Honeybees use social distancing when mites threaten hives – study

The term social distancing has become a common phrase in the last 18 months. It turns out that we aren't the only ones who give our peers a wide berth when it comes to our health: research has shown that honeybees also do this.
Scientists have discovered that honeybees react to threats from Varroa destructor, a parasite that is linked to the destruction of honeybee colonies.

According to Dr Alessandro Cini (co-author of the University College London research, "If you believe we have a brain", it was conscious. However, it took us some time to change our daily behaviour in response to Covid.

Cini and his colleagues write in Science Advances about how they first examined beehives in Sardinia (Italy) and compared their behaviour to bees that had been treated for mites to bees in hives naturally infected.

The team examined videos taken inside the hives and discovered that the mite-infested hives had foraging bees. These older bees are known to perform important dances to signal the direction of food sources. This included the waggle dance.

Cini said that this may help keep the mites at bay and limit the damage. Cini said that foragers are the main entry point for mites. The better it is for mite control within the colony, the more they keep away from the young and brood.

Researchers also observed changes in how bees groom one another. In uninfected colonies, this tendency is to be concentrated in the central area of the hive. However, mites made this even more apparent. Cini said that they are likely focusing their efforts [thoughts] on the most important part of the colony and leaving the grooming foragers.

The lab experiment was then conducted, in which the mites were artificially introduced to small groups of 12 young bees. They were then compared to the uninfected group. Cini says that the team did not observe an increase in social distancing between infected bees. This may be because it is important for young bees and foragers to keep their distance from mites, as bees depend on each other.

He suggested that social distancing may be too expensive on a small scale.

There were also differences in grooming behavior: Infected bees had more food and were inspected more often than those in uninfected group.

Cini stated that the study demonstrated the power of natural selection to influence the evolution of social behavior. He also spoke of dynamic changes in social behavior to adapt to changing environments.