Teaching Young bees

Honey bees have a well organized career path with different duties at different ages. When young, they sort out the incoming nectar, feed the larvae, keep the place tidy, and build new comb. Later on, they become foragers and collect water, nectar and pollen.

They can be trained to take home sucrose and recruit others to help and scents can be used to take them to fresh sources. Young, eager foragers are the easiest to train using scents to indicate sources according to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology (1).

When freshly emerged, the young bees have trouble getting their minds on the job and don’t do so well. The same is true of old foraging hands who have got set in their ways. For the old girls there isn’t much hope, but for the young ones science can come to the rescue.

Behrends and Scheiner showed that by spiking the nectar with octopamine, the young foragers got right on top of the task in hand. It wasn’t helpful with teaching an old bee new tricks though.

Octopamine is a neural hormone that plays a major role in learning and memory for bees and fruit flies, but clearly only on the young ones. It has other functions as well, but so far we don’t know how they change with age. For us it has rumored fat control properties, but doesn’t seem to help with our learning as the addition in slimming remedies haven’t been shown to be all that efficacious.

  1. A. Behrends & R. Scheiner, J. Exp. Biol., 215, 1076, (2012)

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