Grand Theft Pollen
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There is no question that honeybees are very industrious insects – but that doesn’t mean they don’t engage in the occasional bit of larceny, Science News reported.
Researchers in Italy recently discovered that honeybees steal pollen from the bodies of bumblebees, in a study marked as one of the most extensive documentations of bee-on-bee theft.
Pollen stealing is not new in bees: In the United States, honeybees have been caught robbing other bees in a number of states, including Kansas and California.
But this behavior was not documented outside the US until 2019 when researchers Tiziano Londei and Giuliana Marzi took a video of thieving bees at Mount Antola in Liguria province.
The footage showed honeybees shamelessly stealing pollen from red-tailed bumblebees. The team explained that the thieves would target mostly male bumblebees because they were more laid back about the theft than others.
To determine how common this criminal behavior was, the researchers revisited the crime scene in the following three years and also observed the insects at two other sites about 15 miles away.
Honeybees on other sites stayed on the straight and narrow, but those on the first site carried on with grand theft pollen. For instance, they collected pollen from only three of the 31 flowers the researchers observed in 2021, but stole from 28 of the available 66 bumblebees.
Even so, the authors said this behavior occurs in areas where pollen is difficult to find in flowers – but where there are plenty of other bees around.
Avery Russell, a biologist not involved in the study, said he was not surprised by the findings, considering that honeybees have a reputation as “pollen pigs.”