London: Eavesdropping on the buzzing of honey bees in their hives can reveal whether they are suffering from disease, scientists have claimed.
Researchers have found that they can detect subtle changes in the vibrations honey bees use to communicate with each other that indicate how healthy the insects are, the Telegraph reported.
Growing levels of disease, including a deadly parasite known as verroa mite, have taken a devastating toll on honey bee colonies, causing numbers of the insects in Britain to more than halve in the past 25 years.
Dr Martin Bencsik, a physicist at Nottingham Trent University, is now developing a device that can automatically detect the signs of disease in bees to give bee keepers an early warning of any infections in a colony and hopefully allow them to take action.
It detects distinct vibrations that the insects pass through the honeycomb in their hives to warn others in the colony about possible threats.
Much like listening to a human heart beat, Dr Bencsik and his team believe they can detect the messages sent by infected bees to diagnose illnesses as they start to spread within a hive. It could also spot harm caused by pollution and pesticides.
For bee keepers, often the first signs that their hives are suffering from disease is when bees start dying in large numbers.
Over the cold winter months, when the insects are most vulnerable, many bee keepers are reluctant to open their hives for fear of disturbing the colony and causing them to use up vital food sources.
The bee diagnosis device being developed by Dr Bencsik, who is working with the Bee Farmers Association of the United Kingdom, will continuously monitor the vibrations produced by the bees for signs of infected bees. This can then wirelessly send alerts to bee keepers.
Bees are known to use vibrations to communicate with each other in their hives and scientists have already been able to decode a particular behaviour known as a waggle dance, which the bees use to tell others about the location of good food sources.
In the waggle dance, a bee will beat its wings rapidly and shake its body from side to side as it walks in a single direction along the honeycomb before circling back and starting the dance again. The duration and direction of the dance tells other bees where the flowers are.
Dr Bencsik is now working to identify distinct vibrations that indicate the bees have found an infection in the colony by looking for changes in frequency - the speed of the vibrations - and how long they go on for.