# How long can a bee surive in a jar?

So, some people and I encountered an adventure game where you have a bee in a jar and need to move it from place to place before it suffocates, and someone tried to find out how long a bee would actually survive in the jar. We've found three relevant papers:

1. Oxygen consumption in the foraging honeybee depends on the reward rate at the food source [1]
2. Oxygen consumption and body temperature of active and resting honeybees [2]
3. Physiological Correlates of Foraging Efforts in Honey-Bees: Oxygen Consumption and Nectar Load [3]

which has given us what we think is a good high-end guess of 40µl of oxygen per minute consumed.

However, we don't know at what point the oxygen level would get too low for the bee, or if carbon dioxide poisoning would occur. Does anyone have a source for the minimum oxygen levels a bee needs to survive, or the point at which CO₂ toxicity becomes a problem?

– user5429
Jan 15, 2014 at 12:22
• @gopinath First thing they talk about is air holes. Jan 15, 2014 at 18:50
• As an amateur beekeeper, I think I can work up an answer for you in the next few days. The answer will be regarding the typical honeybee. Is that acceptable? Just to be sure, the question you want answered is "What is the minimum level of oxygen for a bee to survive?" On a side note, I think it is a horrible game if it requires that a creature suffocate to determine a winner.
– user3970
Jan 15, 2014 at 20:35
• @fredsbend In the game you have to transport a bee from place to place in a sealed jar, to protect it from a toxic atmosphere. However, the bee runs out of oxygen and dies very, very quickly, limiting where you can take it. We thought this was unrealistic, and wanted to work out what what the actual time was. Jan 15, 2014 at 21:48
• @Canageek Well, I was going to mention that oxygen may not be the limiting factor. Bees are quite susceptible to high temperatures, and in a sealed jar there is no ventilation to cool the bee. Put the jar in the sun and that bee will die in under 15 minutes. The average bee's body temperature cannot stand anything much hotter than 110 for longer than a minute or two.
– user3970
Jan 15, 2014 at 21:56

Assuming the jar is airtight--

I think your oxygen consumption rate may be too high and that 40$\mu l$ per hour$^1$ might be closer but since it's a high figure anyway we can use it. 40 $\mu l$ per minute would be about 2400 $\mu l$/hr.

A 12-ounce jar is about 0.355 liters. At sea level, air contains about 20% oxygen so the volume of oxygen in the jar is about 0.0709 liters.

At altitudes which are considered high for humans (17000 feet or higher) the percentage of oxygen falls to about 15%. If a bee is able to get 2400 $\mu l$ of oxygen per hour from a jar, the volume of oxygen will fall to about 13% after ten hours.$^2$

Based on oxygen consumption alone I think a bee would be stressed at this level, especially at temperatures exceeding 32C. I would guess the bee would be stressed well before this, maybe after 5 hours (16.6% oxygen). If we factor in the likelihood that the bee's respiration is up due to the agitation of confinement I think we can shave another hour off.

Depending on the age, size, species, variety, temperature, location, etc. I think an outside limit of 4 hours in an airtight jar is a good guess.

Toxicity from CO$_2$ may be a problem but bees have a much higher tolerance for CO$_2$ than humans, according to one set of entomology notes. At 0.04% the concentration will only increase marginally due to a drop in oxygen alone but the bee itself will produce CO$_2$ and in far greater quantities under stress. A chart here shows production of CO$_2$ in reaction to a light being turned on. 400 ppm is 0.04% but in this case it is due to the bee. If the bee during respiration returns CO$_2$ as quickly as it consumes oxygen the jar could reach 7% CO$_2$ in four hours, a level that may be toxic for humans. But we have already suggested the bee is under stress from oxygen depletion at that point.

There are many assumptions in this note. A conservative estimate might be an hour in an airtight jar. I would not bet on more. There are probably other issues I haven't thought of. Bees are very fragile and the chart linked above suggests they would not fare will in such an environment.

$^1$ Respiration of Worker Honeybees of Different Ages and at Different Temperatures, Allen, 1958, J. Experimental Biology 36, 92-101. At page 97 Allen gives a chart showing log $\mu l$ $O_2$/mg body weight/hr. For a 14-23 day old bee at 32C he appears to give about .5 which means 1.65/mg/hr or about 115 $\mu l$ per hour for a 70mg bee. It may be a typo or perhaps I am misreading the chart. Also the study uses an older method of measuring respiration.

$^2$ This is a simplification. The bee will start breathing a mixture containing falling oxygen levels and this may slow the oxygen depletion a little. But if we say the bee needs what it needs this saves us a differential equation.

• @WYSIWYG: "bodyweight" is not in Webster's. To edit an answer as opposed to a question is a little much, especially if the OP accepted it without comment. I usually offer proposed corrections in comments. Form for footnotes changes every few years as journals revise their style guidelines. I find this style easy to read. Oct 9, 2014 at 16:29
• Ok.. I am sorry.. Point taken.. I was trying to replace TeX code with Unicode wherever possible. Sorry that I altered the post. Oct 9, 2014 at 16:41
• @WYSIWYG: no problem and I do prefer the unicode version for microliter I'll change that back to your version when I get a chance. For CO2 I think it's easier in Latex but maybe I'm just used to it. Oct 9, 2014 at 18:07