Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 205, Issue 3, pp 321–331 | Cite as

Bumblebees are able to perceive amino acids via chemotactile antennal stimulation

  • Fabian A. Ruedenauer
  • Sara D. Leonhardt
  • Klaus Lunau
  • Johannes SpaetheEmail author
Original paper


Like all animals, bees need to consume essential amino acids to maintain their body’s protein synthesis. Perception and discrimination of amino acids are, however, still poorly understood in bees (and insects in general). We used chemotactile conditioning of the proboscis extension response (PER) to examine (1) whether Bombus terrestris workers are able to perceive amino acids by means of their antennae and (if so) which ones, (2) whether they are able to differentiate between different amino acids, and (3) whether they are able to differentiate between different concentrations of the same amino acid. We found that workers perceived asparagine, cysteine, hydroxyproline, glutamic acid, lysine, phenylalanine, and serine, but not alanine, leucine, proline, or valine by means of their antennae. Surprisingly, they were unable to differentiate between different (perceivable) amino acids, but they distinguished between different concentrations of lysine. Consequently, bumblebees seem to possess amino acid receptors at the tip of their antennae, which enable a general perception of those solute amino acids that have an additional functional group (besides the common amino and carboxylic groups). They may thus have the ability to assess the overall amino acid content of pollen and nectar prior to ingestion.


Chemoreception Foraging Ionotropic receptor Nutrition Protein 



Conditioned stimulus


Rewarded conditioned stimulus


Unrewarded conditioned stimulus


Generalized linear mixed effect model


Ionotropic glutamate receptor


Inter trial interval


Ionotropic receptor


Proboscis extension response


Unconditioned stimulus



We would like to thank Martin Strube-Bloss for useful comments on the experimental setup and helpful discussions of the results. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG project: LE 2750/5-1 to SDL and SP1380/1-1 to JS).

Author contributions

JS, SDL, FAR, and KL conceived the experimental concept. FAR performed the experiments. FAR and SDL analyzed the data. All authors wrote the manuscript, discussed the results, commented on the paper and agreed to the final version.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human/animal rights statement

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

359_2019_1321_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 38 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical BiologyBiozentrum, University of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Sensory EcologyHeinrich-Heine-UniversityDüsseldorfGermany
  3. 3.Department of Behavioral Physiology and SociobiologyBiozentrum, University of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

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