More on elephants and bees… From the New Scientist
Video: Elephant warning
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.
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 eagles.
Journal reference: report to appear in PLoS ONE