Scientists from the University of Constance, in Germany, and the University of Innsbruck, in Austria, have verified in a recent study that bees sting or not according to the level of an alarm pheromone. Their concentration marks the beginning and the end of each attack, depending on the number of attacks a hive receives and the variety of attackers.
According to a Press release, in the group behaviors of bees, pheromones also play a vital role as communication tool, being able to generate a “contagion” effect that leads a bee to sting after a partner has already done so.
The pheromones They are chemical substances that living beings produce with the purpose of generating specific behaviors in other specimens of the same species.
It transmits volatile signals that spread through the environment: in the case of bees, they play a fundamental role in coordinating attacks against predators, according to new research published in the journal BMC Biology.
The impact of pheromones is amazing. For example, some trees attract birds through their pheromones to kill off the insects that attack them.
In humans, the role and existence of these substances has sparked multiple scientific debates, but it is believed that they could have a specific role in sexual behaviors.
Returning to the world of bees, it is pheromones that mark the probability that a bee stings: the researchers found that average concentrations increase this probability.
At the same time, they used a computer model to discover the environmental factors that influence this defense behavior, confirming that the number of attacks received and the variety of attackers can stimulate it.
The signals that travel through the pheromones are those that will mark the beginning and the end of the attacks of the bees, determining individual and group actions.
When insects notice the presence of a possible aggressor, the process of production and diffusion of the substance through the environment begins. Some bees secrete pheromones of their own accord, while others do so when stinging, since they have this substance in their stingers.
The levels of pheromone in the environment will indicate to the bees if the counterattack was successful: a medium concentration stimulates new attacks, but when the level is high it is communicating that a large number of bees have already stung the aggressor or predator. In this way, it is determined the end of the contest and the cessation of the bites.
The common good first
A transcendent issue is the social functioning of the hives. It is believed that bees and other social insects act on a collective plane that is located above the individual: the actions of each individual are always linked to the success of the entire community and there they find their meaning.
In this case, a bee can decide to sting and even die in this action if it observes that the queen bee of the hive is threatened.
The reason is simple and logical: it is the queen who is responsible for reproduction and intergenerational genetic transmission. By saving her, the bee gives her life for the good of her entire community.
Honeybee communication during collective defence is shaped by predation. Andrea López-Incera, Morgane Nouvian, Katja Ried, Thomas Müller and Hans J. Briegel. BMC Biology (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12915-021-01028-x
Photo: The image illustrates the threat position in honey bees (Apis mellifera, according to its scientific name). Credit: M. Nouvian.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.