Bees Bad Moods and Brains

bees Summer is in full swing and with the year’s hottest months come a few seasonal staples: sun, heat, outdoors, bugs and the all-time favorite – bees. However they come, honey, bumble, potter or any other type, the tiny, ominous bugs are feared and avoided at all costs. Some sting and die soon after; however others, like any type of wasp or hornet, are able to sting, keep their stinger and live to keep on stinging. While all animals are known, on some level, for being protective and aggressive when on the defense, bees now have something to blame for what seems to be their perpetual bad moods: their brains. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released a study that found a link between brain metabolism and aggression within the genes of bees which might help explain the insects’ aggressive reactions when feeling vulnerable or provoked. According to Science Daily,  where the study conducted by the researchers at the University of Illinois was published, the findings were counter-intuitive. Bees, the research found, were actually more aggressive when particular genes were suppressed. Though the exact gene has not been identified, there appears to be a direct link to the metabolism of their brains. Professor Gene Robinson says: “You tend to think of aggression as requiring more energy, not less.” This assessment also holds true when considering how and when bee stings happen. Bees rarely sting when the potential victim is flailing around and swatting at them. Bees sting more often when they go unnoticed until the victim feels the tell-tale heat and pain that signifies a bee sting. Bees are not necessarily being mean when they sting. They are just reacting to threatening environments and predators. Perhaps this is why evidence points to the fact that their species has been around for millions of years. Bees’ brains are programmed to, essentially, put them in bad moods when their homes and/or safety are being threatened. They react by stinging the threat to send a message and create some distance. Bees, their brains and their bad moods seem to be the very definition of “survival of the fittest,” and millions of years of existence for the tiny pollinating creatures is testament to their ability to survive. In fact, this ability to survive is one aspect about bees that has researchers so fascinated. In a world where many species are becoming endangered or being put on the watch list, it is an exciting discovery that there is an identifiable gene proven to affect how well a species can survive. This is especially exciting news for bees and bee enthusiasts alike, not to mention farmers and botanists, as there have been longstanding rumors about the inevitable and approaching virtual extinction of bees. Most people are probably not excited about the undeniable buzzing sound that signals the approach of bees. The mere mention that a bee is around is rarely met with smiles and welcoming cheers. However, bees are an important element of the ecosystem. Bees pollinate flowers, making them an important contributing factor in successful crop growth. “Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants-including food crops-would die off,” explains the National Resources Defense Center. Perhaps just reading the information does not satisfactorily explain the sort of devastation that the disappearance of one tiny sort of bug could cause, but there is a trickle-down effect to everything. Bees have the metabolism of their brains to blame for their bad moods. Many people, though, will probably still continue to fear and loathe bees regardless of the newly discovered scientific excuse for their aggression. Nothing is certain when it comes to the future of bees, though the future success of agriculture is dependent upon their pollination of flowering plants. However, the fact that bees have somehow managed to survive and have even thrived for millions of years gives hope that bees have a fighting chance to continue on as a species, far into the future. By Heather Everett Sources: Science Daily Natural Science National Resource Defense Council