Karlovitz Lectures

    SPRING 2012

From the Bees to the Birds: Research Adventures 

Dr. Bernd Heinrich

Starting grad school, Bernd Heinrich (U. Vermont Professor Emeritus in Biology) had no idea where he was headed, but after some detours he ended up leaning toward his childhood fascination with insects and birds.  Starting with sphinx moths, which act like hummingbird analogues, he made a discovery in physiology that turned into a particular engineering problem.  To see how other insects solved it he found out that bees relied also on behavior, which led him to social bees (he was and still is a beekeeper).  Ravens' behavior at food bonanzas showed something that looked similar in behavior to bees, but from their natural history, Heinrich knew they had a different problem to solve than social bees.

“What was going on was a huge enigma. I want to talk about how I tried to solve a biological mystery through experiments with wild birds in the field and tame ones in large aviaries. The main enigma, which was the start of many more that turned up later, was why they did not keep rich food bonanzas a secret. How was it possible that such behavior might be selected for, when, logically, it would appear that sharing should be selected against?”