Elephants never forget … that they’re scared of bees

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a swarm (groan) of bee stories hitting the news lately? Earlier this spring the museum had our own bee encounter, and it’s a good thing we don’t have any elephants in our courtyard, because the situation could have gotten even stickier (sticky, like honey. See what I did there?).

Two Elephants

In a study published in the journal for the Public Library of Science, animal behaviorist Lucy King demonstrates that elephants are afraid of bees, moving away from them and even sounding an alarm to warn other elephants (you can read the abstract of King’s paper here).

In King’s first study, elephants that were played recordings of bee noises would move away and stay away from the sound. King also noticed that other elephants, too far away to hear the recording, would also move, leading her to suspect that the elephants near the bee playback were calling out a warning to the other elephants, but in a register that the human ear can’t detect. In King’s second experiment, sensitive microphones were used to record the elephant warnings, “rumblings” that could be heard by people when the sound was manipulated. When King played those rumblings to other elephants, the elephants quickly left the area.

Along with furthering our knowledge of elephant communication and behavior, King’s research may help protect farmer’s crops from elephants, and protect the elephants, too. Conflict between elephants and humans is common in those parts of Africa where their ranges overlap. One hungry elephant can eat a farmer’s entire crop in a night, and farmers have been known to kill elephants to protect their harvest. Regular fencing isn’t enough to keep the elephants out, but bee fences might just do the trick.

Elephants near a traditional electric fence

King recommends setting up bee fences made of hives spaced approximately 10 feet apart around areas where people don’t want elephants entering. More research needs to be done, but bee fences might be the perfect solution to keep both people and elephants safe.

1 Response to “Elephants never forget … that they’re scared of bees”

  1. 1 Friday Quick Links « More to Explore Trackback on December 3, 2010 at 8:02 am
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May 2010

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