Posted by: r.m. | April 28, 2010

elephants, bees, and communication

More on elephants and bees… From the New Scientist

Elephant-speak for ‘Beware of the bees’ – 26 April 2010 

Listen: ‘Bee rumble’ alarm call made by elephants.

Entire elephant families bolt when they hear recordings of trumpetings made by other elephants fleeing from bees.

This is the first demonstration that elephants may make specific sounds to warn of particular threats, although they have also been observed “roaring” when threatened by lions.

“Six out of 10 elephant families fled from the loudspeaker when we played the ‘bee rumble’ compared to just two when we played a control rumble and one with the same call shifted to a different frequency,” says Lucy King of the University of Oxford, who heads a team in Kenya investigating the meanings of elephant vocalisations. The fleeing elephants also shook their heads violently, as if trying to deflect bees.

In 2007, King and her colleagues demonstrated that elephants flee in terror from bees and from recordings of bees. Last year, in follow-up trials, they successfully protected human settlements from encroachment by elephants by wiring beehives together as a fence.

Bee rumble

The latest findings open up the possibility of using recordings of the “bee rumble” as a deterrent as well, helping to prevent potential conflict between humans and elephants.

Elephants are terrified of bees because they can crawl into their trunk and sting them from inside it. They also sting around the animals’ eyes, leaving painful welts that take weeks to disappear. The researchers believe that the rumbles alert both the elephant’s family and neighbouring herds to the threat, and may teach young elephants that bees are dangerous.

Monkeys and birds are known to produce slightly different sounds to warn of different types of threat. Putty-nosed monkeys native to Nigeria, for example, make different sounds to warn of leopards or eaglesSpeaker.

Journal reference: report to appear in PLoS ONE



  1. very interesting, who would have thought a huge animal might be frightened from the tiniest animal, a bee.. Is it true that if a bee stings someone, the bee then dies? then why would the bee sting from the first place? what benefit will it get for stinging someone like an elephant?

  2. yeah this the way things go.. Might is not always right! Even in real life, if you’re apparently the strongest and you have the muscles, the powerful voice and the frowny face, it doesn’t mean that no one can beat you and defeat you! It’s all in there 😉

  3. I liked this article, interesting one!
    being powerful, strong and bigger in size is not enough. Expect things from tiny living organism!,

  4. I think bees do not attack other animals randomly. Usually they need to be irritated or bothered in order to sting since stinging leads to their death.
    Could it be that bees are highly sensitive to the frequency of the bee rumble as well?? the same way dogs are sensitive to sound pitches we can not hear????

  5. The interesting thing that i have noted is the communication between the elephants. The warning signs that the elephants produce to escape from bees. I also, didn’t realize that this big animal is scared of the tiny insect.
    Also, it is something good to protect humans from elephant attack by wiring beehives instead of shooting them.

  6. certain animal behaviors are surprising sometimes. who would expect the largest beasts alive today to be afraid of a bee! But anyway this is a smart way to save the elephants and humans from killing each other. Also it gives humans the possibility of enlarging their lands of agriculture

  7. I thought that elephants were afraid of mice, However its bees. Or it’s better to say bee buzzing, In addition to the communication between such creatures. It is an advantage the elephants are afraid of bees, since they could be used to protect the small villages from the elephants attack.
    Could we reach a point in evolution that the elephants would become unresponsive to bees sound?

  8. it is a natural thing for a bee to sting any organism if it feels threatened…but the surprising issue is that a huge animal that all beings are afraid of, fears a small insect like a bee!!its a proof that size isn’t the most important factor!!!

  9. this article also shows why African bees are muchmore agressive than their european counterparts. its amazing how every organism has a solution to the daily problems it faces. this also reminds me of the Japanese bees that have developed a specialized attack method against the giant hornet.

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