Festooning is type of behavior of honeybees, which all of beekeepers occasionally see in their colonies. Honeybees form long chains and hang together by holding each others legs. Sometimes these chains are as deep as frames themselves. For those who do not know what is it about, festooning is just another cute behavior of honeybees. But there is more to it! Festooning of honeybee workers might rather be a very effective tool which helps their efficiency.
It is very cute when honeybees are in rush to break long chains when frames are moved. They quickly break chains, after which each half of it sways to its comb. Sometimes few honeybees will even fall down into hive and quickly rush up to their legs again. One can notice that drones are not present in these chains, as they do not do any of the work in meintenance of the hive. That’s why I pointed in the title itself that festooning is behavior of female/worker honeybees.
Frankly, exact reason behind festooning of honeybee workers it is still unclear. What we have today are theories. Some of them are theories of beekeepers, while others are scientific theories. They could all, or none be true. Maybe some day we will have precise, exact answer to it. Until then, here are the most famous theories.
Festooning Honeybee Workers Theories
I previously mentioned that there are different theories behind this behavior. Without further delay, here are most spread theories about reasons behind festooning.
Some of the reasons given include: honeybees trying to calculate the distance between frames, some also say the structure acts like a scaffolding from where the honeybees build the comb, and some of them also say that the honeybees produce more wax while in a festooning position, there is also an element of temperature where some says that the honeybees hang together to create some heat to the broods.
What we certainly know is that they do not form long festooning chains during winter, when the temperature outside of the hive is too low. They also do not excrete wax. We also know that in order to produce beeswax, temperature must be around 32° C/89° F. Knowing that honeybees maintain this temperature inside hive constantly throught the season, I would discard the idea that festooning has anything to do with heat increase. Furthermore, temperature must be higher when honeybees are walking over each other, due to the friction. We also know that in winter they clump up together to preserve the heat, so why would spreading out increase it?
That leaves us with few possible theories which might be valid in my opinion. Festooning honeybee workers are either serving as a measuring tool, or as a scaffolding. These two theories are strengthened by the fact that honeybees form festooning chains even when they are drawing out a comb from scraps. Building it without beeswax foundation. In this case they will festoon even vertically. Also, there is a possibility that festooning position increases secretion of beeswax. Whichever might be the case, I believe that festooning is directly related to wax excretion/comb building.
On the other hand, current stance of science on this topic is perhaps best understood from a quote of a bee biologist by the name Jurgen Tautz from the University of Wurzburg who said: “The function of the living chain where new combs are being built is unknown.”
Even though science disagrees with these theories, they did not claim the opposite either. You can find out more about uniqueness of honeybees, at the Fun Facts category.