This Report is a “Best of Wendy Langhans” Report.
Some people are born thrill-seekers. Every parent knows someone like that: the toddler who takes off running as soon as you reach the park, the novice bike rider who can’t wait to take off the training wheels. We watch and smile knowingly at each other, “Just wait until they become a teenager.” But recently I came across some information that surprised me – it turns out that some honeybees are also born thrill-seekers.
Researchers at the University of Illinois studied the behavior of forager honeybees (Apis mellifera). Forager bees are responsible for gathering food (pollen from flowers) and bringing it back to the hive. Most forager bees are content to follow directions – the bee “waggle”dance that provides directions to the food source. But about 5-25% of these forager bees “dance to their own tune”, exploring new places and seeking out new sources of pollen.
Scout bees are another kind of bee explorer. When a bee’s nest becomes overcrowded, some of the bees gather in a swarm and leave the old nest. Then they send out scout bees to find a suitable new place to build their nest. In other words, they leave first, and ask for directions later.
The Illinois researchers wondered if these forager bees who seek out new food sources were also the scout bees who seek out new nesting sites. “It turns out that the nest scouts were more than three times as likely as other foragers to also be food scouts.” Gene Robinson, the study leader, said, “There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait.” So certain honeybees exhibit the personality trait of novelty-seeking behavior. And the hive, as a whole, benefits from their behavior, both in terms of food and of nesting sites.
Next the researchers looked to see if there were genetic characteristics associated with this behavior. They found “distinct differences in 10 genes that help to control catecholamine, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling…” Furthermore, these “—signatures that have also been linked to novelty-seeking and reward behavior in humans.”
So the next time you see a teenage skateboarder doing an “ollie” on a staircase, just remember three things:
1) humans aren’t the only ones who do wild and crazy thing
2) as a whole, our species may benefit from the tendency of some of us to exhibit novelty-seeking behavior
3) nagging won’t help.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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