Bees: insects cry out when the hive is attacked by giant hornets

Asian bees make what has been described as a disturbing cry-like sound when their hive is attacked by giant hornets


November 10, 2021

Giant hornets attack bee hive in Vietnam

Heather Mattila / Wellesley College

A frantic alarm signal produced by a type of Asian bee during a giant hornet attack has been identified for the first time.

Hornets are the most devastating predators of Asian bees and can wipe out entire colonies. Heather Mattila of Wellesley College in Massachusetts and her colleagues recorded sounds inside beehives containing Asian bees (Apis cerana) because they were attacked by either a type of giant hornet (Vespa soror) linked to the infamous “murder” hornet (Vespa mandarinia), or a smaller hornet species (Vespa velutina). The team also recorded the sounds of the beehives in the absence of predators.

In total, the researchers captured nearly 30,000 bee signals in over 1,300 minutes of recording, from three beekeeping sites in Hanoi, Vietnam.

By analyzing images of the sound patterns, the team found that bees produce a previously unknown set of harsh, irregular noises that can quickly change frequency when giant hornets, but not smaller hornets, arrive at the hive. . They called these signals “anti-predator tips”. No such sound was detected in the absence of threats.

“I found it really disturbing. When you analyze the recordings, part of you is afraid of bees and part of you is so excited to see how unusual those sounds were, ”says Mattila.

The acoustic properties are very similar to alarm calls and fear cries made by other animals like primates and birds, Mattila explains.

Using cameras to film the entrances to the hive, the team found that the anti-predator pipes seemed to rally more bees to the entrance to the hive. Once here, the bees placed more animal droppings around the entrances to the colony, a behavior known to deter hornets. The arrival of little hornets did not lead to an increase in the deposition of droppings by bees.

The results suggest that the anti-predator pipes can transmit particular types of threat to other bees in the colony, which “hear” the calls through the vibrations of their legs, and help support predator-specific defenses.

The team noticed the bees lifting their abdomen and buzzing their wings to fabricate the anti-predator pipes while running down what appeared to be frantic paths.

In the future, the team hopes to replicate the warning signals inside the hives to better understand what information bee calls transmit and how individual bees respond.

“This study is of great value as it has scientifically demonstrated that bees have identified the attributes of their natural enemies and developed acoustic warning signals,” explains Masato Ono of Tamagawa University in Japan. “It is also a very interesting convergent evolution to show that it shares points with the acoustic properties of mammalian horror.”

Journal reference: Royal Society Open Science, DOI: 10.1098 / rsos.211215

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