Beekeepers know it is common for bees in different bee yards to have distinct natures. The bees in one yard may be more defensive in behavior than the bees in other yards managed by the same beekeeper. Also, certain beekeepers gain a reputation for keeping “hot” hives, while other beekeepers keep gentle bees. What causes bees to be defensive? Is it the location of the hives, the way the bees are manipulated, the bees’ genetics, the beekeeper, or bee yard intruders? Certainly, many factors combine to shape the nature of a bee yard. Researchers at Newcastle University in England are studying the emotions of honey bees. Using a series of carefully designed tests, the researchers are finding evidence that honey bees react to hive disturbances in ways that were previously unexpected of invertebrate animals. The bees are trained to anticipate pleasant or unpleasant feedings, and then the researchers record how the bees react according to learned expectations. The honey bees in the study are given a pleasant reward of sugar or an unpleasant offering of bitter quinine. They respond by sticking their tongues out for a reward of sugar. However, some of the bees in the study are shaken in a manner similar to having their hive attacked by wild animals. Shaken bees change their behavior and become “pessimistic” according to the researchers’ descriptions. They react by not sticking their tongue out for an unknown offering of food. The shaken bees seem to be anticipating that an unknown feeding will be associated with punishment To read more about the study, see “The Secret Minds of Bees” at http://www.onearth.org/article/the-secret-minds-of-bees.
We don’t know if honey bees experience human-like emotions, but we do know that the manner in which we handle bees goes a long way toward determining their behavior. I explained to an observer today that a little smoke settles bees; too much disturbs them. The bees teach us how much to use. In today’s photo, I’m surrounded by disturbed bees.