Courtesy mickipicki For wildlife biologists, most concerns about animal populations revolve around unnatural declines. Due to things like human development, habitat loss, climate change, pollutants and diseases that make animals sick, many wildlife populations are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Not surprisingly, most of the perceived problems resulting from animal population growth are coming from urban and suburban areas. Scientists are looking for ways to control the booming populations of deer, geese, pigeons and other species that have adapted to the changes humans have made to the environment. Since hunting or trapping is offensive to so many people, biologists are looking for new solutions and think that they may have found one in wildlife birth control.
At the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, biologists have developed a one-a-day contraceptive pill for geese and pigeons, and are working on a one-time injectable contraceptive for white-tailed deer. These wildlife birth control methods work on the same principal as human birth control, disrupting the animal's reproductive cycle or preventing fertilization from occurring.
The whole issue of wildlife population control brings up an interesting paradox. People love animals and nature, or at least, they love the idea of animals and nature as portrayed by the folks at Disney. People also love their yards and gardens, their pets and cars and airplanes, all of which provide ample opportunity for conflict with our furry and feathered friends.
It's worth remembering that many of the animals we consider pests today were once hunted to near extinction, and that it was the efforts of conservation biologists, along with hunters and fisherpeople, that helped to bring back many of these iconic species.
So, is birth control for Bambi really the answer? I'm not sure, though I do have lots of questions, including whether this kind of animal birth control will contribute to the already harmful effects that hormones found in human birth control are having on the environment.
Source: Popular Science
Courtesy aussiegallTo quote the wise and indomitable Tyra Banks: “Hey y’all!”
It’s Friday (I think) and relationships still exist (that’s what I hear) so it’s time again for everybody’s favorite Friday Science Buzz feature: The Friday Relationship Extravaganza!
This week’s relationship feature promises to be especially… extravagasmic, because today we’re pairing it up with some good old fashioned random questions.
See, on Thursday night, all the Buzz blog features went out for drinks after work. Random Questions promised itself that it would just have two drinks, but you know how that sort of thing goes… Pretty soon the ginger ale was flowing, and next thing you know Random Questions is waking up in Extravaganza’s bed.
But don’t even worry about it. Nothing happened. Extravaganza slept on the couch. Still, these are work friends, not friend friends, and they had to talk about something when they got to the office. And so…
Friday Relationship Extravaganza: Random Questions Edition
So paddle around with me in the HMS Puddleduck, won’t you?
Question: Why do praying mantis females eat their mates?
Answer: Hmm… This is a hard one. If relationships weren’t tricky enough, relationships that involve cannibalism are particularly troublesome. I mean, look at Jeffrey Dahmer.
It’s also difficult to answer because it seems like scientists are sure exactly why mantises behave this way. Originally it was thought that female mantises bit off their mates’ heads because removing the head caused the male to start, er, mating like crazy (and why not, I guess.) Plus, the lady mantis gets a snack.
Then, some scientists pointed out that this behavior could be influenced by the fact that the mantises were being watched—whether in the field or in a laboratory, the bright lights and steamy glasses of sweaty-palmed scientists might be a little distracting and stressful for mantis lovers, and could cause them to behave a little irrationally.
Other scientists then observed that if a female were fed before mating, she would be less likely to snap at her mate (as it were). With the threat of having his head bitten off lessened, a male mantis will sometimes even engage in elaborate courtship behavior (and why not, I guess.)
Recently, researchers have determined that male mantises, in fact, don’t like getting eaten, and will approach a female with tremendous caution and attempt to couple from a greater distance to avoid it.
So, what are we left with? Removing a mating male’s head can increase that male’s chance of successfully reproducing (because of the mating like crazy thing). But not getting killed on a lucky date can also increase a male’s chance of reproducing (because he can maybe go on to have more dates with other females). And being watched my scientists while having sex can be stressful. And being hungry while having sex can lead lady mantises to do things they might later regret.
Is that close enough to a real answer?
Question: (This question card is actually two questions. “Why can’t boys have babies?” was written first, and then scratched out. A more logical rephrasing of the question follows: “How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?” Because I’m the acting commander of the HMS Puddleduck, choosing which question to answer is my prerogative. So I will answer both. This is an extravaganza, after all.)
Why can’t boys have babies?
Answer: Well… I can see why you decided to re-write this question. Because, of course, boys can have babies. If I were to see a baby sitting on the street, and if I were to take that baby, guess what? I’d technically have a baby. (And don’t get all sassy about how I shouldn’t go around just taking babies willy-nilly. Would you rather I left that baby sitting in the street?)
