Honeybees found using tools, in a first—to repel giant hornet attacks

In Vietnam, Asian honeybees use feces to ward off the cousins of “murder hornets." The finding could help protect bees in other countries with invasive wasps.

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Asian honeybees have evolved a variety of tricks to ward off attacks from giant hornets.

In East Asia, honeybees must contend with never-ending attacks by a formidable foe: giant hornets. These predators pick off individual bees, but also stage group invasions of hives. In a brutal onslaught, these large wasps first decapitate every bee they encounter, then occupy the hive and take their time devouring the bees’ larvae.

To defend themselves against hornets, Asian honeybees have evolved various creative tactics, such as swarming invaders with hot “bee balls,” roasting them to death.

But in new research from Vietnam, scientists have discovered an even stranger bee trick: Coating the hive entrance in animal dung.

This “fecal spotting” not only repels giant hornets—it’s the first clear example of tool use in honeybees, says Heather Mattila, an entomologist at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and co-author of the study, published December 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Before this study, researchers had not investigated what caused the black marks often seen covering beehive entrances in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Mattila and colleagues verified that the dark material is actually feces of various animals, such as chickens and...

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