National Geographic : 1990 Jan
On Assignment IT CAME NATURALLY to world roving zoologist MARK W. MOFFETT, given his longtime interest in how animal societ ies are organized. When he was studying jumping spiders in Sri Lanka, Mark sought out the dwarf honeybee, Apis florea, smallest of the honeybee species. He knew it behaved quite differently from the more familiar species, Apis melli fera, he had been observing for the robot bee article in this issue. Unlike those bees, which nest in cavities, dwarf bees of Asia construct nests on branches amid dense foliage to avoid detection. To guard the nest-full of inviting honey that draws ants and other predators-hundreds of bees blan ket their home with their bodies, up to several layers thick (above). The living curtain also helps con trol the temperature of the nest. This unusually small colony hov ers nearby as Mark inspects their nest (top right). While all honeybees dance to communicate the location of food, dwarf bees perform in the open atop their nests (right)-a view never before published in such detail. The dancer orients straight at the flower target, lifting her abdomen like a flag so followers can see it. Her dance is silent, and followers apparently get the mes sage just by watching. For species that dance in dark cavities, some experts believe wing sounds evolved to provide a "voice." Curiosity has always character ized Mark, who recalls, "I was a permanent problem to my par ents. From about age three I just wanted to sit in the backyard and watch ants." At 17 he began trav eling in Central and South Ameri ca with expeditions to investigate lizards, snakes, beetles, and but terflies. After graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin, Mark earned his Ph.D. in biology at Harvard, based on 28 months of travel in Asia-studying ants. NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC(ISSN 0027-9358) IS PUBLISHEDMONTHLYBYTHE NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY,17THANDM STS. N.W., WASHINGTON,D. C. 20036. $21.00 A YEAR,$2.65 A COPY. SECOND-CLASSPOSTAGEPAID AT WASHINGTON,D. C., AND ELSEWHERE.POSTMASTER:SENDADDRESSCHANGESTO NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC,P. O. BOX2174, WASHINGTON,D. C. 20013.