The vulture bee, a carrion enjoyer and her iron belly

The story of a bee who went through a major diet switch

Transcript

Picture yourself in the Amazonian forest, in Suriname.

[jungle noises fade in]

The weather is hot, the air is moist. You are a bee, looking for food… But unlike other bees, you don’t care for pollen. What you want is a carcass. You are a vulture bee.

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So, bees are usually vegetarian. You ancestors were for sure. But as a vulture bee, you get proteins for your larvae from meat. Rotting meat. A drastic change of diet, for a resources that is not so reliably available. But not a lot of animals are capable of digesting this. So you have less competitors than these silly bees going from flowers to flowers! And even if carrion is hardly a clean thing to tread on, at least you have fewer encounters with other insects who could infect you with diseases.

You still go for nectar for a short sugar rush sometimes by the way, it’s just pollen that you crossed off of your diet. You want these meaty proteins. It’s not a easy to feed on though… Rotting meat is, well, rotten. A real bacterial party is going on there, and you can’t allow that inside your gut. Thankfully, you have your own crowd occupying the space in there. And a super acidic gut. This ensures no uninvited guests can make themselves at home, as only your acidic loving partners can survive!

And for your gut bacteria, it’s good to have a privative cozy home to stay in. They don’t need to compete with generalist microbes.

A good partnership, allowing you to live your macabre jungle life. ### Sources Figueroa, L.L. et al. (2021) ‘Why Did the Bee Eat the Chicken? Symbiont Gain, Loss, and Retention in the Vulture Bee Microbiome’, mBio, 12(6), pp. e02317-21. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02317-21.