The smell of poop is a strong repellant to humans as well as insects.
At the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, new research was published this past week where a team of researchers found that honey bees (Apis cerana) in Vietnam collect and place animal feces around the entrances to their colonies in an attempt to protect themselves from the lethal Asian giant hornets (Vespa soror).
This strategic defense system is an intelligent tactic. Throughout the study, worker bees were observed collecting feces from dung piles. The researchers also spotted them foraging for dung in a nearby chicken coop and noted that worker bees were seen collecting human urine and soap scum.
Late August is when Asian giant hornet attacks are most frequent. At this time, the team surveyed 72 beekeepers. Five beekeepers only kept Western honeybees, and those did not collect feces to put on their hives, according to the study.
This 0:47-second video by SciTech Daily shows dung smearing honey bees in action:
The other 67 beekeepers kept eastern honeybees. 63 of them reported spots on the front of their hives. Each beekeeper had an average of 15 colonies, and the beekeepers reported seeing poop spots on an average of 74% of hives.
The poop mounds appeared after giant hornet attacks, so researchers found that they were in direct response to them.
The strategy seems to be working. Researchers found that colonies with moderate to heavy poop spots on them had a reduced chance of being attacked.
Heather Mattila, lead author of the study, said the study shows a fairly remarkable trait that these bees have developed to defend themselves against a really awful predator.
The team added that there is no evidence that the feces is used for anything else. This research is a first in reporting that Eastern honeybee worker bees forage and use animal feces for defense of the hive.
Western honeybees like those in North America are not prepared for giant hornet attacks because they haven’t had to deal with them for long enough to have evolved defenses. They don’t have the same defenses and are not as prepared for giant hornet attacks as bees in the east are. Mattila likens it to going into a war cold.
Now that Asian giant hornets have landed in North America, western honeybees will be faced with this challenge. Entomologists from the Washington State Department of Agriculture destroyed a giant hornet nest last month and found almost 200 queens inside. Each could have created her own nest.
Asian giant hornets are particularly deadly to honey bees, and can kill a whole colony of tens of thousands of bees in just a few hours. With bee numbers in decline we can only hope to find a way to eradicate these invasive hornets in our desire to save the bees.
To read the published study and view the images please click here.