Carrion-eater gut bacteria help vulture bees ditch nectar for meat

A crew of scientists on the University of California, Riverside is finding out a species of “vulture bee” that has swapped a vegetarian food regimen for carrion meat by creating an additional tooth and gut bacteria just like that present in vultures and hyenas.

We are likely to suppose {that a} bee’s menu is certainly one of nectar with a aspect order of pollen, which is not that far off, since bees are descendants of historic wasps that modified from consuming meat to a vegetable food regimen. However, in Costa Rica, there are associated species of stingless bee which have reverted to meat consuming and dine on carrion – probably as a approach of avoiding heavy competitors for the native nectar provide.

Called vulture or carrion bees, they’re exceptional not solely as a result of they’re advanced an additional tooth for biting flesh, however as a result of in addition they have a really uncommon assortment of gut bacteria. With their specialised food regimen, typical bees have a mixture of bacteria that hasn’t modified a lot in 80 million years, in contrast to omnivorous animals like people, which purchase new microbes with each meal. However, the vulture bees have bacteria that helps them each eat meat and defend them from meals poisoning.

“The vulture bee microbiome is enriched in acid-loving bacteria, which are novel bacteria that their relatives don’t have,” says Quinn McFrederick, a UCR entomologist. “These bacteria are similar to ones found in actual vultures, as well as hyenas and other carrion-feeders, presumably to help protect them from pathogens that show up on carrion.”

Vulture bees eating on uncooked hen

Quinn McFrederick/UCR

To be taught extra about this, the crew went to Costa Rica and set out bait within the type of uncooked hen coated with petroleum jelly to repel ants. This drew not solely the vulture bees, but in addition associated species.

By finding out these, the crew discovered that the vulture bees had made different meat-related variations, together with utilizing the hampers on their hind legs, that are usually used to gather pollen, as what the crew referred to as “little chicken baskets” to gather the bait. In addition, the bees’ microbiome possesses Lactobacillus bacteria, which ferments meals, and Carnobacterium for digesting flesh.

“The weird things in the world are where a lot of interesting discoveries can be found,” says McFrederick. “There’s a lot of insight there into the outcomes of natural selection.”

The analysis was revealed as we speak in mBio.

Source: University of California, Riverside

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