Captured on video: Bees pipe out alarms to warn of “murder hornet” attacks

Wellesley College researchers have identified a sound that Asian honeybees use to warn the hive of a “murder hornet” attack.

Asian honeybees (Apis cerana) produce a unique alarm sound to alert hive members to an attack by giant “murder hornets,” according to a new paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. For the first time, scientists at Wellesley College have documented these so-called “anti-predator pipes,” which serve as clarion calls to the hive members to initiate defensive maneuvers. You can hear a sampling in the (rather disturbing) video, embedded above, of bees under a hornet attack.

“The [antipredator] 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,” said co-author Heather Mattila of Wellesley College, who said the alarm signals gave her chills when she first heard them. “It feels like a universal experience.”

As I’ve written previously, so-called murder hornets rocketed to infamy after November 2019, when a beekeeper in Blaine, Washington, named Ted McFall, was horrified to discover thousands of tiny mutilated bodies littering the ground—an entire colony of his honeybees had been brutally decapitated. The culprit: the Asian giant hornet species Vespa mandarinia, native to Southeast Asia and parts of the Russian Far East. Somehow, these so-called “murder hornets” had found their way to the Pacific Northwest, where they now pose a dire ecological threat to North American honeybee populations. 

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