Bee Ball: One of the Most Awesome Defensive Moves in Nature

When an Asian giant hornet enters a beehive, cue the scary music. Asian giant hornets have thick exoskeletons that are impervious to bees’ stingers. A single hornet can kill thirty bees in one minute. Thirty hornets will destroy a hive of 30,000 bees in under four hours. It’s a massacre…unless the beehive belongs to Japanese honey bees. ┬áThen the tables are turned, thanks to the hot defensive bee ball.

Cooking Hornets in a Bee Ball

Bee balls are just the most amazingly awesome defensive action. What happens is that a cluster of perhaps five hundred bees form a ball around the attacking hornet. The bees vibrate the muscles in their wings to generate heat, directing the heat toward the center of the ball. As the bees increase the heat, they are also increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide inside the ball.

The hornet’s ability to tolerate the heat decreases as the carbon dioxide increases. Within 30-60 minutes, the hornet dies.

But that’s not even the best part. The best part of this story is that the bees vibrate their wings to get to the precise temperature of 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 C). Just one degree higher and the bees would die as well.

Here’s a 3:42 minute National Geographic video showing the process in action. Stephen King’s got nothing on these guys!

Marker Genes Prevent Bee Suicide

Scientists have discovered that Japanese honey bees are unique in possessing a marker gene in their brains. This marker gene is not responsible for getting the bees to form the bee ball. The gene turns on a minute or two after the ball has begun to form. Scientists aren’t sure, but speculate that the marker gene may be a timer that tells the bees when to stop their bee ball attack.

Honestly, now. Is there any response to this story other than WOW? Comments, as always, are welcomed.



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  1. The video of the bees was fascinating! Who would have thought they could “destroy” an invader in this way.

  2. WOW!! Indeed! I am amazed that they keep up the attack until precisely 1 degree of heat before the bees themselves could die. That is what I call scary…pushing things to the limits and not over.
    I have been studying honey bees lately since we love honey in this house and we now live in the country. You can’t pass a farm out here (and there are a LOT of farms) without seeing at least one bee hive…usually, you can see a group of ten hives per farm. I found out that over the winter bees will use up their stores of nutrients that they have packed away for this purpose. They maintain warmth in the hive (in order to not freeze and die) by doing the same thing – vibrating their wings. :0

    1. Neat information about honey bees, Susan. I didn’t know those things. Thanks for sharing.
      I wondered with the reference to loving honey. Are you thinking of getting some hives? I understand it’s a really fascinating hobby.

      1. We were looking into it but it is a lot of work keeping the hive happy and healthy. It would take about $500 investment into the hive boxes and safety gear to wear, a smoker for control etc. It is not a good plan for us to get into the honey business right now but we may reconsider at some point in the future. We went to a bee keepers meeting in the basement of our local library and listened to several speakers that outlined basically how hives work. We found out why bees swarm and all about medications you may need to keep them healthy if the hive gets hit with a virus.
        Kevin’s got a guitar student who’s Dad has a hive and he was one of the speakers that night at the library. It is really interesting just what goes into making honey.

  3. WOW indeed – that is incredible. When you keep hearing that honeybees are dying all over the world which could cause an ecological disaster, it’s amazing to think that these bees have adapted physically to combat a threat. Terrific post (as usual) Karen!

    1. Thanks, Anna. I wonder if Japan’s honey production has increased as a result of the bees’ ability to combat the threat? I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Wow! Wow! I never knew this. I sometimes think about setting up a hive when we go home particularly in this time of bees being threatened. Another reason to be intrigued by them.

  5. Another great post-retirement activity, Fran. Susan mentions going to an evening lecture about beekeeping in an earlier comment and I admit, I am intrigued by the idea too.

  6. This is quite the defense mechanism! What always boggles my mind as well is how we, humans, figure all this out? Hurray for scientists, I’d say. Thanks for sharing, Karen. I had no idea! Wow, indeed!

  7. In the region where I live, most people like to use chemicals: herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. The city frequently sprays parks and boulevards with herbicides, and most homeowners use them as well. We garden organically, and if we must use a product to control a pest (e.g., ants), we research natural solutions rather than indiscriminately spraying toxic chemicals around. I am always happy when I see the bees in our raspberry canes, strawberry plants, and flower beds. I like to think that we are providing an ecologically safe haven for them.


    1. It absolutely sounds as if you are very helpful to the bees, Jude. I salute you for finding natural solutions. I need to be more diligent about doing that.

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