Startled honeybees give a little ‘whoop’

Every few seconds a honeybee hive will let out a little ‘whoop’.

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Researchers measuring vibrational pulses in honeybees

Recent research has shed new insight into this vibrational pulse emitted by honeybees, scientists have concluded they ‘whoop’ when surprised!

Once thought to initiate food-giving behavior, the vibration is most widely accepted as the ‘stop signal’, directed at bees advertising a particular foraging site through their ‘waggle dance’.

To delve deeper, scientists at Nottingham Trent University conducted long-term monitoring of the bees in their hive using accelerometers placed within the honeycomb.

“Our research has enabled us to tap into the unique and majorly unexplored vibrational universe of such an interesting insect,” said researcher Michael Ramsey.

Vibrations were much more frequent than expected, with six to seven every minute from just one small area of the hive.

Listen for yourself:

© New Scientist 

They were also more common at night, at a time when bees are not generally performing waggle dances to initiate food foraging.

Through the use of camera imaging and finding that the vibrational signals were produced on mass if the hive was shaken, researchers decided the tiny whoops are produced solely out of surprise.

“Evidence strongly suggests that it is an unintentional response to an unexpected stimulus,” said Martin Bencsik, lead author of the honeybee study.

An installation at Kew Gardens with accelerometers in beehives allows visitors to hear the live signals for themselves.

“I am delighted to be involved in work that promotes people to marvel at the honeybee,” said Bencsik.

“The honeybee does marvellous things, we tend to be amazed that such a small insect can be capable of such sophistication.”

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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