How bees shake their rump: Study explains ‘telescoping’

BEIJING, New research explains how honey bees wiggle their abdomen, a movement scientists have dubbed “telescoping.”

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Honey bees wiggle their rump in several ways, but all their movements involve the bending of the abdomen southward toward the bee’s underside.
The latest evidence, detailed in the Journal of Insect Science, suggests the bee’s rump-shaking is governed by the unique design of its abdominal segments. The cell membranes connecting the bee’s abdominal segments are thicker at the top than at the bottom, forcing the bee’s abdominal movements to happen in one direction.

Researchers call the mechanism telescoping because of the way each of the abdominal segments can slide beneath their neighbor, allowing the parts of the abdomen to contract and expend as it bends. The nine overlapping segments are connected by the folded intersegmental membrane, or FIM.
In addition to filming foraging honey bees with high-speed cameras, researchers also examined the mechanics of telescoping by dissecting bee abdomens — studying tiny slices of the dissected abdomen under a microscope.

“Our research on the ultrastructure of the FIM is of great significance to reveal the bending and flexing motion mechanism of the honey bee abdomen,” Professor Shaoze Yan, a study co-author, said in a news release. “During nectar feeding, a honey bee’s abdomen does high-frequency respiratory exercises and assists the suction behavior of mouth parts to improve the intake efficiency.”

The scientists suggest the bee’s unique unidirectional curling could serve as inspiration for engineers and the design of airplane structures.

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