In addition to heat production on the comb surface, honeybee workers frequently visit open cells (“gaps”) that are scattered throughout the sealed brood area, and enter them to incubate adjacent brood cells. We examined the efficiency of this heating strategy under different environmental conditions and for gap proportions from 0 to 50%. For gap proportions from 4 to 10%, which are common to healthy colonies, we find a significant reduction in the incubation time per brood cell to maintain the correct temperature. The savings make up 18 to 37% of the time, which would be required for this task in completely sealed brood areas without any gaps. For unnatural high proportions of gaps (>20%), which may be the result of inbreeding or indicate a poor condition of the colony, brood nest thermoregulation becomes less efficient, and the incubation time per brood cell has to increase to maintain breeding temperature. Although the presence of gaps is not essential to maintain an optimal brood nest temperature, a small number of gaps make heating more economical by reducing the time and energy that must be spent on this vital task. As the benefit depends on the availability, spatial distribution and usage of gaps by the bees, further studies need to show the extent to which these results apply to real colonies.
HoneybeeApis melliferaBrood nestBrood gapsThermoregulationMulti-agent based computer simulation