To Bee or not to Bee

Learning is essential to the life of a bee.
  • The ability to learn ensures a bee's survival
  • According to the classical ethologist Konrad Lorenz, instinctive behavior differs from learning in that instincts are rigid, fixed patterns that aren't molded by experience. (Brigandt, 2005) whereas learning is a flexible and changing behavior shaped by an animal's life history
  • Although modern behavioral studies have blurred this dichotomy, it is worth noting that for a bee's changing world and her developing duties in the hive, the ability to shape behavior through experience is crucial.

As a blue and purple iridescent world whizzes by a bee's two centimeter body at twenty miles per hour, she must memorize the landscape, position and elevation of the sun.

After a four mile journey, her work is not through, she must communicate to her relatives the location of a food source miles away, correcting for the changing position of the sun (all variables fluctuating with the location of food sources and the seasons).

The bee's family gathers around her, awaiting crucial information. She shares her message only to head out again, with other family members in tow, counting clumps of trees and rocks, navigating with an internal map and following the sun.

  • The bee must relay information about what she has learned from her environment to other bees in the hive.
  • The hive members must decode and interpret that information.
  • Researchers have used the Proboscis Extension Reflex (PER) to record and measure the bee's ability to learn.
  • Basically, bees stick out their tongues in response to a stimulus.
  • Bee learning and training has had some surprising consequences in the field of explosives detection.
  • Bees may one day replace the canine as the go-to animal for security screenings
  • Several companies have developed swarms of bomb-sniffing bees
  • The olfactory glands of a bee (located on its antenna) rival the noses of dogs in sensitivity
  • Compared to bomb-sniffing dogs, bees are cheap to care for and breed.