When you live in crowded conditions with 40,000 of your sisters, it would be challenging at best to keep disease from spreading like wildfire. Bees have developed several methods to keep diseases at bay. These can be divided into two groups: Social behaviors and individual immunity.
Individual immunity is composed of responses that occur within the individual. These responses are similar to human responses to disease and occur at the cellular level. Social immunity occurs at the colony level. Some methods are prophylactic, like imprisoning hive beetles in propolis, while others occur in response to a potential invader. For example, bees infected with certain viruses are not allowed back into the nest, eliciting aggressive behaviors by guard bees at the entrance to the hive.
The construction of propolis is a major hive-level behavior that prevents disease. Propolis forms a protective antibiotic layer around the nest, keeping unwanted bacteria at bay.
Hygienic behavior is another social response to disease. Nurse bees remove diseased brood from the nest before it can develop. This behavior has the added bonus of interrupting the life cycle of the varroa mite if it happens to be the cause of the disease.
Bees can also work together to increase the temperature of their nest cavity, making it intolerable for nosema, chalk broodand mites.
Infected bees will even sacrifice themselves, leaving the nest to die away from the other bees to avoid spreading infections.
Bees are eusocial insects, meaning that they cannot survive without each other. The health of the colony is so important that bees are willing to give up their own lives to protect it.
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