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Bumble Bee Buzz Alarms Elephants

April 27, 2010

According to a new study released Monday, the buzz of angry bees can stir elephants up to sound a “rumbling” alarm, signaling troop members to flee their attackers.

Researchers from Oxford University, Save the Elephants and Disney’s Animal Kingdom said that not only do they run from the sound of bees, they also take cover when their rumble is played back, even in the absence of bees.

The researchers made the discovery during a study of elephants in Kenya.

“In our experiments we played the sound of angry bees to elephant families and studied their reaction,” Lucy King of Oxford University’s zoology department and charity Save the Elephants, who led the research, told AFP.

“Importantly we discovered elephants not only flee from the buzzing sound but make a unique rumbling call as well as shaking their heads.”

According to the findings published in PLoS ONE journal, the rumble may also be a way of teaching inexperienced young elephants to beware.

However, it is not yet known whether the rumble call is a response to threats other than from bees.

“The calls also give tantalizing clues that elephants may produce different sounds in the same way that humans produce different vowels, by altering the position of their tongues and lips,” Dr Joseph Soltis of Disney’s Animal Kingdom told AFP.

Previous research found that elephants try to avoid beehives in the wild.  A study revealed last year that elephants avoid fences with beehives tied on them, which helps reduce raids on farms.

The study said that despite their thick hides, adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up on their trunks, while their calves can be killed by a swarm of stinging bees because of their thinner skin.

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