Honeybees Perform Drastic Social Distancing to Avoid Illness
A recent National Geographic article reminds us that honeybees have developed a social distancing scent-based mechanism over the years that is based on revulsion and repulsion. It is a more drastic form of our current social distancing.
Their heightened sense of smell gauges chemical scent signals that reveal illness long before it is visible. This helps them slow down and possibly stop disease from spreading throughout the entire beehive.
Americans and other nationalities around the world have been ordered to shelter in place, self-quarantine or stay home, due to the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Many people may find this isolation strategy strange or challenging, but it is a normal and natural strategy other creatures use to isolate an illness and keep it from getting stronger in their communities.
This 1:41-minute long video gives a clear image of how a beekeeper can identify American foulbrood.
The honeybee is our focus in this post, but other animals that practice various types of social distancing are chimpanzees, Caribbean spiny lobsters and American bullfrog tadpoles, to name just a few.
American foulbrood is a bacterial disease that infiltrates honeybee hives and can liquify larvae from inside. It is very devastating and leaves a brown slimy mess with a noxious stink to it.
Older bees are able to detect the chemical odor emanating from the infected larvae. The diseased larvae and bees are tossed out of the hive immediately, as soon as the stench is identified. If the bacteria takes hold during overwintering and isn't discovered until spring, it will have a much more devastating effect on the bee colony.
Alison McAfee is a postdoctoral fellow at North Carolina State University’s Entomology and Plant Pathology department and is an expert in this area. She has performed research on this topic, and wrote that when the scent of oleic acid, a death (necromone) pheromone, is released in conjunction with β-ocimene, which is a co-opted pheromone that usually signals larval food-begging, this blended scent initiates hygienic behavior in honeybees (Apis mellifera L).
For beekeepers and researchers, this hygienic behavior is a coveted trait because it helps maintain bee colony hygiene, health and safety, so it has been selectively bred into honeybees for decades.
While humans self-quarantine, shelter-in-place and social distance themselves from one another, honeybees and other animals don’t have this luxury and must take more drastic measures. They nip disease in the bud the moment a scent reveals its presence by expelling diseased members for the survival and well being of the hive and all healthy bees.
We're one week into Spring 2020, so no matter where in the world you are, BEE safe and try to enjoy your weekend at home. Times of solitude can help us reflect on our lives and what is really important... enjoy your garden or balcony as nature comes alive around us. BEE calm and feast your eyes on whatever beauty reveals itself to you now.
Our hearts are filled with compassion for those who are struggling.
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