Another thing to be concerned about during this heatwave is the gruesome death of honey bees, which have been discovered to suffer a difficult fate when temperatures rise too high.
In extreme heat, they can literally ejaculate themselves to death, according to research.
When male worker bees are exposed to extremely high temperatures, their bodies convulse, causing them to ejaculate their abdomen-sized penis-equivalent out of their bodies and die from shock.
To the untrained eye, it may appear that the bee spontaneously exploded, but new research has revealed that there is a strange sexual component to this final act.
Bees try to maintain a body temperature of 35°C, and if temperatures reach 42°C, half of the drones will die within six hours.
From Sunday to Tuesday, the Met Office has issued an extreme heat warning, with the UK potentially experiencing its highest-ever temperature.
With Europe experiencing massive heatwaves, scientists are looking into new ways to cool them down and prevent heat exhaustion deaths.
‘When drones die from shock, they spontaneously ejaculate,’ said Dr Alison McAffee, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories focusing on bee health. They have a complex endophallus that protrudes and is roughly the size of their own abdomen. It’s quite extreme.’
McAfee claims she became aware of the phenomenon after noticing a spike in bee deaths following a heat wave in British Columbia in 2021.
Beehives typically maintain a temperature of around 35°C, and while the Columbian bees should have been able to handle the heat, the excess heat killed many of them.
‘We know that after six hours at 42°C, half of the drones will die from heat stress,’ said Dr. McAfee.
‘The more sensitive ones begin to die after two or three hours. That’s not a temperature they should be exposed to, but we were seeing drones become stressed to the point of death.’
Dr. McAfee and her team conducted a series of experiments after the first ‘drone apocalypse’ to test hive insulation materials in order to prevent another wave of mass-deaths during future heatwaves.
Some of these techniques include wrapping beehives in a protective polystyrene cover, which can help cool the hive by up to 3.5°C.
Meanwhile, another method devised by fellow beekeeper Emily Huxter involved providing each colony with a sugar syrup feeder to serve as a bee cooling station.
‘Bees will naturally go find water to bring back to the hive and fan it with their wings to cool down, much like we do when we sweat,’ Huxter explained.
‘Giving them syrup nearby should allow them to do the same thing, and the sugar in it encourages them to consume it faster.’
McAfee believes drones could be one of the most effective indicators of climate change as a result of her research.
‘Drones have the advantage of being very sensitive and visible. If drones are dying, it is far easier to study them than to take a queen from a colony and conduct tests on her. It’s also better for citizen science efforts,’ she added.
A previous study conducted in 2020 discovered that queen bees contained five different proteins that could be used to determine whether they had experienced heat shock.