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Worker piping triggers hissing for coordinated colony defence in the dwarf honeybee Apis florea

Sarma, Moushumi Sen and Fuchs, Stefan and Werber, Christian and Tautz, Jürgen (2002) Worker piping triggers hissing for coordinated colony defence in the dwarf honeybee Apis florea. In: Zoology, 105 (3). pp. 215-223.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1078/0944-2006-00064


Defending a large social insect colony containing several thousands of workers requires the simultaneous action of many individuals. Ideally this action involves communication between the workers, enabling coordinated action and a fast response. The Asian dwarf honeybee, Apis florea, is a small honeybee with an open nesting habit and a comparatively small colony size, features that leave them particularly exposed to predators. We describe here a novel defence response of these bees in which the emission of an initial warning signal from one individual (“piping”) is followed 0.3 to 0.7 seconds later by a general response from a large number of bees (“hissing”). Piping is audible to the human ear, with a fundamental frequency of 384 ± 31Hz and lasting for 0.82 ± 0.35 seconds. Hissing is a broad band, noisy signal, clearly audible to the human observer and produced by slight but visible movements of the bees' wings. Hissing begins in individuals close to the piping bee, spreads rapidly to neighbours and results in an impressive coordinated crescendo occasionally involving the entire colony. Piping and hissing are accompanied by a marked decrease, or even cessation, of worker activities such as forager dancing and departures from the colony. We show that whereas hissing of the colony can be elicited without piping, the sequential and correlated piping and hissing response is specific to the presence of potential predators close to the colony. We suggest that the combined audio-visual effect of the hissing might deter small predators, while the cessation of flight activity could decrease the risk of predation by birds and insects which prey selectively on flying bees.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to Elsevier Science.
Keywords: Apis florea;colony defence;worker piping;hissing;alarm communication
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Ms V Mangala
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2011 06:19
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2011 06:19
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/39665

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