Social life is generally associated with an increased risk of disease transmission, but at the same time it allows behavioural defence at both the individual and collective level. Bees infected with deformed-wing virus were introduced into observation hives; through behavioural observations and chemical analysis of cuticular hydrocarbons from healthy and infected bees, we offer the first evidence that honeybee colonies can detect and remove infected adult bees, probably by recognising the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of sick individuals. We also found that health-compromised colonies were less efficient at defending themselves against infected bees, thus facing an ever increasing risk of epidemics. This work reveals a new antiseptic behaviour that can only be interpreted as an adaptation at colony level and one which should be considered an element of the social immunity system of the beehive, re-enforcing the view of a colony as an integrated organism.
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