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The murder hornets of your nightmares aren't totally unstoppable - all you need is a little poop.

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[♪ INTRO].

Of the things that made headlines in 2020, murder hornets were probably not on your bingo card. I mean: Giant hornets with the word “murder” right there in their name?

Now, to be fair, their big thing is murdering honeybees, not people. But since the planet and its flowers need honeybees, that’s still bad news. So, you may be relieved to hear that the murder hornets of your nightmares aren’t totally unstoppable.

All you need is a little poop. Generally, murder hornets are pretty awful to their busy little relatives. Like thumb-sized mercenaries, they enter honeybees’ homes and begin decapitating them.

Then, the hornets take the bees’ pupae to feed their own offspring. I mean this is brutal, but one hornet can decapitate up to 40 bees a minute, so you kinda do have to, like, admire their efficiency at least. So far, just one of these species has shown up in North America, but there are others that could potentially cause problems here, so it’s a pretty big concern for us.

See, North American bees are especially helpless during an attack because they lack the same kinds of defensive behaviors that protect other bees elsewhere in the world. Like this ingenious but gross strategy from one species of Asian honeybee. These bees fly out from their hive on a special mission.

Their job is to collect animal feces, bring it home, and then smear it around the hive’s entrance. Then, when the murder hornets show up and start chewing on the entrance to expand it, they get a nasty surprise. This behavior is called fecal spotting, and I love it.

It’s a great prank to play on a murder hornet that wants to kill you. But it’s also a big deal from a biological perspective. For a start, this strategy represents the first time anyone has seen a honeybee search out solid, non-plant material.

It’s also significantly different from the way they transport pollen, because they carry it away in their mandibles, instead of on their hind legs. So, we’re learning something new about what bees are capable of. But also, this is the first time bees have been documented using tools.

So, this distinguishes them from most other insects! Now, it’s near-impossible to conclude that bees possess the same kind of abstract thought that is associated with tool use in humans. Because like, I mean, how do you ask a bee about that?

It does seem to imply a certain kind of intellect, though. The bees have somehow figured out that this works, and they also know what material to look for and how to bring it back to the hive. But really, probably the most important part of this discovery is what it can tell us about defending honeybees from invading murder hornets.

Since not all bees do this, we might be able to use knowledge from the Asian bees to help out their cousins. Like, if we can identify the specific compounds in poop that repel the hornets, we could use that to post chemical “do not enter” signs on commercial honeybee hives. Which could stop the invaders in their tracks.

If you’re a fan of science content like this, you might also be interested in one of our other channels, SciShow Kids. It features the same kinds of fun, fascinating science as this show, but it’s for early elementary schoolers. And while we don’t have any episodes about murder hornets over there, we do have all kinds of episodes about bees.

If you want to check it out and share it with the kids and teachers in your life, you can go to [♪ OUTRO].