CHAMPAIGN, Ill. In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate.
Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they've found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need. They do this by performing a dance, called a "round" or "waggle" dance, on a specialized "dance floor" in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.
Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they've found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report.
The findings, detailed this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology, shed new light on the famous honey bee dance language, said University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson, who led the study. The research also supports the idea that in certain circumstances, honey bees, like humans, are motivated by feelings of reward.
"The honey bee dance is this incredibly complex set of activities," Robinson said. "It's a very integrated communication system, very elaborate and very elegant, one of the seven wonders of the animal behavior world."
(To see a video of the waggle dance, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE-8QuBDkkw)
The dance is also an important tool for understanding social behavior in animals in particular altruism, the "social glue" in all societies, including our own, he said.
Robinson's interest in the waggle dance led him to study octopamine, a neurochemical known to be important to insect behavior particularly in regard to movement and eating.
"A variety of solitary insects respond to treatment with octopamine by eating more," he said. Honey bees don't eat more when treated with octopamine, but accept a l
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign