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Bee Stripes' Color Diversity Explained

We tend to imagine bees generally having a specific set of color patterns but looking closely, though they exhibit the same colors, the patterns come in varieties.

"There is exceptional diversity in coloration of bumble bees," said Heather Hines, assistant professor of biology and of entomology at Penn State and principal investigator of the study. "Of the roughly 250 species of bumble bees, there are over 400 different color patterns that basically mix and match the same few colors over the different segments of a bee's body."

Evolutionary factors play into the bees' coloration. For example, one may notice that in some species, at the sting end of its body, a red spot could be found which would warn or signal danger for those who see it. The researchers also noted that bees from the same region would usually mimic patterns.

In spite of the great diversity available, color patterns tend to converge toward similarity within a particular geographic region because they serve as an important and effective warning signal. This is an example of Müllerian mimicry, where similar, often vibrant, color patterns are used among multiple species to warn predators of a dangerous feature like toxicity or sharp spines.

In researching these color patterns, the researchers were able to identify a particular region in a gene, called the Abdominal-B which regulates how the colors are expressed.

(Image credit: Krzysztof Niewolny/Unsplash)


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