Swarming Bees and Pseudoscorpions

By Karin Sternberg and Jenny Cullinan

The chelifer found in South Africa is mostly Ellingsenius fulleri and is believed to be a predator of small mites, wax moth larvae and other arthropods found in the nest debris. They often cling onto the legs of bees and are believed to be spread in this way to other colonies (Geoff Tribe).

When bees swarm, thousands of bees pour out of a nest only to collect a short distance away in a cluster, often on a branch, but otherwise on any other structure. In September 2017 we were watching bees on the move, temporarily clustered under a concrete table, with scout bees heading out to look for possible new nesting sites and, on their return, performing dances on the surface of the cluster (on other bees) as to the location of the nesting sites found. We watched and waited over a couple of days as slowly the number of possibilities and therefore dances diminished, as the colony came closer to a consensus as to the location of their new nesting site. On the third day of watching this intriguing behaviour and to our utter amazement, we noticed that we were not alone in our waiting.

Pseudoscorpions emerging

From the edge of the first layer of bees in direct contact with the table, we spotted a number of pseudoscorpions emerging. They appeared to be restless and hungry as they moved out and away from the hanging colony, using their pincers which had fine and relatively long hairs to sensitively feel for food in the cracks and gaps of the table undersurface.

They did not get very far as certain (dedicated?) bees seemed concerned and actively encouraged them back. There was a very clear communication between these two species and they were continually touching each other; the pseudoscorpions using their pincers either in a waving motion or by clasping at the bee, and the bees using their antennae and legs to touch and usher the pseudoscorpions back into the cluster.

From all of the fussing, one could tell that the pseudoscorpions were crucial to the bees. With colony activity and communication between the bees increasing as the colony prepared to leave for their final nesting site, the bees kept a close eye on their fellow-travellers. As more and more surface bees stopped dancing and started almost buzz-running and whirling like dervishes on the surface before pushing their way into the middle of the colony as paths clearly opened up for them, the vibrations and sounds of the bees increased and activity peaked. No doubt this was also a cue completely understood by the pseudoscorpions. For when the colony finally departed for their new nesting site, remarkably not a single pseudoscorpion was left behind. 

Holes opening in the cluster

 

These observations showed us an extraordinary interdependence between bees and pseudoscorpions, and highlighted how vital each are to the other that these wild bees on the move should take the pseudoscorpions along with them. The pseudoscorpions are absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of a colony and are very much part of the bees’ hygiene. We would be very interested to hear if this has ever been documented before?

A pseudoscorpion attaching itself to the leg of a bee

Swarming bees departing for their new nesting site

(All photos are copyrighted and are thus the property of the authors. If you wish to use any, please contact us at ujubeeconservation@gmail.com)

The authors at work:

4 thoughts on “Swarming Bees and Pseudoscorpions

  1. David

    Wow! Amazing photos and writing! I can’t believe with all of the research so many countries are doing this is the first time I have seen or heard about the relationship between these two insects. Of course, if there is no money to be had in spreading the word about Pseudoscorpions few would do it. Thank you for sharing this experience and awesome discovery with us!

    Reply
  2. Jim

    I was wondering if stinging scorpions would consume varroa mites also? We have plenty of them here in North Texas but no pseudoscorpions that I am aware of. I could tolerate another stinging critter in the hive if it would help control mites without any negatives.
    Some time ago I killed one in the shop that was crawling across the floor and looked like it was tangled up in lint and spider web. When I stepped on it at least a couple hundred baby scorpions started scurrying away that were riding piggyback on mom. A mite would be about right for a meal for the little guys.
    Question, where can one obtain pseudoscorpions?

    Reply
    1. ujubee Post author

      Hello Jim,
      Pseudoscorpions occur naturally when all the conditions are right, including the nest climate, sufficient nest debris/leaf litter, and where a symbiosis with honeybees is natural. Honeybees are not indigenous to the Americas, so one does not know whether the pseudoscorpions found in northern Texas (if they are found) could even coexist with honeybees even if honeybees lived in a natural cavity like a tree-hollow.
      Pseudoscorpions are not the silver bullet to the problem the US faces with varroa mite. But, keep your bees as naturally as possible with as little interference as possible and with a vast variety of nutritious honeybee forage for a diversity of pollen and nectars and encourage leaf litter and see if pseudoscorpions find their way. One can’t just try and source pseudoscorpions and introduce them into a nest where the conditions for their survival may not be right, and certainly not if you medicate your bees; all creatures also have their own pheromones and not all pheromones are tolerated by honeybees. Introducing another creature that is also not indigenous can cause more harm than good. The stinging scorpions that you refer to are definitely NOT the creatures to be introduced into hives!

      Reply

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