While bees are best known for making honey, scientists studying their brains and behavior have uncovered some astounding feats of biology. Bees have a lot to teach us and what we learn from them may someday help slow down the aging process, cure addictions and troubleshoot some very real human problems.
Bees’ Brains Can Halt the Aging Process
When older bees are tasked to do jobs typically performed by younger bees, their brains not only stop aging, but also had a greater ability to learn new things. Additionally, the brains of these older bees produced proteins only seen in the brains of younger bees. The human counterparts of these proteins have been shown to be protective against dementia and cellular stressors. Scientists hope that this discovery can help people maintain optimal brain functioning even in later life.
Bees Have the Ability to Recognize Human Faces
Bees make out faces the same way people do. They take the distinct elements of a face—eyebrows, lips, nose, etc.—and put them together like a three dimensional puzzle to make a recognizable face. Scientists call this technique configular processing. As a bee’s brain has only 1 million neurons compared to a human’s 10 billion, it is clear that it does not take a complex neural network to distinguish objects. This realization could prove useful in helping design more dependable facial recognition software and security measures at airports, for instance.
A Bee’s Brain Chemistry Changes When They Perform a New Task
Some bees are pre-programmed to do certain jobs in the hive. For instance, scout bees leave the hive to find new sources of food and share that information with the forager bees. Soldier bees, which are larger and stronger than regular bees, protect the colony. Undertaker bees remove dead and dying bees, which might spread disease, from the hive. Before a regular honeybee begins one of the many different jobs she will perform over the course of her lifetime, her brain’s chemistry becomes altered, which results in a specific set of behaviors that enables her to perform her new job. This research could help scientists better understand how humans learn new skills and abilities.
Bees Get Buzzed from Caffeine
Some plants produce caffeine, which protects the plant from harmful insects and attracts pollinators like bees. Scientists have learned that nectar, which contains traces of caffeine, can actually help bees remember the location of that specific flower. This enhanced memory works in the plant’s favor as it increases the chance more bees will come to pollinate it. Understanding how such mind-altering substances change a bee’s behavior may give us insights on how to stop a human’s brain from reacting to drug abuse.
How Bees Gather Nectar May Help Police Catch Criminals
Astonishingly, scientists have found critical similarities between how bees gather nectar and how serial killers target their victims. Typically, serial killers commit their crimes close to where they live, but not close enough to arouse the neighbors’ suspicions. Similarly, bees gather nectar from locations that are near their hive, but are far enough away that parasites and predators will be unable to locate the hive. This optimal distance is known as a geographical buffer zone. By studying bee foraging patterns, scientists can generate computer programs that have the potential to shed light on how criminals stalk their victims.