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Video: German bees can snag English bees if they vibrate like their U.K. counterparts

Good vibrations indeed. Female red mason bees (Osmia bicornis, seen in video) choose to have sex with a male based on how well he can vibrate his thorax. Initially scientists thought that the females were cuing in on how long the males could keep the vibration going—a testament to fitness and stamina. But along the way, researchers discovered that females from a subspecies native to the United Kingdom preferred U.K. males over German members from the opposite subspecies regardless of who could vibrate the longest. This led scientists to wonder whether information about the bees’ geographic origin and subspecies identity was also conveyed through the vibrations. To be sure, they needed away to control for confounding variables, especially odor. Today in Current Biology scientists report the development of a novel test that uses a vibrating magnet attached to the bees’ thorax to impose one male’s vibrational pattern onto another male’s body. Before the magnet treatment the least compatible bee pairings were U.K. females and German males. But after scientists recorded the vibrations of U.K. males and duplicated them in the magnet strapped to the Germans, the U.K. females became much more receptive. Like Cyrano de Bergerac feeding Christian lines from underneath Roxane’s balcony, the German males had much better luck when they mimicked the premating communication of another. The scientists point out that, in the wild (where there are no magnetic wingmen), the females’ preference for local males’ vibrations could be an early sign of speciation in the red mason bees: If the females of one subspecies stop mating with the other subspecies entirely, the two lineages may eventually become incompatible and diverge into two separate species.