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Bees & Elephants

July 30, 2018

Bee alarm pheromones act as an effective elephant repellent.

Transcript

Elephants at the Jejane waterhole at Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. (Mark Wright, University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Elephants at the Jejane waterhole at Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. (Mark Wright, University of Hawaii at Manoa)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Elephant repellent. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The propensity of elephants to destroy farmers’ crops can dampen support for efforts to conserve them. But tiny bees can strike fear in the largest elephant, and now, researchers are exploiting this fear to test new ways of repelling elephants.

MARK WRIGHT (University of Hawaii at Mānoa):

Elephants deplore being stung around the eyes or the ears or up the trunk. It’s an extremely sensitive organ.

HIRSHON:

University of Hawaii entomologist Mark Wright says the bees produce chemical compounds called alarm pheromones when agitated.

WRIGHT:

Guard bees will actually release this complex mix of compounds and then that launches a mass attack of the bees on the threat.

HIRSHON:

His team reports in Current Biology that applying the most powerful of these compounds repelled elephants from a watering hole. They’re now perfecting the pheromone blend for use in elephant management. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard