Can bees hear? Most people have probably never even considered such a question. Can bees hear each other, beekeepers, humans, animals or the world around them? Learning the answer to such a question can go a long way towards better understanding bees in general. In fact, such knowledge would be of incalculable benefit to beekeepers, backyard hobbyists and commercial beekeepers alike.
While many experts and scientists have conducted experiments on the subject, most research and theories come up as inconclusive and/or theoretical.Most research suggests that bees might, “hear,” but not in an analogous way that human beings hear a sound. Bees can probably sense the fluttering body motions of another bee, sensing sound waves and noise vibrations, in a process called vibroacoustics.
Although such research has yet to be definitively confirmed, it is important to know the answer to the question: Can bees hear?
Learning this answer could significantly increase current levels of honey cultivation and agriculture yields. While fears of the bee dying out are as dire as the source queried about it, learning if bees can hear can tell us a lot about how bees communicate, socialize, work and find plants to pollinate. Learning the answer to this question may humans learn how to protect bees from dying out. Such information would be invaluable to beekeepers and securing global levels of food supplies for the foreseeable future.
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Can Bees Hear – Why It's Important To Know
Understanding if bees can hear in any capacity may be vitally important to the continued existence of human beings and global food supplies. Human beings and the bee are irrevocably interconnected in ways that are hard to quantify in simplistic or understated terms.
If one were to dig deep and investigate enough, you could uncover links between global food security, for humans and animals alike, and the continued prosperous pollinations and human colonization practices of the bee.
According to some official estimates, there are over 211,000 beekeeper hobbyists plying their craft in the United States. Commercial beekeepers may number over 5,000 in population. Meanwhile, there are about 3 million bee colonies being attended to by commercial and hobbyist beekeepers alike. Americans alone probably consume over a pound of honey every single year.
Although the human race owes a lot of thanks to bees for access to honey, in fact, humanity should be thankful to bees for making plant agriculture as we know it possible. Over 80% of all crop pollination that occurs on planet Earth is due to activity from honey bees. A third of all food consumed in the human diet comes via the direct or indirect pollination of plant life by bees.
Did you know that the almond is one of many plant products that entirely depends on the bee for existence? Without the bee, there would be no almonds, blueberries, apples, avocados or a multitude of other fruits and vegetables. Global cattle populations also depend on animal feed derived from plants that are pollinated by bees.
Consider how much more efficiently beekeepers could colonize bees or how humanity could better secure food supplies if we better understood how bees communicate with each other. We could understand the behavior of bees a lot better if we knew that they could, in fact, hear each other.
A Brief Background on Bees
Can bees hear? To better understand that question may take a little digging into the background of bees in general.
The bee as we know it today is probably a direct evolutionary descendant of the wasp. This evolutionary off-shoot of the bee from wasp lineage probably occurred over 125 million years ago. A prehistoric version of the wasp which is a parasitic carnivore may have pollinated for means of survival. This change in behavior gave evolutionary rise to the bee that we know today.
There are probably over 4000 genealogical species of bees in the Americas alone. All the way from Canada, the United States and then down to Mexico. About 25,000 species of bees have been categorically identified in the world. All told, there may be yet another 40,000 unknown and unidentified species of bees in the world yet to be discovered and categorized.
In the hierarchy of the beehive, bees are female and male and separated by caste designations: the drone, worker bee, and the queen.
Queen bees and worker bees are female while drone bees are male. Drone bees primarily exist to mate with the queen. The queen bee lays eggs in the hive that gives birth to drones and worker bees. A queen bee could lay as many as 2,000 eggs on an average day.
Worker bees forage for nectar outside of the hive, storing it in their stomachs. The worker bee also collects water for the hive to dilute collected honey and nectar. As worker bees buzz about flowers and plant life in general, pollen accumulates on its body and wings and is then dispersed from flower to flower as the bee flies about.
Inside the hive worker, bees use wax to build 8-sided or hexagonal cell cavities in which the queen lays its eggs for future drones and worker bees to be birthed from.
Bees use smell and the triggered release of pheromones to communicate with other. The release of faint pheromones by a queen can indicate that a new queen has to be introduced to the hive. Worked related and food location messages between worker bees inside and outside the hive can relay via pheromones. Danger and imminent threats are also communicated between bees by pheromone release, which can result in a stinging swarm attack.
While this is a truncated and overly simplistic background summation of bees in general, it does provide an insight into how collaborative, communicative and community-oriented bees are within the hive ecosystem.
Which gives rise to the question again: can bees hear? How can bees interact so intelligently with each other, exist for over 125 million years and continually propagate its own species without the benefit of the sense of hearing?
Speaking of which, it may help to consider the senses that bees are believed to possess.
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Bees and Their Senses
While the jury may be out on whether or not bees can hear, science is pretty sure that bees communicate with each other via sense stimulation of certain parts and organs. Bees primarily use their senses to detect food, relay the location of food to other bees and to announce instances of danger. In particular, the bee is known to use its antennae and body hairs to make sense of and navigate the world.
Believe it or not, bees use their antennae to smell. The bee uses its extraordinarily sensitive sense of smell to search for food and to locate other bees. Its antennae are also used to gauge distances and to calculate the dimensions of its world.
Bees have tongues and taste buds like humans through its sense of taste is not on par with its sense of smell.
The bee's sense of vibration is stimulated via its hairs. Allegedly, bees are very familiar with the vibrational frequency of other bees and its immediate surroundings. A bee may panic when it encounters, or, “hears,” a vibrational frequency with which it is unfamiliar.
As mentioned before, bees probably hear through a process called vibroacoustic communication, where it senses sound waves and vibrations with its body in the closest human analogy comparable to hearing.
So, if bees theoretically use sound waves and vibrations to, “hear,” then what do they use this sense for and to what end?
What Do Bees Use Their Hearing For?
Bees utilize what is known as “waggle dancing,” where it buzzes and flits about in a rhythmic fashion to vibroacoustically communicate with other bees. Scientists and researchers have recorded bees doing the waggle dance with ultra-sensitive microphones and observed their behavior to come to such conclusions.
The way that humans hear and interpret sound particles traveling in the air with their ears, bees, “dance,” wiggle about and flap their wings in ways familiar to other bees. Bees can sense such sound waves and vibrations as a form of hearing with their bodies.
Most research postulates that vibroacoustic communication, the process by which a bear hears by using its body to sense sound waves and vibrations, is used by bees for intra-colony communication and to relay estimated directions and location of nearby food sources. Vibroacoustic communication is also used by worker bees to guide other bees traveling to food sources accurately.
So now that we are pretty sure that bees can hear each other through vibroacoustic communication. Can bees hear? Probably so, though not in the same fashion that humans hear sounds or sense vibrations. The next questions are why is this information important or relevant?
Along with protecting the viability of global food supplies and enhancing beekeeper knowledge, learning such information may help humans learn how to prevent bees from dying out and becoming extinct. Consider that statistically, bees pollinate the financial equivalent of over 15 billion dollars in crops in the United States on an annual basis.
Also consider that from 2016 to 2017, commercial beekeepers in the United States lost over 33% of the bees in their colonies. Researchers aren't exactly sure why it happened, though they believe that the use of industrial pesticides, disease, and malnutrition. If science can decisively know if bees can hear and how they communicate, they may be able to solve future problems concerning declining bee populations. For better or worse, the fates of bees and humankind are forever intertwined. For that reason alone, it is important to learn the answer to the question: can bees hear?