Also, according to the research presented in Junior, men can make their own babies, no problem. But until that technology is released to fertility clinics, boys can’t have babies because… well, just because. That’s how things worked out.
We have evolved to use internal fertilization—that is, we don’t just release eggs and sperm into the ocean in the hopes that they’ll mix around on their own. And thank God, because where would the Relationship Extravaganza be if we all acted like fish and amphibians? No place good.
And so, I don’t know… one of the two sexes got stuck with carrying fertilized eggs/babies around, and it’s usually the female (Seahorses are an interesting counterexample, however). And, at this point, human males couldn’t really do it, because we haven’t got the equipment. I mean, the underwhelming birth canal is really the least of the issues here (and that’s saying something.)
Sorry if I’m being vague on this answer, but I think it might be a good question for our current Scientist on the Spot, PZ Myers. I think this question comes down to evolution, and why it makes sense for just one sex to carry developing offspring. PZ is the expert on evolution, so click on these pink words and see if he has any thoughts on the subject.
How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?
Answer: I guess it depends on how you like your boyfriends. If you like your men young, I’d say you could have a boyfriend ready in about nine months. If you want some kind of loving, responsible and mature boyfriend, you might have to wait… what, about 35 years? Yeah, that sounds about right.
Then again, “accelerated aging” seems to be a staple of all cloning-related sci-fi, so maybe we should look into that…
When a mad scientist makes my perfect double to replace me after I get kidnapped, accelerated aging techniques will be essential to ensuring that the clone and I are indistinguishable. After all, a regular (non-mad) scientist might be able to clone me now, but the clone would be a baby, and it wouldn’t be a very convincing replacement. (I pee my pants so rarely these days, it’s hardly worth brining up.)
However, it seems like accelerated aging might be an unintended consequence of some cloning techniques already, and doesn’t even require special tanks and serums. When Dolly the sheep was cloned, scientists found that she suffered from arthritis and lung disease at a relatively young age, leading them to believe that she was prematurely aging. One thought is that Dolly’s telomeres were too short. Telomeres are pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, and their deterioration is responsible for aging. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from accidentally combining with each other. If the chromosomes were to combine with each other, it could result in the cell becoming cancerous, so when a telomere runs out or wears down, the cell is usually destroyed. The shortening of telomeres puts a limit on the number of times a cell can divide, and when cells don’t divide anymore, you start to age. They aren’t sure exactly what caused Dolly’s telomeres to be short (if that was indeed the cause of her rapid aging).
But that’s sort of the downhill part of aging—if you were to clone or genetically engineer your perfect boyfriend, and somehow shorten his telomeres (if it didn’t happen automatically from the cloning) you’d probably end up with some sort of odd Benjamin Button situation, and that might not be what you want.
To even things out, you might have to affect the pituitary gland in some way. The pituitary controls hormones that cause growth, and disorders with the pituitary gland can sometimes cause kids to grow very large very quickly. Many of the world’s tallest people have had pituitary disorders.
I’m thinking that you’d still need eight or nine years to balance out the pituitary and telomere stuff in your grown boyfriend. And he might not thank you for it.
And there we are! Another heartwarming Relationship Extravaganza, spiced with random questions. But the Puddleduck must be off—I still have a stack of questions here that require answers from the far off reaches of knowledge. And several of them have swearwords in them that I have to rephrase, which isn’t easy, if you want to keep the spirit of the original question. (And I do.)
What are you going to do with that, JGordon? Are you going to turn six awful, grisly deaths into some kind of joke?
Thank you, no. I’m not a jerk. Getting killed by a tiger would be a terrible way to die. And the deaths of six real people aren’t funny… or cool… or whatever you maniacs think.
That’s why we’ll be ignoring the tragedy of this news item, and re-imagining it as an awesome cartoon adventure series—something to fill the void left when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles forgot their roots, or when the Power Rangers all got arrested in that human trafficking sting operation.
And so, allow me to present the T.I.G.E.R.S., Tactical Intervention Gamma: Eco Recovery Strikeforce (You know what? Chill. We can work on the acronym later.)
The T.I.G.E.R.S. are an elite unit of, like, talking tigers. They have been tasked by the Rainforest League to protect the jungles of the world from deforestation. Kong, a wise old silverback gorilla, heads the League.
It’s like Captain Planet, without the creepy blue guy. (Who was he, anyway? The villain?) Isn’t that awesome?
