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Chem Senses. 2011 Oct;36(8):675-92. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjr040. Epub 2011 May 26.

Taste perception in honey bees.

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Research center on Animal Cognition, CNRS, University Paul Sabatier, Toulouse Cedex, France.


Taste is crucial for honeybees for choosing profitable food sources, resins, water sources, and for nestmate recognition. Peripheral taste detection occurs within cuticular hairs, the chaetic and basiconic sensilla, which host gustatory receptor cells and, usually a mechanoreceptor cell. Gustatory sensilla are mostly located on the distal segment of the antennae, on the mouthparts, and on the tarsi of the forelegs. These sensilla respond with varying sensitivity to sugars, salts, and possibly amino acids, proteins, and water. So far, no responses of receptor cells to bitter substances were found although inhibitory effects of these substances on sucrose receptor cells could be recorded. When bees are free to express avoidance behaviors, they reject highly concentrated bitter and saline solutions. However, such avoidance disappears when bees are immobilized in the laboratory. In this case, they ingest these solutions, even if they suffer afterward a malaise-like state or even die from such ingestion. Central processing of taste occurs mainly in the subesophageal ganglion, but the nature of this processing remains unknown. We suggest that coding tastants in terms of their hedonic value, thus classifying them in terms of their palatability, is a basic strategy that a central processing of taste should achieve for survival.

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