Bee scent could chase away elephants: study

Elephants never forget a bee sting.

Their eyes and the soft tissue inside their trunks are particularly vulnerable to painful stings, and experts believe African elephants (
Loxodonta africana
) have learned over the centuries to recognise the scents bees give off when they are scared and ready to swarm.

Now, researchers say this well-honed fear of bees could be used to help repel the majestic beasts in places where they risk conflicts with humans.

In a three-month study at South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park, scientists hung white socks filled with bee pheromones, which are chemical clues that honeybees release from their bodies when they perceive a threat to their hive.

A total of 25 of 29 elephants that approached the socks “showed typical signs of increased alertness, signs of uncertainty, and finally calmly moved away,” said the report in the journal
Current Biology
.

To make sure it wasn’t simply the socks but the odour emanating from them that chased the elephants away, researchers hung similar socks that did not contain the pheromones, and found that elephants were curious about the socks, would pick them up and even taste them at times.

“We hope to expand this work to develop additional tools for sustainable passive management of elephant movements, to augment the current approaches used,” said lead author Mark Wright, a professor of entomology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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