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J Neurosci. 1995 Mar;15(3 Pt 1):1617-30.

Learning and memory in the honeybee.

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Institut für Neurobiologie, FU-Berlin, Germany.


Insects are favorable subjects for neuroethological studies. Their nervous systems are relatively small and contain many individually identifiable cells. The CNS is highly compartmentalized with clear separations between multisensory higher order neuropiles in the brain and neuropiles serving sensory-motor routines in the ventral cord (Huber, 1974). The rich behavior of insects includes orientation in space and time, visual, chemical, and mechanical communication, and complex motor routines for flying, walking, swimming, nest building, defense, and attack. Learning and memory, though, are not usually considered to be a strong point of insects. Rather, insect behavior is often regarded as highly stereotyped and under tight control of genetically programmed neural circuits. This view, however, does not do justice to the insect order of Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants). Most Hymenopteran species care for their brood either as individual females or as a social group of females. Consequently, they regularly return to their nest site to feed, protect, and nurse the larvae, store food, and hide from adverse environmental conditions. Since they search for food (prey; nectar and pollen on flowers) at unpredictable sites, they have to learn the celestial and terrestrial cues that guide their foraging trips over long distances and allow them to find their nest sites (central place foraging; von Frisch, 1967; Seeley, 1985). They learn to relate the sun's position and sky pattern of polarized light to the time of the day (Lindauer, 1959), and landmarks are learned in relationship to the nest site within the framework of the time-compensated sun compass. The honeybee communicates direction and distance of a feeding place to hive mates by performing a ritualized body movement, the waggle dance (von Frisch, 1967). Associative learning is an essential component of the bee's central place foraging behavior and dance communication. Hive mates attending a dance performance learn the odor emanating from the dancing bee and seek it at the indicated food site. The odor, color, and shape of flowers are learned when the bee experiences these stimuli shortly before it finds food (nectar, pollen). This appetitive learning in bees has many characteristics of associative learning well known from mammalian learning studies (Menzel, 1985, 1990; Bitterman, 1988). It follows the rules of classical and operant conditioning, respectively, so that stimuli or behavioral acts are associated with evaluating stimuli. Since associative learning, especially of the classical type, is well described at the phenomenological and operational level (Rescorla, 1988), it provides a favorable approach in the search for the neural substrate underlying learning and memory.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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