What can a bee feel? (2022)

It turns out that bees may not just be able to dish out pain — they may also be able to take it.

In a study published last week in the journal PNAS, researchers in the United Kingdom found that bees trade off exposure to heat in order to access better food. The finding suggests bees aren’t just mindless automata responding to stimuli but rather conscious, feeling creatures that can experience pain and engage in complex decision-making.

In other words, bees might be sentient, which would mean they have the capacity to feel and have subjective experiences.

For the experiment, behavioral neuroscience PhD candidate Matilda Gibbons of Queen Mary University of London, along with four other colleagues, first offered bees the choice to drink from two “high quality” feeders labeled yellow with a 40 percent sucrose (sugar) solution, outfitted with an inactive heating pad. (Bees, not unlike us, love sugar.) Different groups of bees were also offered two alternative pink-labeled feeders with either a 10, 20, 30, or 40 percent sucrose solution, each paired with a heating pad that was also inactive.

What can a bee feel? (1) Pippa Ager/Queen Mary University of London

The bees, of course, preferred the sweetest 40 percent sucrose solution. But researchers then repeated the experiment with a twist: The yellow high-sugar feeders were turned up to 131 F — enough to cause discomfort to the bees, but not injury. The pink feeders, which ranged from 10 to 40 percent sucrose, remained unheated.

When the unheated feeder contained just 10 or 20 percent sucrose, bees kept drinking from the high-sugar feeders despite the pain. But when the unheated feeder contained 30 or 40 percent sucrose, many bees migrated over to it, using associative memories to avoid the pain of the heated feeder while still being able to enjoy a high-sugar snack.

“Instead of being sort of a robotic reflexive response, which would be them always avoiding the heat in any situation, they’re able to weigh up the different options and then suppress this response,” Gibbons said.

(Video) What Could It Bee? (Original)

“Work like this recent paper that shows motivational trade-offs [and] very strongly suggests pain experience is, in some sense, quite revolutionary,” says Heather Browning, a philosopher and scientist in the Foundations of Animal Sentience project at the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the study.

One of the reasons it’s revolutionary, according to Browning, is because the ability to make motivational trade-offs is an important marker in determining sentience. It’s also been observed in hermit crabs.

“At least one of the likely roles of sentience for an organism, one of the reasons that [sentience] evolved, is to help an animal make trade-offs like this,” says Browning. “It’s to help them have flexible decision-making when they have these competing motivations.”

However, it’s not formal proof that bees are sentient or that they feel pain, the researchers cautioned, given the inherently subjective nature of pain and consciousness. Even understanding consciousness in humans is still a mystery, something known in philosophy as “the hard problem.”

But the researchers do say the possibility that bees have a capacity for pain and suffering should be taken seriously, and the findings could apply to some other insects as well.

“Can we really say that just because bees are doing this, does that tell us much about other insects? It probably does about the closer related ones, so bees and wasps and ants and maybe flies, but as you get sort of further and further away, probably less,” says Andrew Crump, a postdoctoral biologist at the London School of Economics and a co-author on the study.

As revolutionary as the new study may be, it won’t usher in a revolution of insect rights — just look at how we treat many birds and mammals despite general consensus on their sentience.

(Video) What You Need To Know About Bee Stings

Researchers are at the beginning of what will likely be a long slog to better understand if, and how, insects are sentient. But the findings do serve as one more proof point that the number of species we include as sentient may be undercounted — and grossly so, given that there are an estimated 10 quintillion insects alive at any moment (1 quintillion is a million trillion).

The debate over who gets to be in the sentience club

Despite insects’ extraordinary evolutionary success, animal science researchers have only begun to investigate whether they possess consciousness in the last few years.

Up until the late 1970s, researchers in the field focused on animal behavior and didn’t try to determine if their behavior conferred sentience. The animal mind — if such a thing existed — was considered a black box better left unopened.

That changed in large part due to the work of Donald Griffin, a Harvard-trained zoologist who began to argue in the late 1970s that animals, not just chimpanzees and mammals, are conscious and their minds should be further studied. His students began conducting animal studies and the field, which he named “cognitive ethology,” grew from there.

The idea was controversial at the time, but today there is consensus among those who study consciousness that birds and mammals can possess sentience. Though there are some outlier skeptics, there’s also consensus that fish feel pain, which could be enough to indicate sentience. The jury is still out on insects, and probably will be for some time, but our understanding of them is changing.

