December 23, 2008

Bees on coke ‘dance’ more

Honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate their actions to hive-mates for possibly altruistic reasons, University of Illinois researchers reported Tuesday.

Normally foraging honey bees dance to alert others in the hive to potential food sources only when the sources are high quality, but bees buzzing on cocaine performed their dance when any food was found, the Champaign, Ill., university said in a release.

The dance, or waggle, gives information that helps other bees find nectar or food.

The findings, published in the latest Journal of Experimental Biology, provides new information on the honey bee dance language, said University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor and lead study researcher Gene Robinson. The research also supported the theory that, in certain circumstances, honey bees are motivated by feelings of reward, similar to humans.

The honey bee dance is this incredibly complex set of activities, Robinson said. It's a very integrated communication system, very elaborate and very elegant, one of the seven wonders of the animal behavior world.

Cocaine influences emotional reward systems in mammals, including humans by affecting the chemically related dopamine system, researchers said. Dopamine plays a role in the human ability to predict or respond to pleasure or reward, including altruism.

Because cocaine causes honey bees to dance more -- an altruistic behavior -- the researchers said they think their results support the idea of a reward system in the insect brain, something never shown before, Robinson said.