference last (European) winter and stumbling into a scientifically very interesting as well as personally quite lovely Italian honeybee researcher, the fascination with these little fuzzballs still hasn´t left me. Sitting in a garden filled with native Australian plants, I can´t help but stare and wonder at the energy and productivity of these social insects and ask myself, how they manage it. How can one hive, filled with a colony of 10 – 40.000 bees manage to organize itself? I can´t even organize my own life most of the time, while they coordinate and work together in the thousands! Not one of these bees wanders off to, quite literally, stop and smell the roses instead of collecting food, nursing larvae or helping out with the construction of the hive. How come not one of these bees asks itself: “There are so many of us… No one will notice if I take a little break! Heck, if I rest more, I might even live 9 weeks instead of the usual 5 – 6 weeks!”? These insects are capable of maintain a social structure, all based on complex neurochemistry. But how did the social structure of this superorganism evolve? And more importantly: how is it maintained?

The blog entries will be posted in three parts:

  • (Be)evolution – Where social insects come from
  • B(e)eing Part of Something Bigger – Social structures in the hive
  • It Takes a Brain to Be(e) – How neurochemistry enables sociality in insects

For all of you, who want to sucker pun(ch) me for all the Bee puns in the titles, the commentary section can be found beneath the article. I expect witty prose so sharp, you would be refused entry to your plane at the airport!

I will be uploading each entry every Sunday for the next 3 weeks and am looking forward to entertaining you all with some crazy facts on bees that will leave your minds absolutely abuzz! And now I´ve really got to stop before my Broca Area in the brain (responsible for language analysis) is completely beaten to a pulp by a very frustrated Wernicke´s Area (responsible for comprehension of language) that just can´t DEAL with all these words meaning multiple things all at once in one sentence!

Bee brains abuzz with thoughtsSee you again this Sunday, the 18th of October, 2015!

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2 thoughts on “How a Superorganism Came to Be(e)

  1. Although I would like to mention the amazingly complex structure of some mathematical objects governed by simple rules, this comment might not be intellectually sharp enough, to pass your ‘beerrier’. However, I am very much looking forward to this series. You have acquired an avid reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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