A honeybee that’s been promoted to forager has upgrades in
her nerve cells, too. Vibration-sensing nerve cells, or neurons, are more specialized in bees tasked
with finding food compared with younger, inexperienced adult bees,
researchers report August 26 in eNeuro.
This neural refinement may help forager bees better sense specific air
vibrations produced by their fellow foragers during waggle
dances — elaborate routines that share information about food location,
distance and quality (SN Online: 1/24/14).
Researchers compared certain neurons in adult bees that had
emerged from their cells one to three days earlier to neurons of forager bees,
which were older than 10 days. In the foragers, these neurons had more refined
shapes, the team found. These vibration-detecting cells, called DL-INT-1
neurons, appear sparser in certain areas, with fewer message-receiving tendrils
called dendrites. Refined dendrites may be a sign that these cells are more
selective in their connections. And in foragers, these neurons also appear to
handle information more efficiently than their counterparts in the young adult
bees, experiments with electrodes reveal.
These changes in shape and behavior suggest that in
foragers, neurons become adept at decoding vibrations produced by other
foragers’ waggle dances, say computational neuroscientist Ajayrama Kumaraswamy
of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany and colleagues. But it’s
not clear whether foraging experience in the fields or the passage of time itself
prompts these refinements.