“Social insects are traditionally thought to be wholly governed by instinct: They can build complex nests and efficiently divide up their labor through innate behaviors, but are considered stupid as individuals, with complexity emerging only at the group level,” wrote Lars Chittka, a co-author on the study and author of The Mind of a Bee, in the Washington Post. “But there is significant evidence that bees have an inner world of thought — that they are not responding to stimuli only with hard-wired responses.”

Much of the debate around sentience has centered around the neocortex, the part of the mammalian brain that processes language, cognition, and more, and that most neuroscientists believe gives rise to consciousness. Crump says birds don’t have a neocortex, but a structure in their brain, the dorsal pallium, is similar and is where scientists believe birds’ consciousness would lie.

(Video) Bee Beard GONE WRONG!

Fish don’t have that brain structure either, but over the last two decades, researchers have come to believe that fish likely experience pain in the telencephalon region of the brain, which receives activity from their nociceptors — sensory receptors that identify and react to harmful stimuli. We may come to better understand the lives of insects through similar discoveries, but making the determination as to whether or not particular insect species are sentient, let alone all insects, will be tricky.

Much of insect researchers’ current focus is just figuring out what biological markers of sentience are, though the demonstrated ability to make motivational trade-offs, like Gibbons’s bees did, is one of them.

The study builds upon our understanding of insects’ capacity for pain, but it doesn’t provide definitive proof that bees or other insect species are sentient. However, using the precautionary principle — the idea that we should err on the side of minimizing harm in the face of limited information and uncertainty — let’s suppose that they are. Should that change how we treat them?

Bees and other insects might feel pain. Now what?

The debate over whether insects are sentient may seem frivolous, given how distant they feel from mammals, let alone human beings. But every past debate over who deserves moral attention and just how wide our circle of concern should be has seemed frivolous to some. If just a small fraction of the 10 quintillion insects alive right now can feel pain, some changes may need to be in order.

In light of this study, the most sensible place to start is with beekeeping. According to Jason Schukraft, formerly at the research group Rethink Priorities (he’s now at the grant-making foundation Open Philanthropy), the trillion or so bees managed globally for their honey can suffer from a variety of threats: pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, disease, long-distance transport, invasive hive inspections, and honey harvest. Those factors have been linked to colony collapse disorder, but they can be ameliorated by better management.

Many cultures around the world have long eaten insects, but in recent years there’s been a rise in insect factory farming — primarily to supply feed for factory-farmed chicken and fish, rather than for direct human consumption. It’s an emerging trend we might want to think twice about.

What can a bee feel? (2) Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If we sourced more protein from insect farms instead of cattle, pig, and chicken farms, it might be a win for human health. But if commonly farmed insects, like crickets and mealworms, can feel pain, it could be a moral catastrophe orders of magnitude worse than livestock farming, given the astronomical numbers of insects that would need to be raised to replace the 70 billion-plus land animals farmed globally each year.

(Video) WASP STING Vs BEE STING! Which hurt WORST?!

We can find ways to more humanely coexist with insects, such as reducing insecticide use at home and on farms. Policymakers might one day consider protecting insects under the law too. Earlier this year, the UK parliament passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which encompasses all vertebrates; cephalopods, like octopus and squid; and decapods, like lobsters, shrimp, and crawdads. The law isn’t going to, say, outlaw shrimp farming, but it’s a sign that those highest in government are giving the question of animal sentience real consideration.

Crump says their recent study, and future studies, could — when combined — build a clearer picture as to whether bees and other insects are sentient or not.

“It won’t be any one study [that determines insect sentience], and it won’t be any one kind of indicator,” Crump said. Each development may only provide weak evidence for sentience, but if there are enough pieces all pointing to the same conclusion, Crump says, “That’s when we start to get quite a strong case.”

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FAQs

What does a bee feel? ›

The same seems to go for bumblebees, although Perry did not demonstrate that bees have feelings. “We didn't show that they feel happy,” he says. The evidence showed instead that bees possess the cognitive, behavioral and physiological mechanisms that underlie emotions.

Can a bee feel pain? ›

We swat bees to avoid painful stings, but do they feel the pain we inflict? A new study suggests they do, a possible clue that they and other insects have sentience—the ability to be aware of their feelings.

Can bees feel sad? ›

Further analysis of the shaken bees' brains found altered levels of dopamine, serotonin and octopamine, three neurotransmitters implicated in depression. In short, the bees acted like they felt pessimistic, and their brains looked like it, too.

Can bees feel energy? ›

Bees Can Feel Static Electricity–Just Like You

Bees that buzz around flowers can actually feel whether the flower has been visited by another pollinator by using the hairs on their body to detect something called static charge or static electricity.

