1 June 2010
As reported in ArticleAnt, a free news publishing service, toxic or venomous animals like bumblebees, are often brightly coloured to tell would-be predators to keep away. Research by Lars Chittka & Ralph Stelzer in the SBCS and colleagues from Royal Holloway have found that bees' warnings could be more sophisticated that just their distinctive black and yellow stripes: it could be linked to their shape, flight pattern or buzzing sound. Ralph says, “The first time a bird tries to eat a bumblebee can be a painful experience, not only for the bee but also for the bird, since the bee will use its sting to defend itself. It has been shown that birds are able to associate the characteristic colour patterns of the bees with this negative experience and avoid them in the future.” Lars continues, “At the moment it is unknown if birds will only avoid prey that are extremely similar to items that they have experienced as noxious, or whether they will form broad categories by shape, flight behaviour and sound, which would not give native bumblebees in any location a particular advantage.” The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the German Research Foundation.