Scientists discover how a bee evolved the ability to eat flesh

If the threat of a highly infectious new COVID-19 variant doesn't scare you, perhaps this will.

Scientists in the US have discovered how a bee evolved the ability to eat meat.

"These are the only bees in the world that have evolved to use food sources not produced by plants, which is a pretty remarkable change in dietary habits," said UC Riverside (UCR) entomologist Doug Yanega.

The change, which comes after about 80 million years of relying on the same gut bacteria, makes their stomachs more like those of vultures, he said.

The bees were found chowing down on raw chicken in Costa Rica. They used 'baskets' usually used for carrying pollen as "little chicken baskets", UCR entomologist Quinn McFrederick said. 

"The vulture bee microbiome is enriched in acid-loving bacteria, which are novel bacteria that their relatives don't have. These bacteria are similar to ones found in actual vultures, as well as hyenas and other carrion-feeders, presumably to help protect them from pathogens that show up on carrion."

One of the novel bacteria is lactobacillus, which is found in sourdough, and another carnobacterium, which helps digest flesh.

"It's crazy to me that a bee can eat dead bodies. We could get sick from that because of all the microbes on meat competing with each other and releasing toxins that are very bad for us," said Jessica Maccaro, a doctoral student at UCR. 

They can't sting but they can bite, with "blister-causing secretions in their jaws causing the skin to erupt in painful sores".

And another good piece of news is their honey is reportedly delicious, the raw meat stored in a different compartment in the bee's body. 

The research was published this week in the journal mBio