Don't Bee Alarmed, But Certain Bees Have Evolved to Feast on Meat

The Trigona species of bee, which includes bees of the meat-eating variety.
The Trigona species of bee, which includes bees of the meat-eating variety. / ViniSouza128/iStock via Getty Images

Thanks to their ability to inflict pain that far outstrips their diminutive profile, bees are the bantamweights of nature. The sight or sound of them can prompt anxiety, flailing, and possibly anaphylactic shock if you’re allergic.

Something else to add to the laundry list of bee intimidation tactics: Some of them are carnivores.

According to CNN, researchers have discovered gut bacteria in the so-called “vulture bees” found in Costa Rica that makes them able to process meat. It’s the same kind of bacteria found in vultures, hyenas, and other animals that feed on carrion, or decaying flesh.

In some bee species, dead animal carcasses are on the menu. Other bees can also nosh on fresh corpses while still pining for pollen, nibbling with an extra tooth and bringing meat back to the hive using leg baskets.

How the carnivorous bees evolved to swarming Sizzlers is a bit of a mystery. In a new study published in the journal mBio, 159 bees were given raw chicken as a treat and then had their DNA extracted from their guts. The vulture bees seemed to have developed an acidic gut, with meat-friendly bacteria like Carnobacterium replacing the more common bacteria found in most bee species. (Bees that do both meat and pollen have more diverse bacteria.)

While the bacterial composition of the vulture bees is a novel field of study, the bees themselves have been recognized for some time. Mention of them dates back to the 1700s; they were observed munching on flesh first-hand in 1982.

The big question, of course, is: How does devouring meat affect their production of honey? So far, it seems like it doesn’t. Honey derived from vulture bee hives apparently tastes no different.

[h/t CNN]