The T.I.G.E.R.S. are:
T-Bone: The crazy one. Dynamite? Oh, this dynamite? (Y’all know what I’m talking about.)
Stripes: The funny one. Think Michelangelo. (Not the original Michelangelo, who gave the world David; the better one, who gave pop culture nunchucks.)
Sheba: The lady tiger. She’s probably good with knives, or something.
Montecore: the smart one. He’s also old. And he’s one of those white tigers, like the one that hugged and kissed Roy into the hospital
And, finally, Tigrus, the leader. He’s really big, and has a tiger-gun (it’s like a regular gun, but with stripes on it.)
I’m thinking that episode 3 of T.I.G.E.R.S. will probably cover this incident. (Episodes 1 and 2 I’m saving for introducing the main villain, that blue guy from Captain Planet.)
I think it will go a little something like this…
The T.I.G.E.R.S. are on a mission in Sumatra, creeping though thick undergrowth.
Tigrus: All right, men-
Sheba: And ladies.
Tigrus: -and ladies. We’re in enemy territory now. Keep your heads down. You all know the mission—we sneak into the logging camp, put sleeping pills into their water barrels, and get out.
Montecore: And the Rainforest League ships the sleeping beauties to Greenland.
T-Bone: I don’t see why we can’t just do it my way—a little T N T, and it’s C U later loggers.
Sheba: No! Nobody gets hurt, remember? And an explosion like that could damage the trees!
T-Bone: Hey, you have to break some eggs to make a good explosion, you know?
T-Bone: Okay, boss! Take it easy.
Stripes: What’s that noise? It sounds like giant mosquitoes!
Montecore: Those are chainsaws, Stripes.
Stripes: I don’t know... It sounds like mosquitoes to me.
Montecore: No. Those are Husqvarna R-7 long-bar chainsaws.
Stripes: If you say so. But don’t come crawling to me for calamine when you’ve got the world’s biggest bug bite.
Sheba: Oh, Stripes.
Tigrus: Shhh! What’s that sound?
Stripes: I think it’s mosquitoes.
Tigrus: No, Stripes, not that… it sounds like footsteps!
A logger holding a lunchbox walks into the clearing. He is surprised to see the T.I.G.E.R.S. commandos.
Logger (translated from Malay): Hello!
T-Bone: This kitty toy is mine!
Tigrus: T-Bone, no, wait!
It’s too late: T-Bone has already leapt on the man. Screams. Cut to commercials.
Return to show. The T.I.G.E.R.S. are in the same area of the jungle. Montecore is covering his face with his paws, possibly crying. The rest of the team stands around T-Bone, who is covered in blood.
Sheba: T-Bone… what have you done?
T-Bone: I don’t know what happened! He was encroaching on my territory, and instinct just kicked in… I couldn’t stop myself…
T-Bone tries to wipe the blood from his face, but his bloody paws just smear it around.
Tigrus: This is bad. This is really bad.
T-Bone: I… I didn’t have enough space! We’re being forced to compete for resources!
Tigrus: Shut it!
A device strapped to Tigrus’ arm begins to beep
Tigrus: Oh, no! My Rainforest League communicator! It’s Kong!
T-Bone begins to shiver. Monticore is sobbing loudly now. Kong’s voice come’s from the communicator.
Kong: Agent Tigrus? What’s your status?
Tigrus: We… ah… we had to abort the mission, Kong.
Kong: What happened? Is everyone all right?
Sheba begins to answer, but Tigrus holds a paw over her mouth.
Tigrus: We’re all fine, thank Mother Nature. But that blue guy from Captain Planet showed up, and… one of the human loggers was killed.
Kong (angrily): The blue guy! Will his thirst for blood never be sated? This is bad news men… Kong waits for Sheba’s correction, but she can say nothing with Tigrus’ paw still over her mouth. Anyway, you all had better head for the extraction point. Oh, and Tigrus?
Tigrus: Yes sir?
Kong: Don’t worry. We’ll make that blue guy pay for this.
Tigrus: Yes sir. turns off communicator Ok, everybody. Pull yourselves together. We have to get out of here. T-Bone, try to clean yourself off. Stripes… What are you doing Stripes?
Stripes is going through the logger’s fallen lunchbox.
Stripes: I’m just seeing what he brought for dessert!
Everybody (except Montecore, who is still crying): Oh, Stripes…
Cue theme music
Not bad, huh? We have a very tricky situation here: Sumatran tigers, of which perhaps only 400 or so still live in the wild, are losing their habitat to deforestation. Sumatrans, however, are just trying to make a living, and sometimes resort to illegal logging practices. Extensive encroachment into the tigers’ habitat is proving dangerous for everything involved. But I think I handled the issue pretty tastefully, all things considered.
