Honeybees Get High on Cocaine and Dance, Dance, Dance

By Eliza Strickland | December 29, 2008 2:26 pm

bees honeycombWhen a honeybee is given a dose of cocaine, it gets overexcited about poor-quality food and performs overenthusiastic dances to communicate with its hivemates, according to an odd new study that got bees hooked on drugs. The research found similarities between honey bees and humans, in that they are both are driven by rewards and both have their judgment altered by cocaine. “This is the first time that it’s been shown that cocaine has been rewarding to an insect” [Reuters], says study coauthor Andrew Barron.

After a honeybee has been out foraging for food, it returns to the hive and tells the other bees what it found by means of a “waggle dance” that describes the location and quality of the food source. But after dabbing low doses of cocaine on the bees’ backs before they went out, the researchers observed that when they returned they were more likely to dance for their nest mates, and performed particularly vigorous routines explaining where the food was located [The Guardian]. They performed these exuberant dances even when the food source that the researchers provided was a weak sugar water solution that didn’t merit the hive’s attention.

In the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers explain that the cocaine didn’t interfere with the bees ability to give accurate directions. “It’s not like they’re gyrating wildly on the dance floor out of control,” [said] study leader Gene Robinson…. “This is a patterned response. It gives distance information, location information. That information is intact.” It’s just that bees are communicating about a food source they normally would ignore because of poor quality or lack of need [HealthDay News]. Researchers say the cocaine acts on a neurochemical called octopamine that’s plentiful in the brains of foraging honeybees and which is linked to the reward system in mammals; previous studies have shown that increasing octopamine in bee brains causes them to dance more vehemently.

In another experiment, the researchers determined that the bees had withdrawal symptoms when their daily cocaine regimen was abruptly halted. The research team kept the bees on a cocaine diet for a week while teaching them to distinguish between a vanilla and a lemon scent. “The poor little buggers had to drink cocaine for a week. Then we just stopped it dead and we gave them a learning test,” said Barron. “Their performance absolutely crashed” [The Guardian].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Quantum Honeybees takes a mathematical approach to explaining the bee dance
Discoblog: You Can Dance if You Want to, You Can Learn From Different Bees
80beats: Honeybee Killer Still at Large

Image: flickr / Carly & Art

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
  • http://flotserver.net modernrocko

    This article is hilarious. These scientists must be getting bored of playing with honeybees all day. I mean, I know we all enjoy harassing and messing with people while they’re high, but this takes the idea to a very different level.

    “Their performance absolutely crashed.”

    Haha, classic.

  • Geez

    These researchers must be what’s become of those burnouts typically found in every college dorm who exhale pot smoke into their pet hamster cage.

  • Wolf

    I am a Bee wrangler and I think if you’re going to get Bees hi on drugs you should choose the (quote) , killer Bee. He sounds like he needs to mellow out a bit.

  • DP

    How fitting. :)

  • lovehamster

    Actually it’s an excellent experiment. The whole tongue in cheek response to this type of knowledge creation shines a bright light on a serious lack of intellect(geez). One incredibly important aspect of this research is showing that these biochemical reward pathways have been preserved from some earlier multicellular progenitor, and whilst this may be known, intuitively or otherwise by knowledgable observers, it’s definitely still an unknown by a rampant majority. I’d like to see these guys start mainlining peruvian flake into a bunch of ameobas and see what happens, that could potentially be terribly interesting. Kudos.

  • CEM1830

    I agree with lovehamster. I wonder if this is perhaps, evidence of pleasure in bees. A way to tie rudimentary pleasure center’s in our genetic ancsetors to more complex emotions in humans.


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