Stingerless bees practice brutal siege warfare that can last months, researchers say
Lacking a stinger doesn’t make Australian “sugarbag bees” less likely to fight and kill to protect their hives, IFL Science reported.
“Neither the attacker nor defender survives in these one-on-one death battles, during which a carpet of dead and dying bees can be seen on the ground,” Queensland University of Technology lead researcher Paul Cunningham said. “It is a sheer numbers game as to who wins.”
Cunningham’s team monitored 250 hives belonging to the species, known as Tetragonula carbonaria, during a five-year period. During that time, they found 46 battles took place with other groups from either the same species or a similar group, Tetragonula hockingsi.
Instead of stingers, Cunningham said, the bees battled by locking jaws, locking their opponents in a “death grip.” In one instance, the hockingsi bees won out after a fight spanning months.
“When they eventually broke through the defences, they smothered the hive in a huge swarm, mercilessly ejecting the resident workers, drones and young queens,” he said in a statement. “It was carnage!”
Following the pyrrhic victory, the hockingsi installed a new queen for the hive — the daughter of their colony’s queen when the attack began.
“We still have many questions to answer,” he added. “Such as what instigates the attacks, and whether the young in the usurped hive are spared and reared as slaves, or killed outright.”