Courtesy JGordonHere at Science Buzz, we deal in facts. Cold, hard, frosty, refreshing facts.
We scoop up questions, opinions, and casual observations in big, greasy shovels, and we boil them over the white hot heat of science, processing and reducing them until we’re left with they crystalline residue of pure fact. (And if that fact gets cut and diluted down to street grade fact once it leaves the website, well, that’s lamentable, but it’s beyond our control.)
Before we send anything out to you, the Buzzketeer, we subject it to rigorous testing. Like, hey, here’s a cool idea for a post. Is it unequivocal, objective fact? No? Then we throw it out.
That’s just the way we operate here. You deserve it.
Yes sir, the search is on for yetis in Siberia, in a region where yeti sightings have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. While folks in the area claim to have been seeing upright, hairy creatures for years, 10 sightings in the past few weeks have got people concerned. Concerned and excited.
Local officials have launched a yeti-finding expedition, which has so far found approximately zero yetis, but has discovered an intriguing footprint in a nearby cave. (Images of the footprint can be found at the link to Cryptomundo above).
Despite my dedication to cryptozoology and the cryptocouch, I’m not sure that departmental petty cash is going to get me to Siberia to verify anything for y’all. So I must remain here, on the cryptocouch, doing what I can with what I’ve got. And that’s not much.
Still, reports have the creatures at about six-feet-tall, with red and black fur. I ran this description through my visual yeti database (see associated image), and I can conclusively say that we’re dealing with a heretofore-undocumented variety of yeti. This might not seem like a very significant thing, but it’s important in science to understand what you aren’t dealing with. Then you can move on to what you might be dealing with. And that’s where we’re at now.
Evolutionary trees like the one Charles Darwin scribbled to illustrate his epiphany are still used today to help biologists understand and communicate the diversity of life. Like Darwin and his contemporaries, today’s evolutionary biologists are part of an ongoing effort to figure out how Earth's many species are related. As new tools help biologists to analyze evolutionary relationships, the tree of life changes and grows ever more complex.
How will biologists today and in the future to organize all of this information? No one knows for sure - but a number of computer scientists and software designers are taking a crack at it! In collaboration with biologists designers are creating programs that will allow researchers to share and search through enormous amounts of taxonomical information. Some programs, like UC Davis's paloverde, take cues from familiar web tools like WIkipedia and Google Earth, allowing users to search the tree of life from various perspectives and distances.
Beyond making research more accessible to scientists and the public, software tools like this will help scientists around the world work together in new ways - developing new medicines to treat constantly evolving diseases, new products and processes that take into account changing ecosystems, and to understand biodiversity on a local and global scale.
The potential of these tools is as big as the imagination of the designers and engineers behind them - what kind of tool would you create to help organize the tree of life?
Courtesy steev-oIt’s Friday (T.G.I.F.), Buzzketeers, and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time for the Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza! (S.B.F.R.E.)
I know how much y’all like relationships, and how much you like talking about them, so it’s only natural that you clicked on the S.B.F.R.E. so quickly. But that’s not all! See, here at the S.B.F.R.E., “relationship” is also a code word for… S-E-X! Oh, naughtiest of naughties! It’s a red-letter day! Relationships and S-E-X-ual science… y’all had better sit down.
Seriously, sit down. Make yourselves comfortable. Now, I want y’all to know that this is a safe space, and we should be free to say whatever we’re feeling. Good, good… I think we’re about ready to start.
So… I understand that you feel like he has some real problems in communicating his feelings?
Why do you think that is?
No, I’m sorry, let’s let him finish—we’ll all have a chance to talk, and it’s his turn right now.
OK. I think I see what you’re saying. How do you want him to communicate? What do you wish he would say to you?
And how does that make you feel? Is that something you can do? OK… Why do you think you’re not being listened to?
Well, let’s look at it this way: at least y’all aren’t anglerfish. You know anglerfish, right, Buzzketeers? Anglerfish include those awful deep sea fish, with the big eyes, and teeth all over the place, and a glowing spike sticking out of their awful, lumpy heads. You know what I’m talking about. You saw those pictures, and then learned that they were only a few inches long, but were still kind of grossed out. And maybe some holier-than-thou biologist type pointed out to you that they weren’t gross, they were just fish that had made some spectacular adaptations to their environment, and were just living their lives like every other animal.
