The Emotional Life Of Bees

Bees_Collecting_PollenNow if only the mysterious Vanishing Bees could tell us what stresses are making them disappear in droves… Jason Castro reports on provocative experiments suggesting that the insects have something like an emotional life, for Scientific American:

If you’ve never watched bees carefully, you’re missing out. Looking up close as they gently curl and uncoil their tapered mouths toward food, you sense that they’re not just eating, but enjoying. Watch a bit more, and the hesitant flicks and sags of their antennae seem to convey some kind of emotion. Maybe annoyance? Or something like agitation?

Whether bees really experience any of these things is an open scientific question. It’s also an important one with implications for how we should treat not just bees, but the great majority of animals. Recently, studies by Geraldine Wright and her colleagues at Newcastle University in the UK have rekindled debate over these issues by showing that honeybees may experience something akin to moods.

Using simple behavioral tests, Wright’s research team showed that like other lab-tested brooders — which so far include us, monkeys, dogs, and starlings — stressed bees tend to see the glass as half empty. While this doesn’t (and can’t) prove that bees experience human-like emotions, it does give pause. We should take seriously the possibility that it feels like something to be an insect.

As invertebrates — animals without backbones — bees are representatives of a diverse group accounting for over 95 percent of animal species. But despite their prevalence, not to mention their varied and often nuanced behaviors, invertebrates are sometimes regarded as life’s second string, as a mindless and unfeeling band of alien critters. If that seems a bit melodramatic, just consider our willingness to boil some of them alive…

[continues at Scientific American]

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19 Responses to The Emotional Life Of Bees

  1. DeepCough August 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    I know we humans like to look toward nature and see a little bit of ourselves in the flora and fauna of the forest, but as far as bees are concerned, they’re all just drones working to maintain the hive–that’s it. Any bee not working for the hive is deemed useless and destroyed–you could say that beehives are metaphors for fascism just as anthills are metaphors for communism. Here’s a hardcore example: if a bee mistakenly drinks alcohol from an unattended beer or other alcoholic beverage (because alcohol is sugar, mind you), the bee is, consequentially, gonna get drunk. Now if the bee returns to the hive while in a state of inebriation, said drunk bee is gonna get all his legs bitten off for being a lazy, good-for-nothing. Now imagine what would happen to a bee if it got depressed.

    • Rex Vestri August 27, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

      “Now imagine what would happen to a bee if it got depressed.”

      I’m imagining bees strung-out on Paxil and Zoloft 

    • Monkey See Monkey Do August 28, 2011 at 8:21 am #

      Im sorry but what you just said is bullshit. Humans were pretty fucking close to becoming a completely fascist race during world war 2. Having said that there are plenty of fascist states which operate exactly like bee hives around the world today. If you look at the way humans treat other humans and the rest of nature and animals on a ‘global scale’ you’ll be fucking praying there’s at least a little bit of ourselves in the flora and fauna of the forest.

      • DeepCough August 28, 2011 at 8:34 am #

        Here’s another thing which humans have that doesn’t occur in nature: red herrings.

        • Monkey See Monkey Do August 28, 2011 at 8:45 am #

          we are nature. dont forget that smarty pants. ;)

    • Ronniedobbs August 28, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      sounds more like marriage instead facism

    • guest August 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

      Actually, only about five percent of the colony are drones (male bees).  Everyone else is female.  The colony does kick out all the males close to winter time because all they are really good for is mating and eating up all the food.  It is never a good idea to view animals anthropomorphically, especially if you only have a superficial understanding of said animal.  

    • guest August 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

      Actually, only about five percent of the colony are drones (male bees).  Everyone else is female.  The colony does kick out all the males close to winter time because all they are really good for is mating and eating up all the food.  It is never a good idea to view animals anthropomorphically, especially if you only have a superficial understanding of said animal.  

    • guest August 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

      Actually, only about five percent of the colony are drones (male bees).  Everyone else is female.  The colony does kick out all the males close to winter time because all they are really good for is mating and eating up all the food.  It is never a good idea to view animals anthropomorphically, especially if you only have a superficial understanding of said animal.  

  2. DeepCough August 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    I know we humans like to look toward nature and see a little bit of ourselves in the flora and fauna of the forest, but as far as bees are concerned, they’re all just drones working to maintain the hive–that’s it. Any bee not working for the hive is deemed useless and destroyed–you could say that beehives are metaphors for fascism just as anthills are metaphors for communism. Here’s a hardcore example: if a bee mistakenly drinks alcohol from an unattended beer or other alcoholic beverage (because alcohol is sugar, mind you), the bee is, consequentially, gonna get drunk. Now if the bee returns to the hive while in a state of inebriation, said drunk bee is gonna get all his legs bitten off for being a lazy, good-for-nothing. Now imagine what would happen to a bee if it got depressed.

  3. Rex Vestri August 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    “Now imagine what would happen to a bee if it got depressed.”

    I’m imagining bees strung-out on Paxil and Zoloft 

  4. no name August 28, 2011 at 2:19 am #

    “Now if only the mysterious Vanishing Bees could tell us what stresses are making them disappear in droves…”

    I thought we discovered this months ago: it’s a side-effect of an ingredient in pesticides used by Monsanto that was rushed through FDA approval even though this harmful side-effect was known in advance by the manufacturers. Maybe the involvement of Monsanto is the reason I’ve only seen mention of the article once and yet most people don’t seem to be aware that we’ve found the cause.

  5. no name August 28, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    “Now if only the mysterious Vanishing Bees could tell us what stresses are making them disappear in droves…”

    I thought we discovered this months ago: it’s a side-effect of an ingredient in pesticides used by Monsanto that was rushed through FDA approval even though this harmful side-effect was known in advance by the manufacturers. Maybe the involvement of Monsanto is the reason I’ve only seen mention of the article once and yet most people don’t seem to be aware that we’ve found the cause.

  6. Monkey See Monkey Do August 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Im sorry but what you just said is bullshit. Humans were pretty fucking close to becoming a completely fascist race during world war 2. Having said that there are plenty of fascist states which operate exactly like bee hives around the world today. If you look at the way humans treat other humans and the rest of nature and animals on a ‘global scale’ you’ll be fucking praying there’s at least a little bit of ourselves in the flora and fauna of the forest.

  7. DeepCough August 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Here’s another thing which humans have that doesn’t occur in nature: red herrings.

  8. Monkey See Monkey Do August 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    we are nature. dont forget that smarty pants. ;)

  9. Ronniedobbs August 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    sounds more like marriage instead facism

  10. Ronniedobbs August 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    sounds more like marriage instead facism

  11. guest August 28, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Actually, only about five percent of the colony are drones (male bees).  Everyone else is female.  The colony does kick out all the males close to winter time because all they are really good for is mating and eating up all the food.  It is never a good idea to view animals anthropomorphically, especially if you only have a superficial understanding of said animal.  

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