Honeybees may have personality
Bees have different “personalities”, with some showing a stronger willingness or desire to seek adventure than others, according to a study by entomologists at the University of Illinois.
The researchers found that thrill-seeking is not limited to humans and other vertebrates. The brains of honeybees that were more likely than others to seek adventure exhibited distinct patterns of gene activity in molecular pathways known to be associated with thrill-seeking in humans.
The findings present a new perspective on honeybee communities, which were thought to be highly regimented and comprised of a colony of interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles to serve their queen.
It now seems as though individual honeybees differ in their desire to perform particular tasks and these differences could be down to variability in bees’ personalities. This supports a 2011 study at Newcastle University which found that honeybees exhibit pessimism, suggesting that the insects might have feelings.
Gene Robinson, entomology professor and director of the Institute for Genomic Biology, said: “In humans, differences in novelty-seeking are a component of personality. Could insects also have personalities?”
Robinson and his team studied two behaviors that looked like novelty seeking: scouting for new nest sites and scouting for food. When a colony outgrows its living quarters, the swarm must hunt for a new home. Around five percent of the swarm goes hunting for new lodgings. These “nest scouts” are around 3.4 times more likely than their peers to also become food scouts, researchers discovered.
“There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait,” Robinson said.
In order to understand the molecular basis for these differences, Robinson and his colleagues used whole-genome microarray analysis to look for differences in the activity of thousands of genes in the brains the thrill-seeking and non thrill-seeking bees. They found thousands of differences in gene activity.
In humans and animals, thrill-seeking behavior is thought to be linked to how the brain’s reward system responds. In bees, researchers found lots of differently expressed genes that were connected to proteins and hormones that imply novelty-seeking in vertebrates.
In order to test whether the changes in brain signalling caused the novelty-seeking, researchers gave bees extra glutamate and octapamine which increased scouting in bees that had not scouted before. Blocking dopamine signalling decreased scouting behavior. “Our results say that novelty-seeking in humans and other vertebrates has parallels in an insect. One can see the same sort of consistent behavioral differences and molecular underpinnings,” said Robinson.
Robinson believes that insects, humans and other animals have made use of the same genetic “toolkit” in the evolution of behavior, which each species has adapted. “It looks like the same molecular pathways have been engaged repeatedly in evolution to give rise to individual differences in novelty-seeking,” he concluded.
Thanks to Alison G. for the tip!