Well, don’t worry, you were right in the first place: angler fish really are awful and gross.
See, when they first discovered these creepy anglerfish, scientists were only finding female specimens. No males at all. So where’s the relationship relationship?
Well, eventually they did find some males, and some remarkable observations were made. The male anglerfish were pretty normal in their youth, but once they reached sexual maturity, their digestive systems degenerate. So they are unable to feed themselves. Naturally, what a mature male needs to do at that point is find a sugar momma. And fast (because, again, they’re starving to death). When the male tracks down a female anglerfish, he bites her, latching on to her body with his teeth. Enzymes in the male then break down its own mouth, as well as the female’s body, so that the two fish fuse together, to the point where they even share blood vessels. A source of sustenance now secured, the male kind of “lets itself go,” if you will. But instead of gaining weight and watching too much TV, the body of the male anglerfish, still fused with the female, degenerates, eventually becoming just a pair of gonads that hang off the female. When the first female anglerfish were discovered, scientists thought that they had parasites hanging off of them. Nope. Those were the remains of male anglerfish.
When the female is ready to release eggs, the gonads sense the change in hormone levels in the blood that still flows to them, and they release sperm, so that the eggs can be fertilized, and more horrible anglerfish can be created.
I don’t know who has it worse here—the female that has to nourish a pair of parasitic testicles (or multiple pairs), or the male, who has to latch on to a female to survive, and then becomes a pair of parasitic testicles. Either way, though, I think you’ll agree that your own messed up relationship seems pretty ideal right now, doesn’t it?
So remember, until the next Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza, keep your emotions bottled up, and if you’re ever feeling bummed out about things, just think of the never-lonely anglerfish.
Clams are filter-feeders, meaning they gather water into their shells, eat any food they find in that water, and then release the water back into the environment. The clam inadvertently filters more than just their food out of the water. Other material suspended in the water, such as toxins and pollutants, can accumulate in the clams.
Biologists in Washington, DC, along with help from high schoolers, released clams downstream from industrial parks and highways. The clams absorbed any lurking pollutants and then the scientists could identify the kinds and quantities of pollutants in the water. This process can be quite costly, but the clams offer an alternative method.
The ultimate goal is to be able to trace the pollutants back to their sources. From there, the cleanup process can begin.
Courtesy abmiller99There’s an expression that I like… it describes a certain kind of broad, smug, and possibly insincere smile, but one of the words in it is altogether naughty. I am, if nothing else, sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of Buzz’s readers, and I hold the image of the Science Museum of Minnesota in the highest regard. And even though I do not write as a representative of the museum*, it would be a true blow to my childlike heart to see profanity on one of its webpages. (Especially if I were the one to put that profanity there in the first place.)
And so we will tiptoe around this expression, carefully, carefully… like careful cats.
The expression rhymes with “Spit-sleating gin.” Or “kit-beating kin.” Or maybe “wit meeting sin.”
Oh, what’s a good, inoffensive way to put it? Hmm. It has to do with the sort of expression of happiness you might wear if you had just finished eating a pile of poop, especially if you think someone else wanted some of that poop but didn’t get any before you polished it off, or maybe if you didn’t want anyone to know you had eaten the poop in the first place, and so were perhaps overcompensating in trying to look like your normal, smiley self.
Was that good? I think that was perfect.
Anyway, this expression was originally invented to describe the way dung beetles look pretty much constantly. Dung beetles eat poop all the time—some of them eat only poop—and for some reason they have the idea stuck in their heads that it’s a tremendously valuable commodity (little do they know, eh?), so they always have this big ol’ “look what I got, son” smile on their faces. You have to use a magnifying glass to see it, but the smile is there.
While this expression has since fallen into broader use, it seems that its original application is … decaying, if you will. It seems that not all dung beetles eat dung! Ah! Dogs and cats, living together!
That’s right—in the depths of the Amazon jungle, there’s a recently discovered species of dung beetle that has traded its hilarious culinary habits for something a little more awesome: hunting, maiming, decapitating, and eating big, toxic millipedes.
Researchers baited traps in the jungle with a whole variety of dung beetle foods—dung beetles love dung, so that was there, obviously, but some species will also snack on other items, like rotting fruit, fungus, dead animals, and, occasionally, millipedes. The scientists caught 132 species of dung beetles in the traps, but only one exclusively ate the millipedes. No poop for these beetles, or even dead millipedes—they were hunters.
