Thursday, 7 January 2016

Dogfighting bees perform aerial combat right at researcher’s front door

Date:January 6, 2016
Source:Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB)

With a new Star Wars film still fresh in the theaters, fans are abuzz with thoughts of the high-flying exploits of brave fighter pilots. For Dr. Brandon Jackson of Longwood University, the buzz is slightly more literal. Using consumer-grade recording equipment and some technical ingenuity, he is exploring the feints, parries, and ripostes of tiny flying warriors right at his front doorstep.

Jackson has made a career studying the complex flight behaviors of birds. But when he moved into a new home in Virginia, it was the bees on his porch that caught his eye. He noticed swarms of purplish-black bees -- eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) -- hard at work constructing complex nests in the wooden beams of his house. While most people dismiss these insects as home-destroying pests, Jackson has pegged these little drillers as an important study animal for understanding how animals fly.

Carpenter bees intrigue Jackson for their defensive "dogfighting" behaviors. The insects occasionally engage birds or small mammals, but most interactions involve defense against other carpenter bees, who can lay eggs in the other bees' tunnels and mooch off their competitor's metabolic investment.

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