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New research results have made a big impact on the image of bees working hard to make honey. In a new report published on mBio, the scientists describe these strange groups of bees “Cut every fiber on the corpses of creatures in tropical forests“. And because they have to digest raw meat, these bees possess gut bacteria similar to those that normally live in the intestines of hyenas and vultures. That’s why biologists use the name “vulture bees” to describe tiny winged creatures.
A bee of the genus Trigona, which includes several species of carnivorous bees.
According to the report authors, the majority of bees can be described as “Wasps live a vegetarian life“. But in history, scientists have twice witnessed bumblebees extract meat from carrion. The events of 1758 and 1837 showed that communities of rotten bees coexisted with pollen bees, but these were only cases.”facultatively necrophage‘, not like vulture bees.obligated necrophage – obligate necrophage, because this particular bee only eats meat.
Entomologist Filippo Silvestri first identified individual vulture bees in 1902 while studying a variety of bee communities. However, at this time, no one calls them “vulture bees” because scientists do not know their full-meat diet. Filippo Silvestri gave the bee the scientific name Trigona hypogea.
Until 1982, entomologist David Roubik continued to monitor Trigona hypogea hives and discovered that instead of collecting pollen, these animals get their nutrition from dead animal carcasses; Meat of lizards, monkeys, snakes, fish and birds are all on the vulture bee’s menu. Bees that detect the location of the carcass will release a pheromone trail that guides the bees and swarm to get the meat. Within 8 hours, bees will swarm the corpse to extract nutrients.
Trigona hypogea is eating a lizard carcass.
Vulture bees often enter carrion through the eye, a passage similar to maggots. Professor Roubik’s report describes the efficient scavenging process of the bees: the lizard’s carcass was left with only dry bones after 2 days; or in another case, it took only eight hours for the bees to remove the feathers and flesh of a dead sparrow; The speed of eating two frogs of the bees is about 6 hours.
Because vulture bees eat meat instead of pollen, these insects have a special design of hind legs; Their “chalk basket” is no longer like their buzzing brothers.
The bees directly absorb the meat right at the carcass, then store a little “solid meat soup” to bring back to the hive. Mr. Roubik hypothesized: once back to the shelter, bees will convert this meat soup into nutritious seeds to store in the nest cavity. “Considering that meat will rot and is not suitable for long-term storage, changing the state of food is paramount in storage.“, said Mr. Roubik. In 1996, another group of researchers hypothesized that vulture bees store meat directly in their nests.
Figure A shows the “teeth” of Trigona hypogea, figure B shows the vulture bee’s hind limb.
At present, entomologists distinguish three groups of vulture bees that derive protein from carcasses: Trigona hypogea, Trigona crassipes, and Trigona necrophages. They are all species of bees without stingers, but vulture bees still possess 5 sharp, large teeth and are able to bite.
“These are the only bees in the world that have evolved to utilize non-vegetable sources of nutrients, which is a remarkable process of dietary change.‘, said entomologist Doug Yanega. He and his team thought that vulture bees would have the same gut bacteria as other meat-eating species, so they conducted further research.
The team obtained adult vulture bees from La Selva and Las Cruces, Costa Rica. To lure the bees, they use fresh chicken that hangs from tree branches. The ropes that hang the chickens are impregnated with kerosene-based lubricants, preventing ants from interfering with the research process.
Chicken bait was used in the study.
Besides the vulture bees, the team also collected a number of bees that both collect pollen and eat meat, and they also take back bees that only take pollen for honey.
They found that the vulture bees’ intestines contained large amounts of Lactobacillus bacteria, which are commonly found in fermented foods. In the intestines of bees also appear Carnobacterium bacteria, which have the ability to consume raw meat.
“The guts of vulture bees are rich in acidophilic bacteria, microorganisms that do not exist in their relatives,” said study co-author Quinn McFrederick. “These bacteria are similar to those found in vultures, hyenas and some other scavengers, presumably helping to protect individuals from meat-borne pathogens.i”. In further studies, the team will learn about fungi and viruses present in vulture bees.
Although the hind legs of the vulture bees no longer have large pollen baskets, they still have special receptacles used to store chewed chickens. “They carry small buckets of chickens with them,” said researcher McFrederick.
According to ArsTechnica
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