Can bees feel fear? ›

Bees don't smell fear. However, they detect fear pheromones released when an animal or human is afraid. Essentially, their olfactory system enables them to collect scents and establish their meaning. So, even though they don't smell fear directly, they have a keen sense of smell for perceived threats.

Do bees feel happy? ›

Bees become optimistic and happy after drinking nectar, leading scientists to speculate they may have a consciousness. Biologists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have discovered that after bumblebees drink a small droplet of sweet sugar water, they behave like they are in a positive emotional state.

Do bees remember you? ›

Well we don't all look alike to them, according to a new study that shows honeybees, who have 0.01% of the neurons that humans do, can recognize and remember individual human faces.

Do bees suffer? ›

Many people may think that bees don't suffer. However, all the evidence available indicates that they, as many other invertebrates who have a centralized nervous systems, do have the capacity to feel suffering and pleasure.

Can bees think? ›

Bees may have tiny brains, but they are surprisingly intelligent. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have conducted an experiment showing that bees can learn from their environment to gain a reward, and then teach other bees to do the same.

What makes a bee happy? ›

Ensure your bees' happiness by planting lots of flowers that they can use as sugars and proteins from the nectar and pollen. They need these to grow healthy and reproduce, so be sure to not only plant an abundance, but also a variety that bloom at different times and different heights.

Do bees get angry? ›

Bees feel safe and secure in their hives, and if anything disturbs that peace, it can make them feel threatened – and react aggressively. If your hives are being invaded by pests like possums or mice, bees may become agitated and start showing signs of aggression as they try to protect their honey supplies.

Are bees Smart? ›

“Our work and that of other labs has shown that bees are really highly intelligent individuals. That they can count, recognise images of human faces and learn simple tool use and abstract concepts.”

Can bees hear? ›

Bees, in contrast to people, do not hear with their ears, but they notice the sound with their whole body, especially with their antennas and sensitive body hair. The bees during their wagging dance produce the "sound" of 250 oscillations per second (250Hz).

Do bees sleep? ›

Honeybees sleep between 5 & 8 hours a day. More rest at night when darkness prevents them going out to collect pollen & nectar.

Do bees like affection? ›

There is evidence suggesting that honey bees are capable to perceive emotions and feelings toward things. Anyone who had the chance to be around honey bees can vow that they are moody and capable to show love and affection.

What does bee afraid of? ›

The sting can be quite painful and in some individuals results in swelling that may last for several days and can also provoke allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, so the development of loathsome fear of bees is quite natural.
...
Fear of bees
Other namesApiphobia
SpecialtyPsychiatry

What smell do bees hate? ›

Bees also have a distaste for lavender oil, citronella oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, lemon, and lime. These are all topical defenses you can add to your skin to keep bees away. Unlike other flying insects, bees are not attracted to the scent of humans; they are just curious by nature.

Can a bee chase you? ›

They have aggressive tendencies and are overprotective of the hive. Often when you have cranky bees, you will be unable to get near the hive or you will get stung. Sometimes these bees chase you for just being within eyesight of the hive.

Do bees have brains? ›

Whilst bumblebees have relatively simple brains compared to our own human brain, they are able to perform complex learning tasks, such as remembering the best places to forage for nectar and pollen. It's a fantastic way to look inside insect brains.

Do bees have knees? ›

Bees, like all insects, have six sections to their legs: the coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, metatarsus and tarsus. Each is connected by a joint and the one most like a knee is between the femur and tibia.

Do bees have nerves? ›

The central nervous system in bees comprises a brain, linked to a central nerve cord which runs through the body of the bee (along the thorax and abdomen), with paired swellings known as ganglia, occurring at intervals along it, and lateral nerves spread out from these.

Do bees like music? ›

Scientific studies show that Honey Bees prefer the music genre of "Bee-Bop" more than anything.

Are bees friendly to humans? ›

Yes, bees are friendly and don't attack or sting without being provoked. However, some factors can shape the defensive response of bees, like genetics and their roles in the colony. Unfortunately, the perception that bees are not friendly has spread over the years.

Why do bees fly in your face? ›

They may fly at your face or buzz around over your head. These warning signs should be heeded, since the bees may be telling you that you have come into their area and are too close to their colony for comfort both theirs and yours!

