Natural anesthetic in honeybee bites

November 27, 2012
Honeybee. Credit: Adam Siegel

(—Honeybees never cease to amaze us... their bite contains a natural anesthetic. This discovery was made by a team of Greek and Cypriot researchers, in collaboration with the CNRS Laboratoire Evolution, Génomes et Spéciation. In a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers show that bites from domestic honeybees (Apis mellifera) contain a compound, 2-heptanone (2-H), that acts as an efficient natural anesthetic. This finding has been patented, so 2-H can now be commercially produced as a local anesthetic, which offers the additional advantage of low toxicity to humans and animals.

Several hypotheses have been made about the function of 2-heptanone (2-H), a present in many foodstuffs and in insects, but its anesthetic properties were previously unknown.

Results now show that 2-H, secreted by honeybee mandible glands, can paralyze small arthropods bitten by the bees, for up to nine minutes. Like a snake, a honeybee can use its mandibles to bite a foe and secrete the substance into the wound, paralyzing it. The bees can then throw the intruder out of their nest. This approach is particularly efficient against predators and parasites that are too small to be stung and killed with venom. But this anesthetic, which helps repel pests that attack their colonies – such as the wax moth Galleria mellonella and parasitic mite Varroa destructor – also has enormous potential in human medicine.

The researchers compared the anesthetic properties of 2-H with those of lidocaine, one of the most widely used anesthetics in the world. Effects of the two substances on wax moth larvae and on an isolated rat sciatic nerve preparation showed that their properties and mode of action were very similar: both blocked particular . Additionally, 2-heptanone appeared to be even less toxic than lidocaine. Because 2-H has low toxicity compared with classic anesthetics, this natural substance is likely to find many applications in both human and veterinary medicine.

Explore further: Anesthesia and Alzheimer's

More information: Papachristoforou, A. et al., The bite of the honeybee: 2-heptanone secreted from honeybee mandibles during a bite acts as a local anesthetic in insects and mammals, PLoS ONE 7(10): e47432. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047432.

Related Stories

Anesthesia and Alzheimer's

April 25, 2008

In studies of human brain cells, the widely-used anesthetic desflurane does not contribute to increased production of amyloid-beta protein; however, when combined with low oxygen conditions, it can produce more of this Alzheimer’s ...

Honeybees entomb to protect from pesticides

April 8, 2011

( -- With the drastic rise in the disappearance of honeybee colonies throughout the world in recent years there has become a large focus on the study of honeybees and the effects of pesticides on their colonies. ...

Research confirms Varroa mite bad news for Aussie bees

June 25, 2012

The worst fears of Australia's honeybee industry have been realised, with new research confirming that Australian honeybees are highly susceptible to a pest that hasn't yet reached our shores but will potentially devastate ...

Honeybee secretion may find use as local anesthetic

October 29, 2012

(—Bees can bite. Biologists from universities in Greece and France have discovered that, besides a tail sting, the honeybee is capable of packing a paralyzing bite. The bee uses its bite weapon on targets too small ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

A huge chunk of a tardigrade's genome comes from foreign DNA

November 23, 2015

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have sequenced the genome of the nearly indestructible tardigrade, the only animal known to survive the extreme environment of outer space, and found something ...


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.