Male bees blind their queen after sex

Bees, blind
iStock/Photografiero

New findings presented by the University of California, Riverside, demonstrate how male honeybees inject toxins during sex that cause temporary blindness in their mate.

It is not a foreign concept that male insects have proteins in their seminal fluid that causes the death of other insect’s sperm. However, the function of blinding one’s mate is highly unusual.

A research paper led by the University of Copenhagen states: “Queens of social insects make all mate-choice decisions on a single day, except in honeybees whose queens can conduct mating flights for several days even when already inseminated by a number of drones. Honeybees therefore appear to have a unique, evolutionarily derived form of sexual conflict: a queen’s decision to pursue risky additional mating flights is driven by later-life fitness gains from genetically more diverse worker-offspring but reduces paternity shares of the drones she already mated with.”

The blinding toxin from the male honeybee is believed to maximise the short time frame in which the male can mate before it dies.

“The male bees want to ensure their genes are among those that get passed on by discouraging the queen from mating with additional males,” said Baer, senior author of the study that discovered these blinding findings published today in the journal eLife. “She can’t fly if she can’t see properly.”

The male honeybee has proteins in their seminal fluid that temporarily blind their queen. In previous studies, researchers notice that when a bumblebee queen is injected with the protein they become aggressive towards male bees and stop mating.

“More than a third of what we eat depends on bee pollination, and we’ve taken bees’ services for granted for a very long time,” Baer said. “However, bees have experienced massive die-offs in the last two decades. Anything we can do to help improve their numbers will benefit humans, too.”

 

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