Have you ever heard of a carnivorous bumblebee?
Neither have I. But according to the Independent, they exist, and they’re known as “vulture bees.”
Due to the intense competition for nectar, some bees throughout the tropics have developed guts that resemble vultures, which leads them to only eat flesh instead of pollen. These vulture bees are stingless bees that have experienced bacterial changes in their guts.
Honeybees, bumblebees, and stingless bees typically have the same five core microbes in their guts; most have been retained for 80 million years. However, in these tropical bees, many ancestral microbes have been lost. This has led the bees to enter into novel associations with acid-loving microbes found in vultures that feed on dead flesh.
University of California (UC) Riverside entomologist Doug Yanega stated the following:
“These are the only bees in the world that have evolved to use food sources not produced by plants, which is a pretty remarkable change in dietary habits.”
Researchers discovered these bees by setting up baits made of raw chicken, smeared with petroleum jelly to block ants. Scientists found the vulture bees attracted to the meat used their hind legs to collect the flesh the same way they use them to collect pollen. The gut bacteria of the flesh-eating bees were compared to those that only eat pollen. And the most extreme changes were found in the meat-eaters, who they discovered had the gut bacteria Lactobacillus (found in fermented food) and Carnobacterium (associated with flesh digestion).
Dr. Quinn McFrederick advised the following:
“The vulture bee microbiome is enriched in acid-loving bacteria, which are novel bacteria that their relatives don’t have.”
“These bacteria are similar to ones found in actual vultures, as well as hyenas and other carrion-feeders, presumably to help protect them from pathogens that show up on carrion.”
Although these vulture bees feed on meat, they still store honey. The meat and honey are stored in separate chambers, sometimes up to two weeks before accessing them.
Until Next Time…
Photo Credit: CNN
Sankaran, V. (2021, November 25). Scientists perplexed by flesh-eating ‘vulture bees’ that have quit pollen to feed on dead bodies. Independent. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/flesh-eating-vulture-bees-chicken-b1964028.html.