Friday Weird Science: Coke Bees.

Sci was going to try and stick with the sex this week, but this paper reminded her SO much of this article in the New Yorker, which then reminded her SO much of that awesome YouTube video, and the next thing you knew Sci had to blog bees on crack. It’s how I roll.
But first, let’s get in the mood:

(Nice web, crack spider)
And from the New Yorker:

There’s that fat kid again. I’m going to sting this whole family! “Aah!” They’re running! I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing, this is incredible. I’m in the car! I’m in the car. I’m in the car! Everyone’s screaming and flailing and . . .

And let’s go.
ResearchBlogging.org Barron et al, 2009. “Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour” Journal of Experimental Biology, 2009.
(The authors are Australian. I wonder very much if they deliberately put “behavior” in the title so they could spell it like that and get us Americans all ornery. 🙂 )


So, cocaine. As we all know, or at least as all the people know who have read this blog before, cocaine is what we like to call a psychostimulant. It binds to transporters on cell membranes, and prevents the uptake of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The general effect in the synapse, the junction between neurons, looks like this:
dopamine synapse NIDA2.gif
Up in that photo (courtesy of the peeps at NIDA) you can see cocaine represented in green. It’s blocking the transporters which recycle dopamine, and the transporters are in fuschia. You can see that dopamine (in orange) is building up in the space. This means it has lots of opportunities to stimulate the other cells in the area.
The end result in Stimulation. Stimulation of your brain. A psychostimulant.
Psychostimulants like cocaine have lots of behavioral effects. For one thing, cocaine stimulates you. For another, it’s addictive. But you know what else? It’s an insecticide.
So given all of this, what would you think a dose of cocaine would do to a bee? I mean, if it’s a stimulant, maybe the bee gets all hoppin’ and starts stinging randomly and doing lines off other bee’s butts. But if it’s an insecticide (though apparently a mild one), shouldn’t the bees drop dead or something? Turns out, it’s neither.
It’s dancin’.

(Sci loves this movie. *dances*)
So, as some of you may know, bees dance as a form of communication. The dance is often called a waggle dance. There’s a short waggle dance called a “round dance” which denotes when nectar is nearby, and a long waggle dance which means that the nectar is far away. The bee performs this dance when it gets back to the hive, and other bees will check it out, and then follow the directions contained in the dance to the food source.
(Side note: Sci got on the radio once for teaching kids about waggle dances. This came out really funny, because Sci was DOING a waggle dance, with a lot of waggling, as she talked about bee dances. It came out something like (*say this while waggling furiously*) “heeeyyy guuuyys, the McDonald’s is over theeereeee, who wants to gooooo…” It was hilarious fun.)
Anyway, whether a bee dances when it comes back depends on what it found. And apparently, if you give bees a little bit of cocaine (by dropping it on the thorax, similar to those seen in the spider video), it increased the likelihood that the bees would dance, though it didn’t speed them up in other ways. The authors also noted that taking the cocaine away induced a “withdrawal-like” response, though Sci thinks that’s a little much to draw from how often a bee is dancing. I mean, if you could pair cocaine with a color stimulus for the bee (bees see in excellent technicolor) and get them to go to it voluntarily, we might be able to talk about withdrawal and stuff. But it does appear that cocaine causes changes in bee behavior which are similar to some of the changes seen in mammals.
But heck, it’s bees, it’s cocaine, and it’s dancin’. And it’s Friday!
Dance, bees, dance!
Barron AB, Maleszka R, Helliwell PG, & Robinson GE (2009). Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour. The Journal of experimental biology, 212 (Pt 2), 163-8 PMID: 19112134

7 Responses

  1. There is very little glamour or honour in the speciality of entomological behaviour. However, it does behove us to keep our centre as we dance through the theatre of ignorance that is the general public. It is good that we can find the humour in it all.

  2. Someone needs to make another Hinterland Who’s Who parody about the bees’ bum-waggling. Seriously. If for no other reason than to promote Canada’s old nature PSAs.

  3. Great — now all the drones are going to start wearing three-piece white suits accessorized with little gold razor blades on chains, and start hanging around in discos drinking mead and clumsily hitting on gynes. Way to mess up nuptial flight behavior, guys!
    Of course, it would be fun to see them try to dance on six legs to that pounding 4/4 disco beat ….

  4. It’s really too bad that Cocaine became the abused drug that it is. Cocaine was the ultimate local anaesthetic. With about the same onset and duration of lidocaine, it caused vasoconstriction (meaning that you didn’t have to use it with epinephrine, as you normally would do with any other esther or amide type anaesthetic as they are vasodilators) and also decreases systemic vascular resistance and is readily absorbed when applied topically. For placing sutures in a kid, LAC (lidocaine/Adrenaline/Cocaine) applied topically to the area under occlusion is the best way to numb the area without a needle and works much better than EMLA (and restricts bleeding). Because it is a Schedule I drug (under DEA guidelines), trying to convince your hospital pharmacy to carry it is almost impossible, due to the possibility of loss and all the DEA paperwork.
    A real loss to the ER folks, all because people like to do stupid stuff to themselves. Len Bias, RIP.

  5. Dr. David: actually, cocaine is a schedule II, and is still used sometimes (very rarely) as a local anesthetic for things like eye surgery.

  6. Dr. David: actually, cocaine is a schedule II, and is still used sometimes (very rarely) as a local anesthetic for things like eye surgery.

  7. Cocaine was the ultimate local anesthetic.
    What I think is crazy is that if a non-doctor has a need for a local anesthetic, it is actually easier to find cocaine on the street, than it is to find novocaine.
    Len Bias, RIP.
    One of my big pet peeves are reactionary laws, following the death of a celebrity. While I disapprove of the drug laws anyhow, I get very angry at the implication that none of the myriad folks who died of O.D. before Bias were worthy of the (admittedly really stupid) laws that were ramrodded through after his death.
    Now bees on the other hand – I would be interested to know how much is “more often.” For that matter, I am curious what they mean by “less often,” in the context of “withdrawal.” I am not sure that I buy calling it “withdrawal” based solely on their waggling less. It could just as easily be due to some form of exhaustion from several hours of serious partying. I mean it is not uncommon for people who use coke to snort or shoot a little more, so they can keep on go, go, going…
    I too think it would be interesting to see if they would self administer.
    I also think it would be really interesting to see how caterpillars and butterflies would react to coke. Possibly even seeing if the butterflies that developed from cocaine using caterpillars (assuming that their habit doesn’t kill them and/or prevent them from making their cocoon) would still be interested in cocaine.
    Most interesting of course, would be seeing what the butterflies might do to unravel the bee’s stranglehold on supply of coke.

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