Can I save a dying bee? ›

Thankfully it is pretty easy to revive tired and exhausted bees. A simple solution of sugar and water can work wonders in giving them the energy they need to fly away. To create this energy drink to revive tired bees, the RSPB suggests mixing two tablespoons of white granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water.

Why can't Vegans eat honey? ›

For some vegans, this extends to honey, because it is produced from the labor of bees. Honey-avoiding vegans believe that exploiting the labor of bees and then harvesting their energy source is immoral — and they point out that large-scale beekeeping operations can harm or kill bees.

Is it wrong to eat honey? ›

Honey has been linked to health benefits like improved heart health, wound healing, and blood antioxidant status. However, consuming too much may cause adverse effects due to its high sugar and calorie content. Thus, it's best to use honey to replace other forms of sugar and enjoy it in moderation.

Why can't bees fly in dark? ›

"Surely that's more dangerous than keeping flying?" Most bees, including honey bees and bumble bees, cannot fly at night. They are diurnal, meaning they only fly and pass along pollen during the day. Bees can crawl at night, however.

Can bees do math? ›

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are capable of arithmetic, showing proficiency in addition and subtraction, new research reveals. The tiny bee brain is capable of numerical skills and short-term working memory previously attributed to the larger brains of some vertebrates.

What do bees think about humans? ›

1. Bees like humans! Bees like the humans who take good care of them. Bees can detect human faces, which means they can recognize, and build trust with their human caretakers.

Do bees have a mind of their own? ›

Somehow, bees are capable of complex reasoning and storing memories over miles and miles of flight, and recent research has begun to show that little bee brains might be the key to understanding our own. In recent studies, scientists showed that bees are able to understand abstract relationships.

Do insects have emotions? ›

In fact, there's mounting evidence that insects can experience a remarkable range of feelings. They can be literally buzzing with delight at pleasant surprises, or sink into depression when bad things happen that are out of their control.

Do Wasps have emotions? ›

They don't feel 'pain,' but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions.

Why would a bee chase you? ›

If a single bee is following you, it's probably because they're attracted to your clothes, scent or something sugary you are eating. They will eventually leave you alone if you don't try to hurt them. However, if there is more than one bee following you, it could because they view you as a threat to their hive.

Why do bees follow me? ›

Bees follow you because Sweat is sweet to bees.

These bees are usually metallic in color and rather small and harder to notice than their yellow and black counterparts. These bees can sting but aren't known for being aggressive towards humans. They just want to take a lick of that sweet, sweet sweat.

Does eating honey hurt bees? ›

So it is helpful to clear this up: Harvesting honey does not hurt any bees.

Do bees have a memory? ›

This study demonstrates that the bee with a tiny brain possesses a sophisticated memory, and is able to remember tasks within a temporal context. Honey bees can thus ;plan' their activities in time and space, and use context to determine which action to perform and when.

What are bees sensitive to? ›

Honey bees have been found to be able to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salt, and thus have a sense of "taste." Bees are more sensitive to salts than humans, but less sensitive to bitter flavors.

Are bees smarter than ants? ›

Bees are generally ranked smarter, though, and have shown the ability to observe, learn, and demonstrate the memory needed to problem solve. Their ability to navigate a wildly divergent field of flowers helps to illustrate this. Still, even though bees may be smarter, ants are among the top most intelligent insects.

Do bees hate noise? ›

Noise. Carpenter bees do not like loud noises. They are very sensitive to vibrations also. You can make your space inhospitable to carpenter bees in Southern Maryland or Northern Virginia by playing loud music in your yard.

Do bees have hearts? ›

Some insects, bees included, have a heart and an aorta (the vessel leading out of the heart) that pumps the blood and gives it some semblance of direction (from the back of the insect to the front), but beyond that there is no circulatory system. The heart floats in the hemolymph along with everything else.

Are bees blind? ›

Bees are partially color-blind when compared to us, since they can't see red. However, we are also partially color-blind when compared to bees – since we can't see ultraviolet! Bee vision is also much faster than our vision.

Can bees see in the dark? ›

No, bees are not blind at night. There are species of bees that are only active during nighttime. Several people are under the belief that bees can't see in the dark because they rely heavily on light to navigate. Since bees have ocelli, they can detect light even when there's almost no light at all.

Why do bees stop moving? ›

Tired bees are slow-moving, lethargic and can be found in the grass, pavement or road for some time or in bad weather conditions. If he's not visibly wet, injured or cold, there's a good chance he is an exhausted bee and could do with a little help.

