You know when something is so good that you lie to everyone about it just so that you can keep it all to yourself? No. Me neither. Who would do a thing like that? That’s madness.
But whereas I would absolutely share any Jaffa Cakes I had in my kitchen with anyone who happened to pop by (and would absolutely not tell them that I didn’t have any, when I knew they were really stashed behind the old sandwich toaster under the sink), one species of honeybee has reportedly been found to play quite a similar trick on bees in competing hives.
Honey, Honey, Honey: The hive mind in action (Wix)
It’s a well-known (but no less incredible) fact that forager bees—that is, honeybees whose job it is in the hive to locate new feeding and nesting sites—communicate the location of their most recent discoveries to their fellow bees using a sequence of movements known as a “waggle dance”.
These “dances” tell the bees both the distance and angle from the sun the that new find is located. Once that information has been successfully communicated, the rest of the bees can fly off and reap the pollen-rich rewards.
But in a 2017 study of bees’ waggle dances in Hungary, researchers found that the notoriously wily (and aptly-named) mimic bee, Apis mellimimicus, uses its dance to not only tell its own hive of prime bee real estate, but to tell competing hives entirely duff information.
It was already known before the study began that mimic bees had a habit for invading neighbouring hives and raiding their supplies. But the Hungarian researchers found that the forager bees in neighbouring mimic bee hives took this invasive behaviour one step further.
By tracking the movements of forager bees in two adjacent hives and then recording the “dances” they performed when they returned home, the researchers found that in roughly two-fifths of their return trips, the mimic foragers would perform an accurate dance for their own hives, and then fly next door to their neighbours’ hive and perform essentially the same dance in reverse—directing the bees in the competing hive to a site in completely the wrong direction.
Quite why the bees felt the need to do this—and why they only did so after around two-fifths of their return trips—is unknown. One theory claims that the richer the find the forager bees have made, the more likely they are to attempt to throw rival bees off the scent. While another theory claims that this somewhat shady practice might only be called upon when times are especially hard, and decent food supplies are few and far between.
Whatever the reason, it’s all shockingly bad bee-haviour. (Sorry...)