The Buzz Over Queen Bee Learning And Memory

Chinese scientists have demonstrated that epigenetics contributes to superior learning capacities in queen bees.

AsianScientist (Jul. 30, 2018) – A research group in China has found that honey bee queens are better learners than worker bees due to epigenetics. Their findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

In social insects, the study of learning and memory has been especially productive because multiple aspects of sociality and how animals interact with their environment—colony defense, foraging and even communication—rely upon sophisticated learning and memory. Honey bees have a major ecological role as pollinators in multiple ecosystems. However, no studies have demonstrated that honey bee queen learning exists or have examined it in detail.

In the present study, Professor Tan Ken and his team at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, China, investigated learning in queen bees of the Apis mellifera species. They focused on olfactory learning because queens, like workers, likely have good olfactory abilities and olfactory learning has been studied in more detail than any other form of honey bee learning.

The researchers compared queen and worker bee olfactory learning at different ages using classical conditioning of the proboscis extension reflex.

“Our data provide the first demonstration that honey bee queens, like workers, have excellent learning and memory,” said Tan.

They also found that the proportion of honey bee queens that exhibited olfactory learning markedly exceeded that of workers of the same age, particularly in young bees. Hence, queen bees possess higher learning capacities than worker bees.

The researchers also observed that the enzyme Dnmt3, which adds methyl-group tags to DNA, was elevated in queen bees compared to worker bees. When they inhibited DNA methylation in the bees with the chemical zebularine, both queen and worker bees exhibited significantly reduced learning and memory. Collectively, these findings indicate that epigenetics is important for social insects to remember and recall tasks or interactions required for colony formation.

The article can be found at: Gong et al. (2018) First Demonstration of Olfactory Learning and Long-term Memory in Honey Bee Queens.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Pexels.
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