Elephants fear of mice may be an legend, but African elephants really are deathly afraid of another tiny animal: bees. In a new study, recordings of humming bees afraid off entire herds. The discoveries could lead to new ways of protecting farmland from marauding elephants.
As African elephant habitat is destroyed, the animals increasingly raid farmers’ crops. Researchers are investigating several ways to deter them, including heavy-duty fences and chili plants, which elephants avoid. Elephants also avoid trees containing bee hives, for good reason. The native bees of southern Africa (Apis mellifera scutellata) are more aggressive than those of Europe or North America and have been known to chase antagonists more than a kilometer. Although most of the skin of an African elephant is thick, thinner regions on the belly, behind the ears, around the eyes, and inside the trunk may be vulnerable to the insects’ stingers.