Carnivorous bees give up pollen for rotten meat

Carnivorous ‘vulture bees’ they have no stinger and developed a tooth. Photo: UCR

A little-known species of tropical bee has evolved to eat meat from dead animals, according to a study from the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Are carnivorous beesyes, baptized as vulture bees, also present “drastic” changes in their physiognomy.

According to the research, carnivorous bees they developed an extra tooth to bite into meat and a gut that looks more like vultures than other bees, the scientists explained.

In addition, this endemic species of Costa Rica has no stinger and it appears to have evolved “presumably due to intense competition for nectar,” the experts explained.

“Are the only bees in the world that have evolved to use non-plant food sources, which is quite a remarkable change in eating habits ”.

Doug Yanega, entomologist at UCR

Carnivorous bees have different gut bacteria than vegetarian bees

Honey bees, bumble bees, and stingless bees have guts that are colonized by the same five core microbes.

“Unlike humans, whose entrails change with every meal, most species of bees have retained these same bacteria for approximately 80 million years of evolution,” said Jessica Maccaro, a doctoral student in Entomology at UCR.

After analyzing the intestinal bacteria of the carnivorous bees and those that fed on plants, the experts found that the two “differed quite dramatically.”

Scientists collected several specimens of this type of bees

To reach this conclusion, the experts traveled to Costa Rica and installed baits: fresh chunks of raw chicken suspended from the branches, which successfully attracted the vulture bees.

“Normally, stingless bees have baskets on their hind legs to collect pollen. However, the team observed bees that were feeding on carrion using those same structures to collect the bait, ”said the specialists.

For comparison, the team also collected stingless bees that feed on both meat and flowers, and some that only feed on pollen. When analyzing the microbiomes Of the three types of bees, they found the most extreme changes among the exclusive meat feeders.

“The vulture bee microbiome is enriched in acid-loving bacteria, which are new bacteria that their relatives do not have, “said Quinn McFrederick, entomologist at UCR.

“These bacteria are similar to those found in royal vultures, as well as hyenas and other animals that eat carrion, presumably to help protect them from pathogens that appear on carrion.”

Quinn McFrederick, UCR entomologist.

One of the bacteria present in carnivorous bees it is Lactobacillus, which is found in many fermented foods of humans, such as sourdough. They were also found to harbor Carnobacterium, which is associated with the digestion of meat.

“It’s crazy to me that a bee can eat carcasses,” McFrederick explained.

Vulture bees continue to produce honey

Although they eat meat, honey is still sweet and edible from the carnivorous bees: “They store the meat in special chambers that are sealed for two weeks before accessing it, and these chambers are separate from where the honey is stored,” Maccaro said.

“The weird things in the world are where you can find a lot of interesting discoveries,” McFrederick said. “There is a lot of information about the results of natural selection.”

The research team plans to delve deeper into the microbiomes of vulture bees, hoping to learn about the genomes of all bacteria, as well as the fungi and viruses in their bodies.

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