Infected bees leave the hive altruistically

July 22, 2013

From: Digital Journal


By Tim Sandle

Scientists have established that sick and infected bees leave  their hives voluntarily, as an act of altruism, rather than being driven out by  the healthy bee population.


Scientists were unsure whether honeybees infected with fungi – a growing  infectious problem – left the hive through altruism or were driven out by  other bees, with the healthy bees sensing that the infected bees were sick. This  creates so-termed ‘zombie bees‘.


To show this, the scientists first established the the bees infected with  either the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, or the fungus Nosema  ceranae, underwent a change. For this they noted changes to the chemical  profile of the skin and in the brains of infected bees.


It was noted that hydrocarbons on the  cuticle of bees provide a ‘family’ scent allowing bees from the same hive to  recognize each other. The levels of these chemicals was altered by infection.  However, the healthy bees did not drive the infected bees from the hive.  Instead, the parasitized bees soon left of their own accord (ultimately to go  away and to die) in order to protect other members of the hive from becoming  infected.

Altruism is a term to describe the  principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others. It tends to whip up  considerable debate in relation to people (philosophically, economically,  socially and so on). With a few types of insects, however, altruistic behavior is more clear  cut and it appears, from the new research, that there is a new dimension in  relation to bees.

The research was carried out by the  INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) and the findings have  been published  in the journal BMC Ecology. The paper is titled ” Ecto- and endoparasite induce  similar chemical and brain neurogenomic responses in the honey bee (Apis  mellifera).”

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