Bees Are Capable of 'Shouting' at Competitors While Pollinating

Jul 08, 2014 09:17 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

A study was published this week outlining a recent discovery that when bees are pollinating and find a lucrative source of nectar or pollen, some of them "shout" the news to other bees instead of "whispering" it, despite the risk of being heard by "eavesdropper" bees.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have discovered that instead of quietly whispering to other bees, these Brazilian bees shout to warn other competitors listening that they are willing to defend their food source.

Though the move seems risky, it's usually pretty effective.

"It's a signal with honest aspects and the possibility of lies," said James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego, according to the press release. "It tells nestmates where to find good food and hints at a larger occupying force."

A study on the discovery was published this week in the journal Current Biology.

Elinor Lichtenberg, a PhD student who led the study, said that her discovery suggests that eavesdroppers can change the evolution of animal signals in a number of ways.

"Our study provides a new way of looking at how eavesdroppers affect the evolution of animal communication signals," Lichtenberg added, according to the release. "Until now, it was thought that eavesdroppers select against conspicuous signals, for example by more easily finding and eating prey that sings loudly. But our results show that eavesdroppers can help select for the same conspicuous signals that are easiest for intended recipients to detect and understand."

The study focused on stingless bees that compete with one another for similar food sources.

Trigona spinipes are foragers that alert their nestmates by using chemical pheromones and Trigona hyalinata are the eavesdroppers, according to the study.

Despite being spies, the eavesdroppers don't want to go through the trouble of fighting T.spinipes bees, which are very aggressive towards intruders.

"Our study provides a new way of looking at how eavesdroppers affect the evolution of animal communication signals," Lichtenberg said.

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