Bees are invertebrates (animals without backbones), which means that they have a very different body type than vertebrates, including humans, like their hearts and lungs. So, it can be interesting to know about these buzzing bees if they have ears or if they can even hear their own sound.
While bees don’t have the external ear we are accustomed to in the human anatomy, bees can still “hear” or detect sound waves from their environment, especially those created by other worker bees and the queen bee. They also use their hearing to warn the hive of predators.
The bees can detect air-particle movements using an organ called the Johnston’s organ located at the second segment of their antennae. Bees also have sound-sensing organs in their feet called the subgenual organ, which is located just below their knee.
Now, let us learn more about how bees hear and why it is important.
Do bees have ears?
Please note that most of the current studies about the bees’ hearing abilities are focused on honeybees, and there is not much information about bumble bees and solitary bees’ ability to hear.
It is important to understand that bees are invertebrates , meaning they don’t have backbones. Instead, they have an external exoskeleton that holds their body parts and organs together. Since they don’t have the same body structure as vertebrates, it is understandable if they also don’t possess the usual body organs and functions that we use, including our ears .
However, it was found that mature virgin queen bees emit a specific noise, like piping, quacking, and tooting, which worker bees can ‘hear,’ indicating that they can hear her and indicates that they should protect her from threats , or a warning sign that there is another queen bee in the hive.
According to research, they initially thought bees were deaf and totally insensitive to sounds and commonly relied on their waggle dance to communicate with one another. However, it was later found that bees can detect airborne sound waves from their environment, just not using the typical organ we humans associate with hearing [4, 5].
They also found that bees don’t have ears attached to their heads. However, they have different organs that perform an almost similar function of hearing and detecting sounds. The two organs are the Johnston’s organ and the Subgenual organ .
How do bees hear?
While we’ve already established that bees can also hear, just not in the usual sense or using an ear. Below are the two main organs honeybees use to detect sound and airborne vibrations.
1. Using Johnston’s Organ?
The Johnston’s organ (JO) is one of the body parts of honeybees that they use to detect airborne vibration in the flagellum. It is located at the pedicle of each bee’s antennae [7, 8]. The Johnston’s Organ is a chordotonal organ (stretch receptors) located at the second segment of the bee’s antenna (pedicel), which is also found in some arthropods and other insects [9, 10].
It is also used to detect the airborne sound signals that the honeybees collect during their waggle dance, which the bees use to show the location of their food sources, which is crucial for the survival of the hive.
2. Using the Subgenual Organ?
The Subgenual Organ is an insect organ associated with their perception of sound. The subgenual organ is commonly located just below the knees of most insects. The subgenual organ’s ability to sense sound in honeybees is mainly due to the inertia of the bees’ hemolymph (insect blood).
Also read: Do bees have hearts?
What is the importance of hearing for bees?
The bees’ ability to sense sound is important in their daily life because it can mean survival or failure of the colony. Here are some of the ways bees utilize the sound they sense .
1. The worker bees hear the sound of a new queen bee.
Queen bees are unique in many ways, including the sound they make when they are ready to emerge from their queen nest. The mature virgin queen bee commonly makes a loud noise called piping and tooting.
This sound is commonly heard when there is more than one queen bee in the hive, which also signals a queen bee battle coming since there can only be one queen in each hive.
2. Bees use their hearing to communicate with other bees.
Honeybees emit sound signals in the air through their wiggle dancing to communicate the location of potential foraging sites to other worker bees. This dance sound causes the air particle to move rhythmically and be received and decoded by other bees.
Bees can use the near field sounds from the rhythmical air particle movement made from the waggle dance communication from other worker bees.
3. When it is time to swarm.
In some cases, especially during the swarming season, worker bees that hear this piping sound try to separate the newly emerged queen bees. In case they may need to swarm .
The sound the queen bees make can ensure that the hives do not become overpopulated because they will deplete their resources quickly. As a result, the bees may need to move out of the current hive, join one of the newer queen bees in a different location, and establish a new hive.
4. To warn other nestmates about potential predators and invaders in the colony.
Honeybees emit alarm signals whenever a potential threat enters the hive. When this happens, the worker bees are on high alert to defend the colony.
Aside from the pheromones they release, they also make a terrifying high-frequency sound. This has been observed in Asian honey bees when they are attacked by the solitary-hunting Asian hornet. This sound is commonly referred to as a bee scream and is considered an antipredator piping sound .
What sounds do bees hear?
Bees are found to be capable of detecting sounds up to around 500 Hz. On the other hand, they can produce sound frequencies from 10 to 1,000 Hz. In comparison, humans usually talk at 500 Hz to 2,000 Hz range while being capable of hearing at 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. This means that we humans can also hear bee sounds .
If you‘d prefer to expand your knowledge on a wasps hearing, you can also take a look at Do wasps have ears?
Bees are invertebrates, meaning they have different body parts commonly associated with vertebrates, including the ears. For many years, they were initially thought to be deaf. Still, they were discovered to have a different way of perceiving sound and movements of air particles in their surrounding.
While bees don’t have external ears that we are accustomed to, what they have are organs that perform the same function. The first is the Johnston’s organ, located at the base of their antennae, capable of detecting air particle movements.
The other is called the subgenual organ, which is located below the knees. It senses sound using the inertia of the bee’s hemolymph or insect blood.
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