Honeybees Taste with Mouth, Front Feet and Antennae
Yesterday's blog post talked about the 3 pairs of legs that honeybees have – a total of 6 legs. Imagine having taste buds on your feet. Your front feet, also known as tarsi, to be precise.
Honeybees have taste sensors on their tongues and in other places, too.
So, when you see a honeybee with its tongue stuck down inside a flower, yes, the honeybee can taste the nectar with that tongue as well as with the jaw (mandibles). But the bee can also taste with the 300+ taste sensors in her antennae, as well as taste sensors on her two front feet.
What do their taste sensors look like? They appear as little hairs that you would not normally think to associate with smell. Unless you study the anatomy of a bee and know these things.
According to scientists who have researched this topic, honeybees are very drawn to sugary and salty flavors, and really like sweet things, like nectar. It is very likely that the degree of sweetness a bee tastes can tell her more about the quantity of sugar that is in that nectar. This provides carbohydrates, which are important to high energy bees. This can help them decide to forage on one flower type over another flower type.
This unrelated 9:27--minute video by Animal Facts reminds us of some fascinating facts about honeybees:
Buzzing and flying around, beating and vibrating wings on the many foraging trips, all the comings and goings of foragers requires a tremendous amount of energy.
Pollen, which provides most of the protein and amino acids in the honeybee diet, is very important for the health and wellbeing of bee larvae. Resins for nest building are another item that can be ‘tasted’ by the bees as they collect such material for construction.
Water is also very important to the hive, for both temperature control and to dilute stored honey. Salt can often be found in honeybee water, and they like salty sea water. Salts are essential to the healthy development of larvae. The feet taste sensors are tuned in to detecting water, salty flavors, as well as sweet tastes.
The antennae tips are even more sensitive when it comes to picking up scents than the feet or mouth. The reason for this is that the antennae are most engaged in finding possible food sources.
If you offer a honeybee something to eat, she will stick her tongue out if she likes the flavor. This was discovered in scientific experiments and is an automatic reaction. As scientists held different foods to the antennae, or to the front feet, as well as to the tongue, the bees stuck their tongues out.
Why are honeybees so well equipped with taste sensors? When you think about it, their survival depends on it. They need to be able to collect food out and about on foraging trips to bring home to the hive for all the other bees.
A completely unrelated fact about taste in the colony is in knowing who resides at the hive and who is an intruder. Each queen bee has a pheromone signature scent, known as the Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP) that permeates the hive. It is the unique ‘chemical imprint’ of that hive, so all bees living in the colony that groom and feed each other, recognize hive mates by these chemicals that are evident by scent and taste.
Taste is mostly processed in the central nervous system, in the suboesophageal ganglion, which can be found in the head, below the oesophagus. How it unfolds is still a mystery, although scientists have viewed taste receptor reactions in all three areas by using a very powerful microscope. This is another area of bee anatomy where more research is needed.
It appears that the honeybee reacts to the taste of salt, sugar, water, pollen, proteins, carbohydrates. But they do not have taste buds. Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, confirmed that honeybees do not have taste buds the way we think of them. They have specialized, enlarged hairs that protrude from their exoskeleton with receptor cells that sense chemicals and interpret them.
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