Honeybee Research: The Mighty Caterpillar Defender

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Honeybees are the best of friends for blooming fruit trees flowers, and herbs, such as apricot, cherry, members of the daisy family, lavender, oregano and sage. We’ve known that bees help pollinate plants before Jugen Tautz’s study. Tautz, of Biozentrum Universitat Wurzburg, Germany, has studied bees since 1973 and in 2008 released his book The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism (Springer, 2008). Now, Tautz has studied even more about the relationship between honeybees and plants. In 2008, his extensive study on honeybees, caterpillars and blooming plants and trees, proved that honeybees protect plants from hungry caterpillars. 

Tautz’s findings revealed that caterpillars have sensory hairs located on the front portion of their body. Although these sensory hairs can detect vibrations, such as the buzzing of a bee, they are unable to distinguish bees from wasps, which fall into the same vibration level. Assuming the worst, the caterpillar will often stop moving or intentionally fall from the plant when a bee or wasp is overhead. (It is a technique to fool the flying creature by making them believe they are dead.)  

In addition to this, Tautz found that if bees or wasps are present, caterpillars will become stressed and feed less. This is especially true for caterpillars feeding on blossoming fruit trees. He says that plants that were “protected” by visiting honeybees suffered 60 to 70 percent less leaf damage.

Courtesty of Flickr/Energetic_Spirit

To protect your garden from caterpillars, put blooming trees and plants near non-flowering plants to create a bee-friendly yard. Bees are attracted to yellow, blue and purple colored flowers. According to Tautz’s study, the honeybees will create a stressful environment for the herbivores to the extent that they will be discouraged from eating in that location.

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