Bee Courtship Sees Male Almost Get Cooked Alive in Ball of Competitors

A digger bee's quest for love almost saw him cooked alive in a ball of his competitors during some frenzied mating behavior.

In a scene filmed for The Mating Game, a new series on Discovery+ narrated by David Attenborough, a male bee is seen flying around looking for a mate. Attenborough says that to succeed, the bee "must do whatever it takes." The bee picks up the scent of a female and starts digging.

But very shortly after, other males join in and when the female appears, they crowd around in an attempt to steal her. "As yet more join in, he risks being trapped at the center of the ball and cooked alive by their body heat," Attenborough says in the film.

Jeff Wilson, series producer on The Mating Game, told Newsweek: "It is an amazingly intense competition, simply because most of the males only get a single opportunity to find and mate with a female.

For this male, the competition proves too much and he leaves in search of another mate with fewer rivals. Eventually, he picks up a scent and he digs around trying to find her. They mate and he passes his sperm to her.

To prevent other males attempting to mate with her, he starts his courtship and "seduces her with a rasping call," Attenborough says. He also "anoints her with his own scent."

Wilson said it can take up to six months to film a sequence like this, including four weeks in the field. "You need that time to allow for the things you can't control—weather/light /nuances in timings of the behavior, and it always takes a few weeks to get to understand our animal well enough to predict their behaviors.

"We work closely with scientific teams and use highly specialized camera operators in these macro situations, so it is through experience that we know where and when to target the behaviors—but there is a lot of failure on our part in order to get a good five-minute sequence. I think it was worth it!"

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Wilson said the whole series was revelatory in terms of showing how different mating strategies are for different species. "We of course understood their behaviors before we started filming, but when observing animals for hundreds of hours, you come to understand that they are all individuals—there are some who are confident, some that are shy, some that are good at flirting, some that are terrible, even those who are downright sneaky," he said.

"I loved the animals that went to extraordinary lengths—the Humpback whale run off the coast of Hawaii is surely one of our planet's most impressive kiss chases, but on a completely different scale, the fact that certain male nursery web spiders present false gifts to potential partners to illicit a mate is absolutely extraordinary."