Warrior Bees vs Hornets

Honeybees are well known for their defense when it comes to protecting their colonies and food stockpile. Defense can take many forms from physical, chemical, or behavioral (Gruter, Jongepier, Foitzik, 2017), and honeybees utilize several strategies to defend their colonies and their geographical space against predatory pressures such as the one from hornets (Seeley, Seeley, Akratanakul, 1982; Breed, Guzman-Novoa, & Hunt, 2004; Barrachi, Cusseau, Pradella, Turillazzi, 2010). Hornets hunt for insects to feed offspring that demand a continuous source of fresh prey, which can be provided in abundance by the resources in a honeybee colony (Monceau, Maher, Bonnard, Thiery, 2017). Hornets have larger bodies than the victim’s, and they have strong mandibles which they use for crushing, dismembering, and masticating their prey. In addition, they have a venomous sting and are armored to avoid stings themselves (Koeniger et al. 1996). Hornets have no difficulty attacking honeybees whether on the ground, near the entrance of the hive, or hawking the bees from the air as long as their goal is achieved – debilitation or death of the colony (Barrachi et al. 2010).

On the other hand, honeybees utilize different strategies to protect the colony.  The most common defense strategy observed is a small entrance that will not allow large-body predators to enter when bees are protected behind enclosed walls, and guards are in place to monitor the entrance. Bees may also use a synchronized body shaking or wave-like movement as a warning sign when hornets approach (Koeniger et al. 1996) or they may produce hissing or buzzing sounds in response to predators. An excellent strategy employed by many bee species is killing hornets by overheating and suffocating individual attackers in a ball of bees (Seeley et al. 1982; Koeniger et al. 1996; Ken et al. 2005). Hornets, to have a successful attack, may chemically mark the hive with pheromones, and after recruiting, through unknown means, up to 50 hornets, they attack the bees by grabbing and killing them one after another (Matsuura, Sakagami, 1973). The slaughter-like behavior of the hornets allows them, within a few hours, to kill thousands of bees, occupy the hive, and plunder the cells with the brood and food. To deal with this type of attack, honeybees collect and smear plant-based materials around the hive’s entrance, which will interfere with pheromones deposited by hornet scouts (Fujiwara, Sasaki, Washitani, 2016, 2018).


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