Social Distancing is now seen even in HoneybeesReading Time: 2 minutes, 31 seconds Post Views: 1326
Honeybees show the characteristic of social distancing, just like us during COVID-19. This happens when their hive is susceptible to threats from the parasite. The fascinating behaviour was found in a new study done by a team of researchers at UCL & University of Sassari, Italy.
The study was published in Science Advances, which demonstrated the response of honeybee colonies when they were infested with a harmful mite. Where, by modifying the usage of space & interactions among nestmates, they increased the distance between the old and young bees.
Dr. Alessandro Cini at UCL Biosciences said that “Honeybees are social animals, which get benefitted by dividing responsibilities and interactions like mutual grooming. But, when such social activities can pose the risk of infection, the bees seem to have evolved a mechanism of social distancing, to balance the benefits & risks.”
Examples of social distancing can be seen among animals of very different species, which are separated by the evolution of over a million years. Ranging from ants infected with pathogenic fungi to baboons with gastrointestinal infections.
This new study assessed, if the residence of ectoparasite mite Varroa destructor in the colonies of honeybees, induces a change in their social organisation. In order to reduce the outspread of the parasite inside the hive. Varroa mite is among the major stress factors that can affect honeybees. It causes various harmful effects on bees, at both colony and individual levels, including virus transmission.
The colonies of honeybees are organised into 2 main compartments. Where the outer is inhabited by foragers and the inner is inhabited by the queen, brood, and nurses. This kind of spatial arrangement leads to low-frequency interactions between both the compartments and thereby facilitates the protection of the most valuable like the queen, brood, and babies from the outside environment. Therefore, even with the arrival of diseases.
With the help of comparing colonies, which were not and were infested by Varroa mites, one behaviour was found by researchers. The process of foraging dances occurred less frequently in central areas of the hive, after being infested, as it can increase mite transmission. Moreover, they even found that grooming behaviours were more prominent in the central hive. As per researchers, older bees or foragers move towards the periphery of the hive, whereas, the groomer bees move closer to the centre, in regards to an infestation, to build distance between 2 groups.
The lead author of the research said, “The observation of increased social distance between the bee groups, infested by the same parasite, represents a new aspect about how honeybees have undergone evolution to fight parasites and pathogens.”
“The ability to adapt social structure along with reducing contact among themselves in response to an infection threat, allows them to increase their benefits of social interactions, wherever possible, and minimise the risk of disease threat when required.”
With this research, honeybee colonies give us an ideal model to study social distancing behaviour and fully understand the effectiveness and value of the same.