Last year Americans became familiar with the nightmarish Vespa mandarinia; a.k.a. the Asian giant hornet. Of course, more commonly known as the “murder” hornet. But while murder hornets are undoubtedly freaky, when honeybees are ticked off at them, the much smaller flying insects can unleash “antipredatory screams” that will make your hair stand on end. The screams also help the bees call for aid like some kind of Gondor made for ants?!
Gizmodo reported on the horrific antipredatory honeybee screams, which researchers have recorded for the first time ever. The researchers, who published an analysis of the screams in the journal Royal Society Open Science, have been studying interactions between Asian honeybees and Vespa soror, another type of giant murder hornet, in Vietnam for over seven years.
In the video above the honeybees demonstrate their screams. The bees create the screams, or “antipredatory pipes,” by vibrating their wings or thorax in a harsh and irregular fashion. The result is a cacophony of screeching noises that shift abruptly in frequency. And kind of sound like a squad of Formula One cars constantly shifting gears.
“The [antipredatory pipes] share traits in common with a lot of mammalian alarm signals, so as a mammal hearing them, there’s something that is instantly recognizable as communicating danger,” Wellesley College associate professor of biological sciences and lead author of the study Heather Mattila said in a EurekaAlert! press release. “It feels like a universal experience,” Mattila added.
As for why the honeybees scream? It’s not, surprisingly, to send the murder hornets packing. Instead, Matilla et al. say that it’s a distress signal. One that the bees use to warn their peers of the arrival of the invading hornets. The screams are also a clarion call for bee backup, and the initiation of a key defense against the hornets: spreading animal dung around colony entrances. Which sounds effective, but a lot less romantic than deploying the Rohirrim.