Why do Bees have Stripes?
- Published: Friday, 04 October 2019 13:12 Follow @Herstat
Scientists at Newcastle University have recently cast light on why bees have stripes, and it turns out that they are not just in the service of fashion.
Casting praying mantises in the role of predators, the scientists, including lead author Candy Rowe, Professor of animal behaviour and cognition, tested the theory that fast-moving living creatures with stripes are difficult for predators to focus on, thereby increasing their chances of a successful escape.
A tiny cinema – how the study worked
The scientists used a novel approach to the study, constructing a tiny cinema for praying mantises in which they played footage that was designed to simulate the movement of bugs across a background similar to that which they might encounter in their natural habitat.
The praying mantises were shown various types of footage, including some in which the rectangles moved at different speeds, some in which they had no stripes at all, others in which they had narrower or wider stripes and others in which they had different patterns.
The researchers found that the mantises had the most difficulty in tracking fast-moving patterns and fast-moving narrower stripes. It is thought that this is because when moving at fast speeds, stripes and patterns quickly become blurred, making it difficult for the insect predators to focus.
Lead author, Professor Candy Rowe, commented, “If you’re standing still, then looking like the background is one of the best ways to not be seen, whilst having high contrast stripes is just about the worst thing – you can really stand out. For moving prey, we find that the opposite is true: stripes are much better than matching your background. So the answer is yes, if you’re stripy and move fast enough, then the blurring of the pattern can make it harder for the predator to spot you.”
The scientists were keen to point out that although the study was conducted in a laboratory, the principles would still hold in the wild. Furthermore, it is likely that the stripes do not only help fast-moving bees and insects; larger striped animals such as zebras also probably benefit.
Details of the study have been published in the journal Biology.
Bees, nature’s striped superheroes
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