Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Substance abusing bees, part 1

Recent research shows that honey bees that are given cocaine dance more - which may not be surprising - but there's more to it than it sounds at first, because remember that for bees, dancing isn't about partying, it's about communication:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — 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.

(Click here for a less restrained look into the mind of bees on coke, from this week's New Yorker.)

Bees have also been used to study the effects of alcohol, and the effect likewise sound awfully familiar.

"Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways – it impairs motor functioning along with learning and memory processing," said Julie Mustard, a study co-author and a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at Ohio State University.

Researchers gave honey bees various levels of ethanol, the intoxicating agent in liquor, and monitored the ensuing behavioral effects of the drink – specifically how much time the bees spent flying, walking, standing still, grooming and flat on their backs, so drunk they couldn't stand up.

...Not surprisingly, increasing ethanol consumption meant bees spent less time flying, walking and grooming, and more time upside down.

You might say that this doesn't count as bad behavior, because it wasn't the bees' choice to imbibe... but come back on Friday.

Partying bee by Flickr user Henrique Vicente.


  1. Yes! Imagine a whole hive of them like that. It's a good thing they only get cocaine in the lab.


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