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Why Do Honeybees Perform The Mexican Wave?

Honeybees may have started the Mexican wave before us humans.

The phenomenon is called ‘shimmering’ and is when a large group of individual honeybees flip their abdomens upwards within a split-second to produce a beautiful Mexican wave-like pattern across the nest.

Shimmering creates a rather beautiful rippling effect on the beehive, it is like the Mexican wave seen in sports stadiums.

See an example of this on the video below

It has received much interest due to its beauty when seen in practice, its precision of action and its purpose, which for long remained a mystery.

Now, a generally accepted theory based on a study by bee researcher Gerald Kastberger found that shimmering acts as a defensive mechanism from predatory hornets.

It repels them and forces them to hunt free-flying bees, further afield, rather than foraging the bees directly from the nest.

Gerald Kastberger was the first person to observe this behaviour, he placed cameras around two colonies of giant honeybees to catch them in action.

He recorded more than 450 events of shimmering, when reviewing the footage after he noticed that the shimmering was triggered when a hornet approached the nest, the shimmering even increased when the hornet got closer.

The giant honeybees don’t have an outer wall on their nests, unlike their cousins the western honeybees.

Instead, thousands of bees surround the honeycomb in layers of up to seven bees deep! Due to the nests lacking any protection, the bees are vulnerable to predators such as hornets who feed on the bees.

Researchers also found that the hornets respond to the shimmering by showing an avoidance response, they are deterred by the visual cue of large-scale shimmering and confused by the small-scale shimmering.

This is a perfect example of self-organisation in nature, during an attack, many bees work together to co-ordinate these rippling ways to protect their home.

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Written by Bari Holland