Day 10: Flagomeres

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 10. A honey bee worker has 10 flagomeres on her flagellum.

What the heck is a flagomere, you say? Well, I am here to tell you. You may remember from Day 2 that a honey bee antenna has three parts: the scape, the pedicel, and the flagellum. The scape and pedicel allow the bee to flex each antenna in all sorts of ways. The flagellum is where the various receptors are located. The flagellum is composed of segments, called flagomeres, with 10 flagomeres on female bees (workers and queens) and 11 on male bees (drones).

Getting a picture of a bee’s flagomeres is not an easy feat, and looking through my pictures I don’t see one that has enough detail to show the antennae segments after zooming in. So instead I give the picture here of a bee tending a worker larva on July 3, 2020 in one of my hives. You can see the antenna, so that will have to suffice.

The estimate for the number of sensors per flagomere varies, but a worker honey bee has a total of around 3,000 sensors on their antenna, which would mean they have 300 or so sensors per segment. That’s a lot of sensors, which are used by foragers to detect nectar in flowers and by hive guards to detect the scent of her nest mates. Honey bees can also sense vibrations to detect sounds, such as waggle dance noises, a queen piping, or a beekeeper disturbing the hive. There are also sensors to detect temperature, moisture, and to feel for the presence of sisters, drones, and intruders in the hive.

The following picture provides a detailed view of this rather amazing organ, including the scape, pedicel, and overall flagellum. This is from the article The Antennae and their Sensilla shared on at a U.K. Scientific Beekeeping site.

May you prosper and find honey.

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