A bee brain is bigger in the summer, when there are more things to learn, experience, and think about. It shrinks in the winter, which must be a blessing because bees spend weeks on end doing nothing – an active brain might lead to boredom and depression if you are one of thirty thousand bees assigned the job called ‘cluster’ for six weeks. You and I know that the same bee who experiences the bliss of spring and summer is unlikely to be alive in mid-winter, so this would be an average. As such, it is possible that there is something fundamentally different about summer versus winter bees (like nutrition), but researchers think that the variation in brain size is due to the lack of meaningful thought during the winter months.
Researchers at Monash University (a huge campus of 65,000 students in Melbourne, Australia) found something else, too. Professor Charles Claudianos at the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences thinks he and his colleagues have discovered part of the controls which influence bees’ aggression.
Beekeepers know that smoke and certain scents (like lavender) calm bees while other odours (human sweat, expensive cologne, whiskey breath, and perfume) agitate them. Using this knowledge, Claudianos studied bee brain chemistry and neurological function. According to a news release issued by Monash University, “the team has shown that odours such as lavender block aggressive behaviour not by masking the alarm pheromones, but by switching the response off in the brain.” This is different from what I thought. I figured that my smoker provided a camouflage odour that hid my own manly scent. Maybe not, says the research.
Image courtesy of badbeekeepingblog.com