Australian Bee Fights Like an Egyptian—It Mummifies Beetle Intruders

By Andrew Moseman | December 17, 2009 6:12 pm

stinglessbees425Trigona carbonaria is a bee without a stinger, one of the 10 or so out of 2,000 Australian bee species to lack the feature. This doesn’t appear to have been any concern… at least not until the hive beetle Aethina tumida showed up. This invasive insect may have reached the island continent along with a flock of athletes during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and as the name suggests, it like to invade beehives. But it hasn’t been very successful in this case, thanks to creative defensive tactics by the bees.

Since the worker can’t sting, they instead make the beetles into mummies. Workers swarm to the approaching beetle, which adopts the turtle defense–tucking in its head and legs, according to researcher Mark Greco, whose team used CT scans to see the action inside the hive. Then the construction onslaught starts. From BBC News:

This gives the bees an opportunity to mummify their enemy, which they do by coating the invasive parasites in resin, wax and mud.

“The beetles remain in position and eventually starve and shrivel on the spot,” Mr Greco told BBC Earth News.

Within 10 minutes, Greco says, the bee flurry repulses the beetle attack and saves the colony.

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Image: Mark K. Greco

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