Bees use thoracic vibrations produced by their indirect flight muscles for powering wingbeats in flight, but also during mating, pollination, defence and nest building. Previous work on non-flight vibrations has mostly focused on acoustic (airborne vibrations) and spectral properties (frequency domain). However, mechanical properties such as the vibration's acceleration amplitude are important in some behaviours, e.g. during buzz pollination, where higher amplitude vibrations remove more pollen from flowers. Bee vibrations have been studied in only a handful of species and we know very little about how they vary among species. In this study, we conducted the largest survey to date of the biomechanical properties of non-flight bee buzzes. We focused on defence buzzes as they can be induced experimentally and provide a common currency to compare among taxa. We analysed 15,000 buzzes produced by 306 individuals in 65 species and six families from Mexico, Scotland and Australia. We found a strong association between body size and the acceleration amplitude of bee buzzes. Comparison of genera that buzz-pollinate and those that do not suggests that buzz-pollinating bees produce vibrations with higher acceleration amplitude. We found no relationship between bee size and the fundamental frequency of defence buzzes. Although our results suggest that body size is a major determinant of the amplitude of non-flight vibrations, we also observed considerable variation in vibration properties among bees of equivalent size and even within individuals. Both morphology and behaviour thus affect the biomechanical properties of non-flight buzzes.

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