Honeybee brain picks up on right scent

July 27, 2006
Bee

A honeybee’s ability to smell scent appears to be linked to the right side of its brain, according to a new ANU study that could show how right and left ‘handedness’ evolved in other species.

“Just as humans use different brain hemispheres for different tasks, it appears honeybees and other insect species may also be right or left ‘brained’ for certain activities,” PhD student Pinar Letzkus from the ANU Research School of Biological Sciences said.

In the study, Ms Letzkus and colleagues found that honeybees use their right antenna to learn and recognise scent using three groups of bees in special smell learning exercises: one group had their left antenna covered, another group their right antenna covered, while the control group had neither antenna covered.

“The group with their left antenna covered – that is, the ones using their right antenna to pick up a scent added to sugar water – were just as competent at learning to recognise the scent as the control group, but the group with their right antenna covered were poorer at learning to recognise the smell of the sugar water.

“The results indicate that the right antenna in the honeybee is crucial in learning to recognise scent, suggesting that bees are right-brained when it comes to smell.”

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, is the first time that a right/left tendency for odour recognition has been shown in creatures such as insects, which have small and relatively simple brains.

“It is well known that the two hemispheres of the human brain are functionally specialised in that certain skills, such as language, musical ability and emotional responses, are mediated more by one hemisphere than the other,” ANU Visual Sciences Professor Mandyam Srinivasan said.

“Studies over the past 30 years suggest that brain lateralisation occurs in other vertebrate species as well, but little is known about functional asymmetry in invertebrates, like bees.

“This research shows for the first time that such asymmetries extend to insects as well. It’s an intriguing finding.”

Ms Letzkus said the results could shed light on brain physiology and evolution more generally.

“But there is still much to be answered. One of the biggest questions is whether this system of left/right demarcation has evolved separately in insects and mammals, or whether it’s a primitive system that for some reason has been genetically conserved in the evolutionary process.”

Ms Letzkus will next explore whether there is any difference in the sensitivity of the left and right antenna of bees.

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Key protein in cilia assembly identified

Related Stories

Key protein in cilia assembly identified

August 21, 2015

The group led by ICREA Research Professor Cayetano Gonzalez at IRB Barcelona, in collaboration with the group of Professor Giuliano Callaini from the University of Siena in Italy, has published a new study in Current Biology ...

Innovations from the wild world of optics and photonics

August 2, 2015

Traditional computers manipulate electrons to turn our keystrokes and Google searches into meaningful actions. But as components of the computer processor shrink to only a few atoms across, those same electrons become unpredictable ...

We are entering a 'golden age' of animal tracking

June 12, 2015

Animals wearing new tagging and tracking devices give a real-time look at their behavior and at the environmental health of the planet, say research associates at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in the June 12 ...

Recommended for you

Magnetic fields provide a new way to communicate wirelessly

September 1, 2015

Electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego demonstrated a new wireless communication technique that works by sending magnetic signals through the human body. The new technology could offer a lower power ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.