While humans struggle to identify insects by the sound they make, other animals are closely attuned to sounds that some insects make and have no problem identifying them. In matters of life and death, animals pay attention.
Few insects are as deadly to large mammals as African honey bees. African honey bees are the same species as our domestic honey bees, but without the domestication that has made honey bees “tame” enough for beekeepers to manage. African bees are aggressive and defend their nest in greater numbers and at greater distances than domesticated bees. Unwary animals can die if stung by hundreds of bees. Thus, animals pay attention to the sound of ‘disturbed’ African bees.Writing in the Journal, PLoS One, Lucy King and colleagues describe experiments using recordings of African honey bees, Apis mellifera scutella. African elephants will respond to the sound of disturbed African bees by rapidly retreating from the area. The elephants will engage in head-shaking and dusting, behaviors that could afford protection against stinging. The elephants also make vocalizations that elicit flight behavior in other elephants. These signals keep the elephant herd out of the way of dangerous aggressive bees.