Honeybees use social distancing to protect themselves from parasites


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Honeybees increase social distancing when their beehive is threatened by a parasite, finds a new study led by an international team involving researchers at UCL and the University of Sassari, Italy.

The study, published in The progress of science, demonstrated that honey bee colonies respond to attacks from a harmful mite by changing the use of space and the interactions between nest mates to increase the social distance between young and old bees.

Co-author Dr. Alessandro Cini (UCL Center for Biodiversity & Environmental Research, UCL Biosciences) said: “Here we have provided the first evidence that honeybees change their social interactions and how they move around their state in response to a common parasite.

“Honeybees are a social animal as they benefit from sharing responsibilities and interactions such as mutual care, but when these social activities may increase the risk of infection, the bees appear to have evolved to balance risks and benefits of taking social distance. “

Among animals, examples of social distancing have been found in very different species separated by millions of years of evolution: from baboons less likely to cleanse individuals with gastrointestinal infections to ants infected with a pathogenic fungus referred to the suburbs of the anthill community . .

Honeybee allogrooming behavior (top left) and trophallaxis (feeding, center). Credit: Dr. Michelina Pusceddu, University of Sassari

The new study assessed the presence of the ectoparasite mite Varroa destructor in honeybee colonies induced changes in the social organization that could reduce the spread of the parasite in the hive. Among the stressors affecting honey bees, the Varroa mite is one of the main enemies as it causes a number of harmful effects on bees at the individual and colon level, including virus transmission.

Honey bee colonies are organized into two main compartments: the outer space occupied by the foremen, and the inner space inhabited by nurses, the queen and fry. This spatial separation within the colony leads to a lower frequency of interactions between the two spaces than those in each space and allows the most valuable individuals (queen, young bees and fry) to be protected from the external environment and thus from arrival of diseases.

By comparing colonies that were or were not infested with the Varroa mite, the researchers found that a behavior, foraging dancers that can increase mite transmission, occurred less frequently in central parts of the city if it was infested. They also found that nursing behaviors became more concentrated in the central hive. The researchers say that it appears that feeders (older bees) generally move towards the periphery of the nest, while young care and nursing bees move towards its center, in response to an attack, to increase the distance between the two groups.

Main author Dr. Michelina Pusceddu (Dipartimento di Agraria, University of Sassari) said: “The observed increase in social distance between the two groups of bees within the same parasitic colony represents a new and in some ways surprising aspect of how honeybees have evolved to fight pathogens and parasites.

“Their ability to adapt their social structure and reduce contact between individuals in response to a disease threat allows them to maximize the benefits of social interactions where possible and to minimize the risk of infectious diseases when necessary.

“Honeybee colonies provide an ideal model for studying social distancing and for fully understanding the value and effectiveness of this behavior.”

Hygienic honey bees are more resistant to destructive parasites

More information:
Michelina Pusceddu et al., Honeybees increase social distancing when faced with the ectoparasite Varroa-destructor, The progress of science (2021). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abj1398. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abj1398

Provided by University College London

Citation: Honeybees use social distancing to protect themselves from parasites (2021, October 29) retrieved October 30, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-10-honeybees-social-distancing-parasites.html

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