Study shows honeybees have personalities

By Alex Larrabee | Posted - Mar 12th, 2012 @ 11:41am

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's common to think that all bees are mindless zombies, doing the bidding of their queen in the hopes of getting a pat on the back -- or buzz in the ear - - before being forced to jettison their stinger and die a hero's death.

Well, brace yourself for a cold reality: That little prick on your neck may have come from an overachieving go- getter, who is just a little more outgoing than the rest of the hive.

A new study published by Science magazine shows that honeybees have distinct personalities. Particularly, some bees are more willing to perform harder tasks such as scouting for food, while other bees are content simply lounging around the hive.

While at first glance it may seem a bit silly, researchers, such as entomologist Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois, say that this discovery is important in understanding personality in other creatures.

"There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait," Robinson said.

While it was enough to simply observe a pattern of behavior by certain members of a swarm, researchers continued the study by experimenting on possible genetic features that could explain why only select bees were so willing to perform tasks like finding a new location for a hive.

Their findings showed that there are thousands of differences in gene activity between bees in a swarm, explaining why some were more daring than others. Most notably, the research showed that the brain of a scout bee -- one that ventures into the unknown to find either food or a suitable home for the hive -- contains reward systems that respond well to new, exciting experiences.

According to the researchers, the human mind works the same way.

"Our results say that novelty-seeking in humans and other vertebrates has parallels in an insect," Robinson says. "One can see the same sort of consistent behavioral differences and molecular underpinnings."

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