Research highlight

Behaviour: Honeybees are ‘right-handed’ in social interactions

Scientific Reports

June 27, 2013

Honeybees appear to control context-appropriate social interactions using their right antenna, rather than the left, research published in Scientific Reports suggests.

Given their relatively small brain size, honeybees are capable of a surprising degree of higher cognitive function, including recognizing human faces and complex problem-solving. In larger vertebrate brains, regional specialization is used for solving complex tasks, and a link between sociality and directional biases in the brain and behaviour of vertebrates has been proposed.

Lesley Rogers and Giorgio Vallortigara, with their collaborators, Elisa Rigosi and Elisa Frasnelli investigated whether social behaviour in honeybees is associated with directional biases in antenna use. They show that honeybees tested using only their right antenna (RA) made contact with one another more quickly and were more likely to interact positively - by making a tongue-extension gesture, for instance - than those using only their left antenna (LA). The latter were more likely to interact negatively by making an aggressive ‘C-response’ - pointing their sting and jaws towards other bees, including those from their own hive. However, RA bees also tended to make aggressive C-responses more often than LA bees towards bees from another hive.

The findings suggest that the honeybee’s right antenna may control context-appropriate social behaviour, such as the exchange of information between other worker bees from the same colony and the control of aggressive responses towards bees from a different colony. Further research is needed to determine whether other forms of honeybee social behaviour, such as communication via the waggle dance, also benefit from this asymmetry of antenna function.

doi: 10.1038/srep02045

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