If you're going to be reborn as a worker bee, make sure you don't do it in the summer. That's the time of year when the queen bee demands the most jelly to feed her young, and once that work is done, bees typically die just two weeks later. But in winter, otherwise identical bees can live six to seven months, which is five times as long as their summer counterparts. Raising kids really is as stressful as they say it is, apparently.
Researcher Daniel Münch of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences recently investigated this massive difference in bee lifespans. He found that the winter bees showed no sign of mental decline as they grew older; indeed, even after six months of life, their cognitive abilities were on par with a nine-day-old bee, which I don't think I have to tell you is a bee in the very prime of life.
What's more, his research indicates that it really is the decision to have children that determines a bee's lifespan. When he took winter-born bees and replicated summer conditions, the hives started producing young, and the formerly easygoing bees settled down, got boring jobs as foragers, and then died after a couple weeks. But it was also possible to reverse that process, as explained in an article in The Journal of Experimental Biology:
As a shortening in life expectancy coincided with brood rearing, Münch wondered what would happen if the brood were taken away. ‘What we observed was surprising; after 2 weeks there were still a lot of foragers left and they didn't show any functional [learning] decline. So we waited for a period of 70 days and we still couldn't detect any functional decline, any ageing, in these colonies’, recalls Münch. So despite having adopted forager status they lived longer and, again, chronological age didn't automatically correspond with functional decline.
For more, you can check out the original scientific paper, which is in press at The Journal of Experimental Biology.
Image by kokogiak on Flickr.