How many days can a bee live? ›

Honey bees live in sophisticated colonies - they are 'superorganisms' comprising up to 50,000 to 60,000 bees - mostly workers.
...
How long do honey bees live?
Average life span of the honey bee by colony member
Drone30 days on average (Czekońska et al 2015) or up to 55 days (Rhodes 2002)
2 more rows
7 Feb 2021

Can you pet a bee? ›

It's safe to gently use a finger to stroke the bee. However, a bee's sudden movement may cause you to accidentally touch its bottom or stinger. It's easier to attempt petting male bumblebees rather than female ones. Male bees do not have stingers.

Should you talk to bees? ›

Bees like to be talked to politely and quietly. Harvest your honey under a new moon and the bees will produce more the next time around. Banging on a dishpan in front of the hives, before you get into them, to calm the bees. If you talk to your bees, they will become more familiar with you and won't sting as much.

What language do bees speak? ›

Bees do not use language to communicate.

What makes a bee happy? ›

Ensure your bees' happiness by planting lots of flowers that they can use as sugars and proteins from the nectar and pollen. They need these to grow healthy and reproduce, so be sure to not only plant an abundance, but also a variety that bloom at different times and different heights.

Do bugs have feelings? ›

They can be optimistic, cynical, or frightened, and respond to pain just like any mammal would. And though no one has yet identified a nostalgic mosquito, mortified ant, or sardonic cockroach, the apparent complexity of their feelings is growing every year.

Do bees have nerves? ›

The central nervous system in bees comprises a brain, linked to a central nerve cord which runs through the body of the bee (along the thorax and abdomen), with paired swellings known as ganglia, occurring at intervals along it, and lateral nerves spread out from these.

Do bees have brains? ›

Whilst bumblebees have relatively simple brains compared to our own human brain, they are able to perform complex learning tasks, such as remembering the best places to forage for nectar and pollen. It's a fantastic way to look inside insect brains.

Do bees like humans? ›

Bees like humans!

Bees like the humans who take good care of them. Bees can detect human faces, which means they can recognize, and build trust with their human caretakers.

Do bees like affection? ›

There is evidence suggesting that honey bees are capable to perceive emotions and feelings toward things. Anyone who had the chance to be around honey bees can vow that they are moody and capable to show love and affection.

Can bees remember humans? ›

Well we don't all look alike to them, according to a new study that shows honeybees, who have 0.01% of the neurons that humans do, can recognize and remember individual human faces. For humans, identifying faces is critical to functioning in everyday life.

Do spiders feel anger? ›

The emotions they feel are more of an instinctive nature, which allows them to survive. For instance, they might feel fear when another animal tries to kill or prey on the spider. But the spider is not able to feel emotions like anger, love, hate, or other emotions that might inspire humans to take revenge.

Can spiders feel fear? ›

Sorry arachnophobes, you have more in common with spiders than you thought Although spiders are sometimes thought of as being creepy crawly animals, new evidence suggests some get scared and assess danger in almost the same way as humans.

Do fish have feelings? ›

Nerves, brain structure, brain chemistry and behaviour – all evidence indicates that, to varying degrees, fish can feel pain, fear and psychological stress.

Do bees get angry? ›

Bees feel safe and secure in their hives, and if anything disturbs that peace, it can make them feel threatened – and react aggressively. If your hives are being invaded by pests like possums or mice, bees may become agitated and start showing signs of aggression as they try to protect their honey supplies.

Do bees have blood? ›

Honey bees have an open circulatory system. This simply means that hemolymph (bee blood) does not pump through veins but rather freely circulates in the bee's body cavity. Hemolymph does not transport oxygen but rather transports nutrients and hormones to the various body tissues.

How many hearts do bees have? ›

They only have one heart that pumps blood through the rest of their body. That is because bees are different from humans. After all, they have an open circulatory system instead of having a closed circulatory system as we do.

How intelligent is a bee? ›

“Our work and that of other labs has shown that bees are really highly intelligent individuals. That they can count, recognise images of human faces and learn simple tool use and abstract concepts.”

Do bees know nothing? ›

Bees had already demonstrated they could count. Now, the researchers wrote, bees have shown that they understand the absence of things — shapes on a display in this experiment — as a numerical quantity: none or zero. This is a big leap. Some past civilizations had trouble with the idea of zero.

Are bees smarter than ants? ›

Bees are generally ranked smarter, though, and have shown the ability to observe, learn, and demonstrate the memory needed to problem solve. Their ability to navigate a wildly divergent field of flowers helps to illustrate this. Still, even though bees may be smarter, ants are among the top most intelligent insects.

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