Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What the Frisch?

Okay, so I really just wanted to use that title. Anyone who has taken an Ethology class, especially if you have taken it here at AU with the Stoffinator (Dr. Stoffer), should know the name Karl von Frisch. As stated in our introductory post, Karl von Frisch was a nobel laureate along with Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen in 1973. If you aren't familiar with him, he is known for his work on the honeybee and set a lot of the ground work on what is known in the communication between bees today. So, why am I bringing him up? Well, besides for an excuse to use that awesome title, I came across an article on Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), more commonly referred to as killer bees. Killer bees are actually hybrid insects. They are the result of crossing European honeybees with honeybees from southern Africa.

And apparently, they're not so intelligent.

A recent study was done to attempt and condition the Africanized honey bees. In the experiment, researchers would administer a puff of jasmine odor and follow that immediately with sugar water on the antennae. Another puff of jasmine was administered, and if the conditioning succeeded, the bees would react by immediately protruding their proboscis (tongue-like structure) out to receive the reward. This was also done with the european honeybees to compare results. About 50% of the European bees responded during the first trial, where about 25% of the Africanized honeybees responded. After three trials, the European honeybees were up to about a 75% response and the Africanized were at about 50%.

So, what the Frisch? (it doesn't get old), why don't they learn as rapidly? Well, there's a couple of ideas. One researcher suggests that its simply too costly for the hybrids to "get smarter" and these bees use that energy for their competitive abilities instead (killer bees are invasive). Another idea is that since they are a hybrid species, maybe its a reflection of the two separate backgrounds. The support behind this idea is that African bees come from an area where flowering is triggered by the rainy season, and not so much olfactory and sight.

Whatever the correct reasoning is, it's pretty clear that more work can be done on these insects. If you want to read more, here is the full article.


  1. If you like bees, you should meet Jay Hosler at his talk next week. He studies bee behavior.
    Your post made me laugh out loud - good job. "What the Frisch?" Hee hee.

  2. Maybe they just have really REALLY short-term memories. (Apparently goldfish have about thirty seconds of memory.)

  3. Some of the researchers said that they thought the bees just put more of their energy into competition (they're an invasive species) than into learning and memory processes, so that's very possible.

  4. Have you seen the new fruitfly genitalia research. It involves lasers, and may be just the thing for your blog.: