Conditional Training Makes Honeybees Stick Out Their Tongues
December 13, 2012

Conditional Training Makes Honeybees Stick Out Their Tongues

[Watch Video: Tactile Conditioning And Movement Analysis Of Honey Bees]

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

In the early 1900s, Ivan Pavlov discovered the conditioned response, using a ringing bell and food to trigger salivation in dogs. Pavlov would ring a bell (among other stimuli) and then deliver food to the dog. The food caused the dog to salivate. After a time, Pavlov noticed that when he rang the bell, the dog started to salivate even before the food was delivered. This has become known as the Pavlovian response--also known as conditional training, classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning.

A scientist at Bielefeld University has used this conditional training to teach honeybees to stick out their tongues. The results of this study were reported in a video-article at the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE).

The geometric structure of beehives and the complex colonies demonstrate that honeybees are a highly organized, social species. The honeybee relies strongly on its tactile sense for hive building, and the study, conducted by Dr. Volker Durr and his students, illustrates a novel tactile conditioning experiment using bees.

Dr. Durr and his team have trained bees to stick out their tongues when their antennae touch an object, allowing the research team to analyze how changes in antennal movement correspond to tactile pattern recognition and learning.

"We work with honey bees because they are an important model system for behavioral biology and neurobiology. They can be trained," Dr. Durr says in a statement. "If you can train an insect to respond to a certain stimulus, then you can ask the bees questions in the form of 'Is A like B? If so, stick your tongue out.'"

To train this Pavlovian response in the bees, Durr and his team let the bees sample a textured surface with their antennae, then delivered sugar water. As the training proceeded, each tested bee started extending its tongue for the sugar water as soon as its antenna touched the associated surface. The team recorded the movement of the bee's antenna on video, trying to understand how the bee uses active motion for tactile recognition.

"It is clear that if a bee touches something with an antenna, a finely textured structure, the bee has to move it to get the information it wants. We don't fully understand the relevance of this movement," Dr. Durr explains.

Durr hopes by recording the antennal movements his team can gain clearer insights into honeybee behavior.

He says he also uses the recordings to train new students in the lab. "We actually use this method in teaching often. The conditioning of the bees and recording of their antenna is better expressed in video," he concludes.