Thanks to the tons of money being invested in finding out more about the little insect responsible for every third bite of food we eat, there are now regular scientific discoveries made about honeybees. One recent discovery was news even to many beekeepers, who used to describe this behavior as "grooming."
Honeybees Don't Just Sting
Turns out honeybees aren't being fashionable or fastidious; they not only sting but they can also bite. I wondered what some of my bees were doing earlier this summer when I opened a hive to find them "rolling" a wax moth larvae away from the hive entrance. I had read that healthy hives can protect themselves from these invaders and assumed bees were stinging the larvae. After several bees converged on the wax moth larvae, I noticed none of the bees were dying.
A bee can only sting once, then dies.
Although the bees were still moving, the wax moth larvae had stopped. The bees were then able to roll it off the edge of the hive. Now I know the bees were biting the wax moth larvae. Researchers have discovered that honeybees use their tiny mandibles to paralyze victims with a snake-like venom. The secretion left by the bite was found to be similar to Lidocaine, the dominant local anesthetic used in humans and other mammals. Like a snake bite, the secretion contains a natural anesthetic that paralyzes the victim for 6-10 minutes so the pest can be dragged out of the hive. The finding could help scientists develop ways to help bees fight off viruses that are affecting the wider bee population.
Dr Max Watkins, a former researcher at Cardiff University, said the anesthetic may not only help honeybees fend off pests such as wax moths and the parasitic varroa mites, but it also has great potential for human use.
“Firstly, the revelation that honeybees can bite enemies that they cannot sting confounds some existing ideas and adds significantly to our biological knowledge. “Secondly, the discovery of a highly effective natural anesthetic with huge potential will be of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry eager to develop better local anesthetics.”
The natural anesthetic is 2-heptanone, a compound found in many foods.
It is also secreted by certain insects but never before understood to have anesthetic properties. Until recently, research seemed to indicate that 2-heptanone was either a honeybee alarm pheromone that triggers defensive responses, or a chemical marker signaling to other foraging bees that a flower had already been visited. The compound is found naturally in many foods such as beer and white bread, and is so safe that USDA allows it as a food additive.
That's a bear of a discovery!