Honeybee pheromones scare away elephants

african elephants do not like honeybees
© Kletr/Shutterstock

I wish I'd been raised by elephants. They seem so wise and kind thanks to their giant, floppy ears, great memories and weirdly adorable trunks.

Unfortunately, not all humans find them so cute. Once upon a time, farmers planted crops across elephant migration paths. This did not stop the elephants from migrating. It just made them eat the crops. And if there's one thing humans don't like, it's losing their livelihoods to a bunch of adorable crop-eaters.

When humans lose their livelihoods to adorable crop-eaters, they get mad. They also get guns. They frequently use these guns to kill said crop-eaters. People shoot about a hundred elephants a year in Kenya alone.

Some scientists decided that there were some problems with this general state of human-elephant relations, so they devised a solution: honeybee pheromones.

You see, honeybees don't have guns, but they too want to repel elephants. When they notice one nearby, they send out alarm pheromones. When elephants smell these, they book it.

So the scientists stuffed honeybee pheromones into socks. They hung said garments on trees near some African waterholes. Twenty-nine elephants came up to check out these mysterious objects. Twenty-five of them left when they got close enough to smell the pheromones. The other four could not be reached for comment, possibly because they are covered in bee stings.

“We were pleased with the results of the elephant study and hope our bee pheromone formulation will save elephants while also helping farmers," said Agenor Mafra-Neto, who co-authored the study. Mafra-Neto is the CEO of ISCA Technologies, a biotech company that worked with the University of Hawaii and other organizations on the study.

The scientists hope that farmers can use some kind of honeybee pheromone-based product to keep elephants away from their crops.

“We were also amazed that we actually could effectively manipulate the behavior of these huge animals using the chemical signal of tiny insects," Mafra-Neto went on. "Imagine being able to use environmentally safe pheromone formulations, similar to those that we use today to control agricultural insect pests, to manage and control large mammals.”

These sorts of quotes make me wonder if scientists are using pheromone formulations to manage and control other large mammals. Like the kinds with opposable thumbs and Netflix subscriptions. Perhaps one day, I'll be able to buy a pheromone that scares away telemarketers. One can only dream.

Honeybee pheromones scare away elephants
A new scientific study could save a whole lot of elephants.

Related Content on Treehugger.com