by Harry Pope

if only he could speak

if only he could speak

Researchers have been listening to bees. Words I never thought I would see in print, let alone write them, but those at Nottingham Trent University sat around a table one day, discussing what they can investigate. ‘I know what,’ said one brainbox, ‘let’s listen to the noises that bees make.’

After much chortling, bereft of other sensible suggestions they adopted this project. The article I read about this leaves me asking questions. No mention about where the bees came from, if they used an obliging apiarist’s hives or if they erected their own on campus grounds. No mention about the protective clothing, how many bees they had, where the research equipment came from. Because they discovered that queen bees don’t just buzz, they also toot. And quack.

beehives

beehives

No mention also of how the bees make their noises. Usually it is by rubbing legs, but these noises must be quite loud, so do they have the ability of emitting something from their faces? Is the sound magnified in some way, or is it made louder by many queen bees making the same noise at the same time. The research conclusions were published in the Journal of Scientific reports. This is published by Nature Research, described by Wikipedia as ‘The journal has announced that their aim is to assess solely the scientific validity of a submitted paper, rather than its perceived importance, significance or impact.’ That means that if you want to spend some time investigating something that has no relevance to people’s lives, then find an outlet to publicise your findings without any obligation to show how clever you are, then this is it.

yup its a parrot

yup its a parrot

Leaving aside the obvious (!) benefits of this research, they discovered that when several queen bees have developed a hive, they are thinking of moving on, so make these different noises to encourage others to go with them. My theory is that they aren’t really quacking, they are whispering words of love and encouragement, ‘come with me’, they chant enticingly, ‘it’s much better where I am going.’ The tooting noise comes when they are ready to mate. Quite understandable, really, for the female of the species to show their feelings in such an excitable and obvious way. How else would they do it. But no mention in the article about how long the study and listening took. The queen bee is captive in the hive by the workers, so when she stops tooting, then they know that the time has come for her to go looking for a new home, taking workers with her.

The conclusion is that armed with this new information, beekeepers will be able to listen out for the tell-tale noises, so they will know when the queen is about to fly away. Quite what they will do with this knowledge has not been explained.

black capped chichadee

black capped chichadee

So then I started wondering about the ability of other species to communicate with each other. For example, I asked the question how do fish speak. Don’t expect too much common sense with this answer, because someone also asked the question if fish fart. Really, how infantile. The answer is no. Or if they do, no research has yet been conducted. Thankfully. So I then went onto birds. We all know that they can sing, but, for example, a rock pigeon will court its mate with gentle coos. If there is danger, then they make  harsh grunting noise. However, no-one knows what noise they make while mating if they suddenly come under attack. Just speculating for a friend. If you are a North American black-capped chickadee, or red-breasted nuthatch listen out for their chick-a-dee-dee call. It means that there is a raptor nearby, and if the hawk or some such is on the wing then there are more dees. The tufted titmouse is a little bird welcomed by squirrels and chipmunks, as its warning cry is recognised by them.

no caption required really

no caption required really

When making noises, birds use muscles and membranes in their throats, which is why they rarely sound alike. Imitation is important for the young, just like humans really, so fledglings learn to make the same sound as their parents. Les Runce, of the UK’s Parrot Society, has a friend, whose daughter had an ingrown toenail. Having had one as a teenager, I know how painful they can be, and she banged hers. The shriek she gave was copied by the family parrot, which for the next thirty years mimicked her cry that it had only heard once.

rock pigeon

rock pigeon

As far as primates are concerned, yes, they most definitely communicate with each other, if not by speech but by body language. If you can imagine the way that deaf people sign, then chimpanzees certainly do the same. And can they communicate with humans? Most definitely yes, but why they would want to bother is beyond me, as the grunting language adopted by many under the legal voting age seems to share a lot of similarities.

tufted titmouse

tufted titmouse

Harry Pope has various books for sale on Amazon, including Buried Secrets, his anecdotal essay of amusing funereal incidents,  Hotel Secrets, all about his disastrous ownership of a 28 bedroom hotel, and the Brick Monster, a children’s character who decided to leave home at the young age of 58, because of his unpleasant personal habits.