The researchers closely examined the peculiar beetles, and noticed a couple tiny, yet important differences from similar looking species: the hunting beetles had elongated hind legs (trading their dung-rolling function for something a little more suited to grappling with prey), and modified jaws and teeth, for chewing open millipede exoskeletons.
The scientists think that the no-dung dung beetles have undergone speciation. That is, they have evolved into a new species in adapting to the pressures of their environment. See, it seems that dung really is a little scarce on the floor of the Amazon jungle, and some dung beetles moved on to different food sources (millipedes), to the point where they only ate that new food, and became distinct (albeit in small ways) from their old kin. So, while there is one less creature that can truly wear a zit-heating pin, I guess that the Amazonian dung beetles that still eat dung have a little more to grin about these days. It kind of balances out, doesn’t it?
*No, really, I don’t write as a museum representative. Watch: I kind of enjoyed Waterworld. Does the museum think that? Nope. Nobody thinks that, and my writing it doesn’t change the fact.
Courtesy AviatorDave A recently released report warns that the Great Lakes have been invaded by foreign aquatic species resulting in ecological and environmental damage amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The findings support the need for detection and monitoring efforts at those ports believed to be at greatest risk. The report identified 30 nonnative species that pose a medium or high risk of reaching the lakes and 28 others that already have a foothold and could disperse widely.
The National Center for Environmental Assessment issued the warning in a study released (Jan 5, 09). It identified 30 nonnative species that pose a medium or high risk of reaching the lakes and 28 others that already have a foothold and could disperse widely. (click here to access report)
One preventive measure that works 99% of the time is to flush out the ballast tanks with salty sea water. This usually kills any foreign marine life hitch hiking a ride in the ballast tank water. Both Canada and the United States have made this a requirement for almost two decades now. Both nations also recently have ordered them to rinse empty tanks with seawater in hopes of killing organisms lurking in residual pools on the bottom.
Courtesy Mark RyanOne of the strangest behaviors observed in nature is the honey bee “waggle dance”. Foraging bees use this get-down-get-funky display to communicate to their hive mates the discovery of a new food source. It usually takes place whenever the food is of a high quality or when the hive’s pantry is growing bare. The dance is performed on a special “dance floor” in the hive and is a way for the foragers to let the other bees know what’s been found and how to get there.
“The honey bee dance is this incredibly complex set of activities,” said University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson. “It’s a very integrated communication system, very elaborate and very elegant, one of the seven wonders of the animal behavior world.”
Check it out for yourself:
Robinson and his colleagues wondered what motivated such behavior in foraging honey bees. Did they experience some sort of pleasure response, just like we humans do when we do something nice for others? To find out, the researchers decided to shake things up and see what happens when the celebration gets kicked up to another level and party drugs are thrown into the dance mix.
Robinson became interested in the waggle dance during a previous study investigating the role of octopamine in insect eating and movement behaviors. Octopamine is a biogenic amine (like histamine and serotonin) that’s found in higher levels in the brains of foraging honey bees than any other bees in the hive.
“The idea behind that study was that maybe this mechanism that structures selfish behavior – eating – was co-opted during social evolution to structure social behavior – that is, altruistic behavior,” Robinson said. “There are various lines of thought that indicate that one way of structuring society is to have altruistic behavior be pleasurable.”
Altruism is known to trigger a motivating pleasure response in the human brain, but the question remained whether the same reward mechanism existed in an insect’s brain.
So, in this new study Robinson and his research team at UI in Urbana-Champaign took things a step further. They found that when a foraging bee gets all hopped up on cocaine, it doesn’t matter how good the found food is or how much is stockpiled in the hive’s cupboards, bees just “Gotta Dance”.
Not only that, but the study’s results have also led the researchers to theorize that insects have motivating reward centers in their brains, just as humans do.
“This study provides strong support for the idea that bees have a reward system, that it’s been co-opted and it’s now involved in a social behavior, which motivates them to tell their hive mates about the food that they’ve found,” Robinson said.
Because cocaine causes honey bees to dance more – an altruistic behavior – the researchers believe their results support the idea that there is a reward system in the insect brain, something that has never before been shown.
A second set of experiments showed some interesting results. Non-foraging bees, it seems, were strict wallflowers: they never danced at all – no matter if they were on cocaine or not. And the coked-up foraging bees didn’t move about any more than non-foragers except when dancing, and when they did dance they only did so at appropriate times and only on the “dance floor”, no place else.
The honeybees, unfortunately, also seemed to suffer cocaine withdrawal symptoms, but the results of the study could lead to a better understanding of substance abuse in humans, and that’s fortunate for us.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
IUUC news release