Safe(bee) in numbers

Apr 29, 2014
Where danger lurks on flowers, bees are best advised not to go it alone: a pollinator in the fangs of a crab spider. New research from Queen Mary University of London suggests bumblebees can distinguish between safe and dangerous environments, and are attracted to land on flowers popular with other bees when exposed to perilous situations. Credit: Queen Mary University of London

Bumblebees can distinguish between safe and dangerous environments, and are attracted to land on flowers popular with other bees when exposed to perilous situations, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

The study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that past experience of predation causes bumblebees to join other already safely feeding on .

Co-author and PhD student Erika Dawson said: "Our experiment shows for the first time that when bees find themselves in these predator-infested environments they locate safe places to eat by joining other bees that are already safely feeding on flowers."

The scientists trained bees to differentiate between safe and : when bees landed on a flower associated with danger, foam pincers would trap the bee and prevent it from foraging. This simulates an attack by a crab spider, a predator that lurks on flowers to catch pollinators, and can hide by changing its colour, like a chameleon.

In safe environments, the subsequently chose to feed from flowers at random, but in dangerous environments, the bees specifically flew to flowers that were occupied by other bees.

Erika added: "It's similar to walking through a bad neighbourhood – you're more likely to choose a busier route, where there are lots of other people around than a deserted street, to get to your destination, since your chances of being attacked are probably lower."

New research from Queen Mary University of London suggests bumblebees can distinguish between safe and dangerous environments, and are attracted to land on flowers popular with other bees when exposed to perilous situations. Here, a bumblebee is caught in the fangs of a crab spider while foraging for food. Credit: Queen Mary University of London

Bumblebees face similar danger when foraging for food. Avoiding being eaten can be tricky as predators are often disguised or undetectable. The authors suggest that bees use information from other bees to help them to avoid these .

"These results show a remarkable flexibility in pollinators' strategic foraging decisions. Bees normally spread themselves out among flowers to minimise competition, but when danger lurks they dine together to seek safety in numbers," commented co-author Professor Lars Chittka from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

Explore further: Norway tests out 'animal rights cops'

More information: 'Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) use social information as an indicator of safety in dangerous environments' is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 30 April 2014.

Related Stories

Bumblebees use logic to find the best flowers

Apr 04, 2013

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have discovered why bees copy each other when looking for nectar – and the answer is remarkably simple.

Social bees mark dangerous flowers with chemical signals

Mar 14, 2013

Scientists already knew that some social bee species warn their conspecifics when detecting the presence of a predator near their hive, which in turn causes an attack response to the possible predator. Researchers ...

Understanding the flight of the bumblebee

Sep 20, 2012

Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London have tracked bumblebees for the first time to see how they select the optimal route to collect nectar from multiple flowers and return to their nest.

Recommended for you

Barking mad? Doggie DNA to track foulers in London

58 minutes ago

A London borough—aptly named Barking and Dagenham—unveiled plans on Tuesday to crack down on irresponsible dog owners by checking their pet's poo against a DNA database it will build up.

Norway tests out 'animal rights cops'

14 hours ago

Norwegian police is creating a unit to investigate cruelty to animals, the government said Monday, arguing that those who hurt animals often harm people too.

High-pitched sounds cause seizures in old cats

16 hours ago

When the charity International Cat Care asked veterinary neurologists at Davies Veterinary Specialists, UK, for help with several enquiries it had received regarding cats having seizures, seemingly in response ...

Bumblebees use nicotine to fight off parasites

21 hours ago

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), gave bumblebees the option to choose between a sugar solution with nicotine in it and one without. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.