Honey Bees ‘Scream’ Like Mammals When Attacked by Giant Hornets

Honey Bees ‘Scream’ Like Mammals When Attacked by Giant Hornets

The unique buzzing only happens when giant hornets threaten the hive, showing the complexities of bee communication.
By George Dvorsky
11/10/21 10:41AM

Unsettling and distinctive sounds made by Asian honey bees during attacks of giant hornets might be an alarm signal for the hive to deploy defensive measures.

Attacks by giant hornets (Vespa soror) are existential threats to colonies of honey bees (Apis cerana). Their invasions are brutal and practically identical to those employed by their sister species, Vespa mandarinia, popularly known as murder hornets (the two species are very similar in terms of body shape and behavior, but it’s important to not conflate the two, especially given the invasive potential of V. mandarinia in western North America). Giant hornets, owing to their bulk and ferocity, can devastate an entire bee hive in just a few hours, during which time they kill the defenders, occupy their nest, and—in the ultimate injustice—carry back the defenseless brood as food for their own larvae.

It’s very nasty business, but new research published in Royal Society Open Science shows one potential way in which Asian honey bees have managed to adapt: an alarm call specific to giant hornets.

“It’s alarming to hear!” Heather Mattila, a co-author of the study and a researcher at Wellesley College, told me when I asked her to describe the apparent distress signal. “It’s characterized by rapid bursts of high-pitched sounds that change unpredictably in frequency—they’re quite harsh and noisy.”

Fascinatingly, the alarm shares “acoustic traits with alarm shrieks, fear screams, and panic calls of primates, birds, and meerkats,” according to the study. Mattila said it’s “exciting to learn that the sound properties of the honey bees’ alarm signal are really similar to the properties of signals used by mammals that also live in social groups and share information about danger around them.” Working with local beekeepers in Vietnam, Mattila and her colleagues have spent the better part of seven years studying the various interactions between Asian honey bees and their arch nemesis, the giant hornets. By placing microphones inside of hives, the team amassed over 1,300 minutes of beehive chatter. The newly detected alarm signal, called an “antipredator pipe,” was isolated from other sounds, including other acoustic bee signals, by looking at visual representations of sound known as spectrograms.

“These images show the different properties of the sounds that the bees make, even if they overlapped in time because many bees were signaling at once,” Mattila explained. “We looked through all of our recordings to get good examples of antipredator pipes that were clear of other sounds so that we could characterize their acoustic properties. Then it became easy to recognize them in more chaotic moments, when lots of sounds were being made.”

Read the rest of the article and view the video: https://gizmodo.com/honey-bees-scream-like-mammals-when-attacked-by-giant-1848025762