Honey Bees' Oddly Hypnotising 'Shimmering' Is Actually a Clever Defense

By Catie Keck on at

Have you ever seen bees shimmering?

It’s pretty neat! It’s also oddly mesmerising, as evidenced by a widely circulated video of the phenomenon recently surfaced by ViralHog. The clip, which per its caption was reportedly recorded in Vietnam in November of last year, shows honey bees fanning out in unison like a ripple in water.

This spellbinding so-called “shimmering” is reportedly one of a number of methods honey bees use to ward off predators like hornets. Research on shimmering in giant honey bees led by Gerald Kastberger of the University of Graz in Austria and published in 2008 in the journal PLoS One noted that the defence mechanism “starts at distinct spots on the nest surface and then spreads across the nest within a split second whereby hundreds of individual bees flip their abdomens upwards.”

What this essentially does it make it extremely difficult for hornets to swoop in and land on their massive huddle to prey on individual bees. Kastberger and his colleagues noted in their research that shimmering can create what they described as a “shelter zone” of over a foot and a half of space between the bees and hornets or wasps.

Any diehard David Attenborough enthusiasts may remember seeing this phenomenon featured in the BBC nature series Life in the Undergrowth. In one particular episode featuring a segment on giant honey bees, Attenborough dons a bee suit and hoists himself high into a treetop in Malaysia to witness this behaviour in Asiatic honey bees (Apis cerana). As you are probably now hoping to see this for yourself, I present to you the following:

Attenborough notes that while honey bees can sting as a form of defence, warning away predators with the shimmering effect is a better option for these exposed bees so they won’t, you know, immediately die. (Sidebar: Watching a moth break through this seemingly impenetrable wall of honey guardians in the video above is pretty wild too.)

Bees are neat!

Featured image: Facebook