One of the strangest battles in the natural world has been the war between killer hornets and honey bees. The large hornets invade the honey bees’ hives, carry off the bee larvae, and feed them to their offspring. Scientists are seeing bees develop a defense against killer hornets.
This battle has been going on in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal for some time. In 2019, the killer hornets arrived in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Beekeepers are desperately trying to find the killer hornet nests and destroy them. One of the problems they face is that a single hornet sting delivers about seven times as much venom as a bee sting, so encounters with them can be very painful.
Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada have found that the bees develop a defense against killer hornets in Vietnam. The bees collect buffalo dung and pack it around the entrances to their hives. The animal feces reduced hornet intrusions by 94%. The honey bees did not use the dung until hornets started invading, and it surprised people who work with the bees. Because beehives are ideal places for disease to grow, bees are very careful about allowing any contamination of their hives. Any attempt to give an evolutionary explanation to this defense system by the bees is doomed because there has not been enough time for any behavioral changes to occur.
Because they can travel great distances by various methods, it is not surprising that insects from one geographical region will show up in a different area. When they do, it creates a problem because they don’t have predators to control them. Fire ants have caused problems in the United States for some time, and African bees are becoming problematic. It appears that the knowledge to use feces to repel their mortal enemies is built into the honey bee’s DNA. Scientists are trying to understand whether it is the smell or natural chemicals that keeps the hornets away. One thing is clear. The bees have a tool they know how to use.
When we see how bees develop a defense against killer hornets, it reminds us that living things are designed to preserve life. The intelligence of the living system is strong evidence of God’s creative ability. The next time you enjoy honey, remember that it is not just the honey itself that God has given you, but also the protection built into the honey bees who produced it.
— John N. Clayton © 2020