Bees Yell "Whoop" When They're Surprised

Brilliance | Dec. 09, 2017

When you bump into someone, you might say "Whoops, sorry!" Bees do the same. When a bee bumps into another bee, it really does make a "whoop" sound. Scientists once thought this was a stop signal, but new research reveals that bees make the sound when they've been startled.

Whoop, There It Is!

The "whoop" sound honeybees let out is actually a vibrational pulse that's inaudible to human ears, but can be recorded by accelerometers placed inside a honeycomb. In the 1950s, researchers assumed this noise was a request for food, then they later observed it as a "stop" signal. As New Scientist explains, this observation was made when one bee tried to stop another bee from performing a waggle dance, which is used to tell other bees where to locate a food source. Greedy, bees!

In February 2017, further research by scientists at Nottingham Trent University in The UK was published in the journal PLOS One indicating that bees don't just whoop for food—they whoop when they're surprised. Yep, the bees whoop a lot (six or seven times a minute in one small area), and not just when they're requesting food or blocking another bee with their waggle dancing. Martin Bencsik and his colleagues conducted the study, and he explains their findings to New Scientist: "In the majority of instances, it is bees being startled that produce the signal." Instead of the "stop signal," it should simply be called the "whooping" signal.

More Whoops, More Problems

Constantly startled bees must be pretty tense, right? Bencsik suggests artificially stimulating the bees and monitoring their' responses to measure the status of a colony. Bencsick theorized that an unstressed colony would have less of a response, while a stressed colony would break into a whooping fest. *whoop*

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