Mention foraging bees and most people will photo bugs flitting from flower to flower in look for of nectar. But in the jungles of Central and South America, “vulture bees” have formulated a style for decaying flesh.
They are “the weirdos of the bee entire world,” suggests insect biologist Jessica Maccaro of the University of California, Riverside. Most bees are vegetarian.
Researchers have puzzled around why the stingless buzzers seem to like rotting carcasses to nectar (SN: 2/11/04). Now, Maccaro and colleagues believe they have cracked the riddle by hunting into the bees’ guts.
Vulture bees (Trigona spp.) have a lot a lot more acid-creating intestine germs than their vegetarian counterparts do, Maccaro and colleagues report November 23 in mBio. And those people micro organism are the similar forms that safeguard carrion feeders this kind of as vultures and hyenas from receiving ill on rotting meat.
To probe the bees’ insides, Maccaro’s colleagues trekked into a Costa Rican jungle. Since vulture bees feed on practically any dead animal, which include lizards and snakes, the scientists minimize up store-bought rooster and suspended the raw flesh from tree branches. To discourage ants, the workforce smeared petroleum jelly on the string that the meat dangled from.
“The amusing detail is we’re all vegetarians,” claims entomologist Quinn McFrederick, also of UC Riverside. “It was sort of gross for us to cut up the hen.” That gross component promptly intensified in the heat, humid jungle: The meat rotted, turning slimy and stinky.
Bees took the bait inside of a day. As the scavengers stopped by to dine, the researchers trapped about 30 bees. The staff also captured a further 30 or so of two other styles of area bees — one particular that feeds on only bouquets and a single type that dines on the two flowers and rotting meat. All bees ended up saved in alcohol-loaded vials to protect the insects’ DNA for examination, as perfectly as the DNA of any gut microbes.
Strictly meat-ingesting bees had concerning 30 per cent and 35 p.c much more acid-developing gut bacteria than strictly vegetarian bees and the kinds that in some cases take in meat, the team found. Some types of these microbes showed up only in the only carnivorous bees.
Very similar acid-producing germs in the guts of vultures and hyenas continue to keep toxin-creating microbes in rotting meat from producing the animals sick. The microbes possibly do the exact for the meat-ingesting bees, the team says.
The wellbeing advantage extends over and above unique bees, says David Roubik, an evolutionary ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Exploration Institute in Balboa, Panama, who was not associated in the get the job done. Vulture bees regurgitate some of the meat they consume, storing it in their nests where it serves as food items for young bees. Some of the acid-loving intestine microbes conclude up in this foodstuff reserve, Roubik states. “Otherwise, damaging microorganisms would destroy the food and release sufficient harmful toxins to kill the colony.”
In the conclusion, Maccaro says, it is hard to know which developed 1st — the intestine micro organism or the bees’ capability to try to eat meat. But the bees in all probability very first turned to meat mainly because there was so much competitors for nectar for foods, she suspects.