Saturday, July 16, 2011

Defensive Behavior

Bee hives are constantly under attack. A healthy hive contains hundreds of pounds of tasty and nutritious food, and is a temptation to numerous animals from insects to bears. The brood and pollen offer protein; and honey is an attractive, high-energy carbohydrate. Throughout the night and day, small hive beetles, moths, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets, are trying to slip past guard bees watching the hive entrance. At night, possums, raccoons, and skunks test the hive defenses. In their range, black bears are known to tear into bee hives to eat the protein-rich brood. When beekeepers are careless, guard bees find unprotected skin to sting. Probably the bee hive’s greatest intruder, though, is the honey bee from another hive. Bees will rob the unprotected stores of honey from a weak colony. Against all of these invaders the bee hive is protected by workers with well-developed venomous stings.

In Kenya, the honey bee is being called upon to protect farms from elephants. These massive animals try to avoid honey bees that sting the sensitive skin around the eyes, behind the ears, and in the nose. A number of large animals are vulnerable to nose stings. Honey bees are known to kill horses when their nasal passages close from numerous bee stings. Following the international blockage of ivory trade, the elephant is making a comeback. With human populations expanding in the same region, deadly encounters between elephants and people are on the rise. Go to to see how Kenyan top bar hives are being wired into fences to repel elephants from crop fields. The hives, connected by wires, shake violently when elephants invade the fields at night. When the hives are shaken, alerted guard bees fly from the disturbed hives and repel the elephants. In today’s photo an irrigated soybean field is in bloom in the Arkansas Delta. The soybean, a member of the important bee plant family, the legumes, produces abundant nectar for a light colored and flavored honey.

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