That’s according to new research from the University of Guelph and published Wednesday in PLOS One.
“Workers collected feces in our manure piles throughout the study; we also observed them searching for feces in a nearby chicken coop,” the researchers wrote, noting that worker bees sometimes used soap suds and, on one occasion, human urine. .
Using poop as a defense tactic
The team surveyed 72 beekeepers in late August, when killer wasp attacks are frequent. Of those beekeepers, five kept colonies of only Western bees, and those keepers did not see the mounds of poop in their hives, the study says.
But of the remaining 67 beekeepers, who raised eastern bees, 63 of them reported spots on the front of their hives. Beekeepers averaged 15 colonies per keeper, and keepers reported seeing the poop spots in an average of 74 percent of their colonies. The poop mounds appeared after the killer wasp attacks, and the researchers determined they were a response to the attacks.
And it worked: The researchers found that colonies with a large to moderate amount of stool had a reduced chance of being attacked, the researchers said.
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“This study demonstrates a pretty remarkable trait that these bees have to fend off a really terrible predator,” said Heather Mattila, lead author of the study, in a statement.
North American honey bees don’t have the same defenses. This is the first research to report that these eastern bee workers seek out and use animal feces to defend themselves, and the team stated that there is no evidence that bees use poop for much else.
But western bees, those found in North America, are not as prepared for attacks by killer wasps as their counterparts in the east.
“They haven’t had a chance to develop defenses,” Mattila said.
“It’s like getting into a war cold.”
And killer hornets, native to Asia, have recently arrived in North America. Last month, entomologists with the Washington State Department of Agriculture destroyed a killer wasp nest they had located in October and discovered about 200 queens inside, each capable of producing its own nests.
What makes killer hornets so dangerous is that, as their name suggests, they essentially kill the honey bees and their nests, wreaking havoc by killing the entire hive in just a few hours.
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Since honey bees, through pollination, play an important role in our environment and are already disappearing, killer wasps are especially dangerous.