February 28th, 2015
Working with just 960,000 neurons, honeybees can manage a lot of powerful brain work. Bigger-brained animals like us, with tens of billions of neurons, need to specialize from left to right to perform complex problems. For bees, previous studies only found that the insects preferred their right antennae during the simple task of responding to smell.
However, a new Scientific Reports study announced that bees do work through their right side when handling social tasks. By removing the left or right antenna, researchers Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Australia and Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trento in Italy showed that bees with intact right antennae more quickly recognized bees from the same hive, stuck out their tongues (showing willingness to feed), and fended off foreign bees. Bees with just their left antennae took longer to recognize bees, didn’t want to feed, and mistook familiar bees for foreign ones. Since the antennae are the one of the bee’s main sensory organs (besides the eyes, of course), they send signals straight into the brain. So, if there’s a preference for one antenna over the other, then the brain must be organized for “sidedness”, too.
The researchers looked at 70 pairs of honeybees from two separate hives, and cooled the bees in a laboratory until they could not move. Then, they removed either the right or left antenna. They were then put in a contraption consisting of two petri dishes with an opening in each; the bees could only go from one dish to the other through the opening, and were bound to meet each other.
“Three most important measures of social interaction…depend on use of the antennae in a lateralized way,” the researchers wrote.
The research suggests that right antennae might control bees’ sophisticated, mysterious “waggle dance.” This dance is used by bees to tell other hive members the location of food sources, and is considered very unusual and complex for an insect with less than a million nerve cells.
Source: Scientific Reports, ScienceNOW
Photo: Elisa Rigosi/University of Trento
Reference: Rogers LJ, Rigosi E, Frasnelli E, & Vallortigara G (2013). A right antenna for social behaviour in honeybees. Scientific reports, 3 PMID: 23807465
insect brain,left and right side of the brain function,social behaviour of insects