The vulture bee, a carrion enjoyer and her iron belly

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


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.


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: