Honey Bees Study Finds That Insects Have Personality Too
Individual honey bees actually differ in their desire or willingness to perform particular tasks. These differences may be due, in part, to variability in the bees’ personalities…
“In humans, differences in novelty-seeking are a component of personality,” he said. “Could insects also have personalities?”
“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. Not only do certain bees exhibit signs of novelty-seeking, he said, but their willingness or eagerness to “go the extra mile” can be vital to the life of the hive.
The researchers wanted to determine the molecular basis for these differences in honey bee behavior.
“People are trying to understand what is the basis of novelty-seeking behavior in humans and in animals. And a lot of the thinking has to do with the relationship between how the (brain’s) reward system is engaged in response to some experience.”
The researchers found thousands of distinct differences in gene activity in the brains of scouting and non-scouting bees.
“We expected to find some, but the magnitude of the differences was surprising given that both scouts and non-scouts are foragers,”
Among the many differentially expressed genes were several related to catecholamine, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling, and the researchers zeroed in on these because they are involved in regulating novelty-seeking and responding to reward in vertebrates.
To test whether the changes in brain signaling caused the novelty-seeking, the researchers subjected groups of bees to treatments that would increase or inhibit these chemicals in the brain. Two treatments (with glutamate and octopamine) increased scouting in bees that had not scouted before. Blocking dopamine signaling decreased scouting behavior, the researchers found.
“Our results say that novelty-seeking in humans and other vertebrates has parallels in an insect. One can see the same sort of consistent behavioral differences and molecular underpinnings.”
The findings also suggest that insects, humans and other animals made use of the same genetic “toolkit” in the evolution of behavior. The tools in the toolkit – genes encoding certain molecular pathways – may play a role in the same types of behaviors, but each species has adapted them in its own, distinctive way.
“It looks like the same molecular pathways have been engaged repeatedly in evolution to give rise to individual differences in novelty-seeking,” he said.