By as published on National Geographic
Some species, such as chimpanzees and honeybees, enforce strict measures to prevent the spread of disease.
Many people in countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic are struggling to avoid contact with others and stay at home, including millions of Americans ordered by authorities to shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But social distancing is not a novel concept in the natural world, where infectious diseases are commonplace. In fact, several social species will expel members within their own community if they are infected with a pathogen.
It’s challenging because infectious individuals are not always “easy to see,” explains Joseph Kiesecker, a lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy.
However, through specialized senses animals can detect certain diseases—sometimes before visible symptoms appear—and change their behavior to avoid getting ill.
Bacterial diseases that strike honeybee colonies, like American foulbrood, are particularly devastating, liquifying honeybee larvae from the inside. “That’s where the name comes from, that brown gooey mess. It smells very, very foul,” explains Alison McAfee, a postdoctoral fellow with North Carolina State University’s Entomology and Plant Pathology department.
Infected larvae emit certain telltale chemicals that older bees can smell, like oleic acid and β-ocimene, a bee pheromone, according to McAfee’s research. Once identified, the bees will physically toss these diseased members from the hive, she says.
Since this evolutionary adaptation safeguards the health of a colony, beekeepers and researchers have selectively bred for this behavior for decades. These more “hygienic” bees now buzz across the U.S…(CONTINUED)