‘Vulture bees’ feed their babies rotting flesh, even though it breeds toxin-producing bacteria. They’re a mystery to scientists.

Vulture bees in Costa Rica dining on raw chicken bait.

“Vulture bees” feed their larvae rotting meat instead of relying on pollen like other bees.
Scientists hung raw chicken in Costa Rica and watched vulture bees fill their leg pouches and stomachs with it.
They found acid-producing microbes in the bees’ guts. Acid helps vultures and hyenas digest carrion.

Hanging chunks of raw chicken in trees is an unusual activity, even for scientists. But the researchers biking through Costa Rica’s tropical forests, stringing poultry flesh along branches in April 2019, were pursuing an unusual insect: bees that eat decaying flesh, or carrion.

Slowly, over the next five days, large bees with long, dangling legs flocked to the bait. They crawled over the folds of raw chicken, using special teeth to slice off bits of meat. They gathered the flesh in little baskets on their hind legs, where other bees collect pollen, or swallowed the meat to store in their stomachs.

The bees were preparing to carry the chicken back to their hives, where they would enclose the meat chunks in pods, leave them there for two weeks, then feed them to their babies. Scientists aren’t sure what happens inside the pods during those two weeks, or how it affects the meat. The adults don’t need to eat protein. They survive on nectar.

The bees with leg baskets still collect pollen for their babies, too. But three species — out of more than 20,000 known bee species — feed their larvae an entirely carrion-based diet. They’re called “vulture bees.”

These bees are “super crazy on a bunch of different levels,” Jessica Maccaro, a doctoral student in entomology at University of California, Riverside (UCR), told Insider.

“The easiest way to think about bees is that they are vegetarian wasps. They evolved from wasps. Literally …read more

Source:: Businessinsider

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