In the last 18 months, people have become too familiar with the term “social distancing”. But it turns out that we are not the only ones giving our peers a wide berth when our health may be in danger: research suggests that honeybees do too.
Researchers have found that when a hive of honey bees is threatened by mites Varroa destructor A parasite associated with the collapse of honey bee colonies – the bees react by changing the way they interact with each other.
“If you think we have a brain, we are conscious, but it took us a while to change our everyday behavior. [in response to Covid]”I think it’s exciting to see other animals do something similar,” said Dr. Alessandro Cini, co-author of the research at University College London.
Cini and colleagues write in the journal Science Advances how they first looked at hives in Sardinia, Italy, and compared the behavior of bees in hives that were naturally infected with the mites with those in hives that had been treated to get rid of . the parasites.
By examining videos recorded inside the hives, the team found that when the hive is infested with mites, foraging bees – which tend to be older members of the colony – perform important dances to indicate the direction of food sources, such as the log dance, away from the center of the colony where the young bees, the queen and the brood cells are found.
That, Cini said, can help keep the infection at a controllable level, limiting the amount of damage. “Headlands are one of the main entrances to the mites,” Cini said. “So the more they stay away from the fry and the young individuals, the better it is in terms of preventing the spread of the mites in the colony.”
The team also found changes in where bees cared for each other: in uninfected colonies, this tends to be concentrated among the young in the central part of the hive, but the researchers found that this was even more the case when mites were present. “They are probably concentrating their thoughts [efforts] towards the more important part of the colony, which leaves the care of feedmen, ”said Cini.
The team then performed experiments in the laboratory where they artificially infected small groups of about 12 young bees with the mites and compared them with uninfected groups. This time, the team found no increase in social distancing among infected groups – which, says Cini, may reflect that it is more important for feeders and young bees to keep their distance when mites are present and that bees are interdependent.
“Social distancing is probably too expensive on a small scale,” he said.
But again, there were differences in care behaviors: infected bees were cared for more, inspected more, and had food shared with them more than individuals in uninfected groups.
Cini said the study showed the strength of natural selection in the development of social behavior. “And also dynamic change in social behavior to adapt to a constantly changing environment,” he said.