According to new research from the University of Sassari, in the island of Sardinia, Italy, European honeybees have been observed to use social distancing when infected by certain parasites.
This previously unknown bee behavior was recently published by Pusceddu et al. (2021) in the journal Science Advances , as part of a collaboration between the Italian researchers and two others in the UK and Germany.
The varroa mite (Varroa destructor) has been plaguing bee colonies around the world for the last century, since its first detection in Japan in the early 1900’s . It lives on the outside of the bee’s body and attacks young larva after being carried into the broad by worker bees, laying eggs just below the skin, and multiply over a ten day cycle.
The new study by Pusceddu et al. aimed to understand whether the presence of Varroa mites within honeybee colonies caused changes in their social organization. Bees have a complex communication system that involves special body movements (“dances”), preening and chemical signals. These inform each other about how to find resources, and about threats to the colony. Using these signals, bees maintain a special micro-environment where the queen and larvae are protected, as they grow and reproduce.