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Bumble bees drop to shake off Asian hornets

Christian Fernsby |
Bumble bees have a remarkably successful method for fighting off Asian hornets, new research shows.

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When attacked, buff-tailed bumble bees drop to the ground—taking the hornets down with them. This either causes the hornet to lose its grip, or the bee raises its sting and tussles until the hornet gives up.

University of Exeter scientists witnessed over 120 such attacks, and were stunned to find that bumble bees fought off the hornets every time.

Despite this, they found bumble bee colonies had reduced growth rates in areas with high numbers of Asian hornets suggesting the hornets still had a negative impact, even if their attacks at colony entrances usually failed.

A paper describing their findings, published in the journal Communications Biology, is titled "Quantifying the impact of an invasive hornet on Bombus terrestris colonies."

Asian hornets have already invaded much of mainland Europe and parts of east Asia, and have recently been reported in the US for the first time. Sightings in the UK and continental Europe are at record levels this year—raising fears for pollinators and prompting substantial control efforts.

In the study, commercially reared bumble bee colonies were placed at 12 locations across the province of Pontevedra, Spain, with varying local Asian hornet densities. Colonies were weighed every two days and those in areas with higher Asian hornet densities grew more slowly.


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