When it comes to bees, people often imagine worker bees working on their hives. Others might imagine honey bees producing a sweet, golden liquid that people love.
However, there is a group of bees that do not enjoy nectar. Instead, they prefer to eat freshly rotting flesh. What are these zombie-like bees, and where do they come from?
What Are Vulture Bees?
Vulture bees are a small group of three closely related bees from the genus Trigona. Since they are part of the genus Trigona, vulture bees don’t have stingers.
You can find these curious bees in North and South America. A scientist that discovered the bees’ meat-eating lifestyle studied them in Panama.
Scientists first classified these bees in 1793. However, scientists only documented these bees’ curious case and unusual behavior in 1982, nearly two centuries after their discovery.
Despite their weird diet, vulture bees are the same as other bees. These bees have a hive, a queen bee, worker bees, and drones. These bees also take care of their young.
How Do Vulture Bees Protect Their Hive?
Most bees do not attack unless provoked. If they are put in danger, other bees will use their stingers to hurt and drive away predators.
This raises the question of how vulture bees protect themselves. After all, they do not have stingers.
As it turns out, vulture bees do not need stingers because of their pointed teeth. Vulture bees, as with all Trigona family bees, deliver a painful bite as a defense.
Why Do Vulture Bees Eat Rotting Flesh?
An entomologist discovered the meat-eating behaviors of vulture bees. Dr. David Roubik studied these bees for years. In his study, Dr. Roubik found interesting things about them.
He found that vulture bees eat meat because they have no choice. Because of their harsh homes, vulture bees only have animal meat as a source of protein.
Through evolution, vulture bees also lost the hair baskets on their back legs. These hairs are present on other bees as it helps them catch pollen.
How Do Vulture Bees Eat Meat?
Vulture bees eat meat the same way as flies and maggots. Vulture bees and scavenging insects enter the carcass through the eyes.
As it turns out, vulture bees do not like entirely rotten meat. These bees seem to prefer fresher decaying carrion.
Once inside, these bees look for the meat that they like. They then begin to spit on the rotting flesh and eat it. They continue consuming until their special stomachs are full.
Once they come back home, vulture bees regurgitate what they eat. Worker bees then process the food and turn it into a honey-like substance.
Once done with processing, the worker bees place the substance into storage until it’s time to feed immature bees.
Where Do Vulture Bees Find Their Food?
Vulture bees operate the same way as their pollen-eating cousins. They go out to look for sources of food. Once they find one, they use pheromones to signal others.
Once everyone is alerted to the food source, vulture bees begin working. They start swarming, eating, and taking the food back to their hives.
Do Vulture Bees Make Honey?
Yes, vulture bees indeed make honey just like other bees. The process vulture bees use is also the same as other bees.
They will fill their special stomach with food. Once full, they bring it back to the hive, where they process it. The food gets passed from bee to bee until it becomes honey.
Still, vulture bee honey may not be the same as regular honey. Unlike honey bees, vulture bees do not use nectar or pollen for their honey. Dr. Roubik found that the honey they make comes from ingested flesh.
The honey is rich in protein, similar to the proteins in honey bees’ honey. Despite being nutritious, vulture bee honey may not be suitable for humans. Researchers are yet to study if vulture bee honey is edible for us.
Also, vulture bees only make enough honey for themselves. Taking their barely sufficient supply may starve the bees and their young.
Vulture bees are fascinating creatures. Unlike other types of bees, vulture bees prefer eating meat. That may seem disgusting, but these bees do not have a choice.
Nevertheless, these bees are still like their cousins. They have queens, produce honey, and defend their hives. Although unusual, these bees still contribute to nature in their own right.