Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bees are out...and it's March

Photo credit: World of Warmth via AskNature.org
Bees buzzing your head is a startling occasion at any time, but when they started to buzz Amy's head as she sat outside in March, she started to wonder how our unseasonably early spring will affect our most important pollinators?  And thinking about it, how do bees survive Chicago winters at all?  And is there anything we can learn from them?

Bees are social insects and spend their lives in colonies, or hives.  They live and die in their colonies and do not migrate to warmer climates seasonally, so when the temperatures hit freezing, how do bees keep their nests?  It turns out, they vibrate.  The intentional vibration of their thorax creates heat so that their young can survive the cold.  Intentionally creating heat or harnessing energy from vibration is not something we tend to emulate in the built environment - in fact, it accounts for energy loss and unwanted heat gain.  But perhaps by harnessing vibrational energy as a source of heat, we could save energy on our mechanical systems.

Genetic diversity also plays a role in keeping the hive warm during winter.  When hives are genetically diverse and sired from more than one male, they will have different comfort levels and therefor different temperature response thresholds. When a few individuals with a high threshold feel the hive is cold, they begin to vibrate.  When the temperature continues to drop and others with a lower cold threshold feel the hive is cold, they begin to vibrate at that lower temperature, and so on.  The colder it gets in the hive, the more bees will vibrate to maintain 32 - 36 degree Fahrenheit in the winter.  The opposite is true for cooling the hive in summer when bees use their wings as fans to expel hot air. This distributed response mechanism dampens temperature spikes and keeps the hive at a livable temperature.  From this, we can be inspired to set building thermostats at different thresholds to regulate staggered response, saving energy versus an "all on/all off" approach.  

And this is just a few ideas - the possibilities of biomimicry are endless!  What ideas do you have?

Read Amy's full post at her blog, Liquid Triangle Sustainability

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