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B. The Role of Espionage in Bee Communication

Narrator: This is Science Today. A form of insect espionage may have driven the evolution of bee language. Biologist James Nieh of the University of California, San Diego, discovered that some species of bees pick up chemical clues left behind by other, competing bee species to guide their kin to food.

Nieh: This kind of very specific, symbolic type of communication is very rare in the animal world. And one of the things I have been looking at is the possibility that an advantage of language is that it is encoded. And so therefore, it might be useful if you have problems with competition and the competition is trying to spy out and find out what you know.

Narrator: Nieh has been studying the interaction between honeybees and stingless bees in Brazil. Understanding such forms of communication may benefit pharmaceutical companies interested in the medicinal value of stingless bee honey and resin.

Nieh: So knowing more about their communication system, how they find these flowers and bring back these nectars, which may have medicinal compounds may help us.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.