Honeybees love sugar-rich nectar produced by plants, and one of the main ways they detect it is with claws on their front legs, according to a new study.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, reveals how that works, including what happens if a bee dips one clawed leg into sugar, while another is dipped into salty water.
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The tasting happens via sensilla, which are hair-like structures on the bee's body that contain receptor nerve cells. These cells, in turn, are sensitive to particular substances, such as the bee buzz-inducing sugar.
In honeybees, the sensilla are on their little clawed legs, on their mouths, and on their antenna. With all of that potential for tasting, Gabriela de Brito Sanchez of the University of Toulouse and her colleagues wondered how the system came together.
She and her team studied hundreds of honeybees, observing what happened when sugar, bitter and salty solutions were applied to the claws (technically known as tarsomeres) of their forelegs. (This drawing allows you to see one by itself in detail.) They wanted to see if the bees would stick out their tongues- indicating something yummy is around to lap up- or if they would retract their tongues, as if to say, "Yuck."