Zeroing in on the Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and Their Predators

If you're around honey bees, you've seen their predators: crab spiders, orb weavers, praying mantids, birds and more.

It's a tough world out there for pollinators.

Take it from UC San Diego bee scientist James Nieh, who will be on the UC Davis campus next week to speak on  "Animal Information Warfare: How Sophisticated Communications May Arise from the Race to Find an Advantage in a Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and Their Predators."

His seminar, part of the fall quarter seminar series hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will take place at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25 in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.  Fellow bee scientist Brian Johnson, associate professor of entomology, is the host.

"In addition to the classical arm race that has evolved between predators and prey, information races also occur, which can lead to the evolution of sophisticated animal communication," says Nieh, a  professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences. "Such information can shape the food web and contribute to the evolution of remarkable communication strategies, including eavesdropping, referential signaling and communication within and between species, including between predators and prey."

"I focus on the world of information exchange (acoustic, olfactory and visual) that has co-evolved between Asian honey bees (Apis cerana, A. florea, and A. dorsata) and their predators, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina and V. mandarinia)," Nieh says in his abstract. "I will explore how and why such information races occur through the remarkable examples provided by these high social insects."

He presented a TED talk on "Bees and Us: an Ancient and Future Symbiosis" in July 2019.

A native of Taiwan, Nieh grew up in Southern California and received his bachelor's degree in organismic and evolutionary biology in 1991 from Harvard University, Cambridge, and his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in 1997. He subsequently received a NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellowship to study at the University of Würzburg in Germany. A Harvard junior fellowship followed. 

Nieh joined the faculty of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in 1997 as an assistant professor, advancing to associate professor in 2007 and professor in 2009. He served as vice chair of the section from 2009 to 2014, and as chair from 2014 to 2017.

His latest co-authored research, published in the journal Chemosphere in 2019, is titled Combined Nutritional Stress and a New Systemic Pesticide (flupyradifurone, Sivanto®) Reduce Bee Survival, Food Consumption, Flight Success, and Thermoregulation.

 Assistant professor Rachel Vannette is coordinating the fall quarter seminars. Nieh's seminar is the first of the fall quarter. (See list of seminars.) Vannette may be reached at