Bumblebees are able to perceive amino acids via chemotactile antennal stimulation
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.
KeywordsChemoreception Foraging Ionotropic receptor Nutrition Protein
Rewarded conditioned stimulus
Unrewarded conditioned stimulus
Generalized linear mixed effect model
Ionotropic glutamate receptor
Inter trial interval
Proboscis extension response
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).
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.
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