Honeybee brain picks up on right scent

Jul 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: Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Antennae help flies 'cruise' in gusty winds

Apr 10, 2014

Due to its well-studied genome and small size, the humble fruit fly has been used as a model to study hundreds of human health issues ranging from Alzheimer's to obesity. However, Michael Dickinson, Esther ...

Emerging ethical dilemmas in science and technology

Dec 10, 2013

As a new year approaches, the University of Notre Dame's John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values has released its annual list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and ...

Recommended for you

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

10 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

Chrono, the last piece of the circadian clock puzzle?

12 hours ago

All organisms, from mammals to fungi, have daily cycles controlled by a tightly regulated internal clock, called the circadian clock. The whole-body circadian clock, influenced by the exposure to light, dictates the wake-sleep ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.