Stuck Like Glue

April92018

Scientists in Germany have discovered something surprising about royal jelly — the secretion produced by honeybees that is fed to queen bee larvae. Not only is this nutritious goo used to feed and encourage the development of queen larvae, but it also seems to protect these royal babies from falling out of their crib…, or in this case, their honey comb cell. Honeybees raise these special larvae in upside down cells that remain open at the bottom for days, leaving the larvae prone to falling to their death. But the bees have come up with an innovative solution to the problem: they actually alter the pH (how acidic or basic a substance is) of the jelly to make it more sticky so it acts like baby bee glue, holding these youngsters in their cell. When royal jelly is first secreted from glands near the bee’s brain, it has a pH of around 7 (neutral — that is, neither acidic or basic). But the honeybees then add fatty acids from glands in their mouth, which lower the pH to around 4 (acidic). To test their ideas, these scientists measured the stickiness of the different pH levels of the royal jelly and found that at a pH of 4 none of the test larvae fell, but at a pH of 5.8 all of the larvae dropped out of their cells. The increased acidity seems to cause proteins in the jelly to hook together to form long fibers that act like glue.

While it is fascinating that honeybees create their own custom baby glue to keep their larvae safe and well-fed, it does make us wonder why these bees would build their queen cells upside down in the first place!

Want to learn more? Visit https://www.sciencenews.org/article/how-honeybees-royal-jelly-might-be-baby-glue-too?tgt=nr

April 9, 2018

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