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Honeybees use right antennae to tell friend from foe

Asymmetry in sense of smell alters behavior

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3:32pm, July 1, 2013

A honeybee with a clipped right antenna like this one is less likely to get aggressive with strangers than are bees with intact antennae.

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To avoid a scuffle, a wayward honeybee might do best to stay on a stranger’s left. That’s because honeybees preferentially use their right antenna to distinguish between compadres and intruders, researchers report June 27 in Scientific Reports.

Scientists knew that the bees’ left and right antennae picked up different sensory cues, but the new work makes clear that this asymmetry extends into how bees navigate social situations.

The study also helps scientists understand a “big and interesting question: Why are our brains asymmetric?” says honeybee physiologist Julie Mustard of Arizona State University in Tempe. “The idea is that asymmetries allow the brain to have more area for processing complex information.”

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