Research sheds light on honeybees’ ability to taste with claws on their forelegs.
Insects taste through sensilla – hair-like structures on the body that contain receptor nerve cells, each of which is sensitive to a particular substance.
Honeybees have sensilla on the mouthparts, antenna and the tarsi – the end part of the legs.
Honeybees weigh information from both front tarsi to decide whether to feed, finds study led by Gabriela de Brito Sanchez and Martin Giurfa, director of the Research Centre on Animal Cognition from University of Toulouse, France.
“Honeybees rely on their colour vision, memory, and sense of smell and taste to find nectar and pollen in the ever-changing environment around the colony,” informed Giurfa.
Sugary, bitter and salty solutions were applied to the tarsi of the forelegs of hundreds of honeybees to test if this stimulated the bees to extend or retract their tongue – reflex actions that indicate whether or not they like the taste and are preparing to drink.
Results revealed that honeybee tarsi are highly sensitive to sugar: even dilute sucrose solutions prompted the bees to extend their tongue.
Measurements of nerve cell activity showed that the part of the honeybee tarsus most sensitive to sugary tastes is the double claw at its end.
“The claw’s sense of taste allows workers to detect nectar immediately when they land on flowers. Also, bees hovering over water ponds can promptly detect the presence of salts in water through the tarsomeres of their hanging legs,” added Giurfa.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.