Honey bees are not only fascinating for providing honey and pollinating flowers, they are also a well-established model organism in many fields of research. When I was working at the University of Osnabrck, Germany, there were several bee hives in our institute. As a behavioral biologist with a strong interest in learning and memory I decided that it was timely to get some student projects started to investigate the learning behavior of our bees.
There are many different fascinating tasks that honey bees can learn. For example honey bees have advanced navigation skills, can communicate position of resources by means of waggle dance, and they can learn to differentiate colors, shapes, and fragrances. In 2011 it was shown that there is evidence that whether bees make an “optimistic” or “pessimistic” decision depends upon an emotion analogues inner state. In that experiment the bees were trained to associate a reward (sugared water) with a certain odor and a punishment (unenjoyable quinine solution) with a different smell. By presenting mixtures of both odors it could be tested if the bees were optimistically expecting a reward or pessimistically expecting an unpleasant taste. Honey bees were more likely to expect a punishment instead of a reward when they were vigorously shaken before the experiment. Those bees that did not experience this hassle were more likely to expect a reward (Bateson et al. 2011). We successfully conducted cognitive bias tests in honey bees, too and could show that a treatment against the varroa mites does not render the bees to be more pessimistic (Schlns et al. 2017).
The test paradigm used here relies on the so called proboscis extension reflex (PER). This reflex describes folding out the “tongue” of an insect after antennal contact with something palatable. Touching a bees antenna with sucrose solution is an unconditioned stimulus which elicits a unconditioned reaction, namely the PER. Using techniques of classical Pavlovian conditioning the unconditioned reaction (PER) can be associated with a neutral stimulus (odor) which as a consequence become a conditioned stimulus eliciting the now conditioned reaction without the presence of the unconditioned stimulus.
In order to do this experimentally we build an apparatus that allows to process the conditioning in a standardized way. The apparatus consists of a mount for a restrained bee, a fan that absorbs air behind the bee, a mini pump that provides an air stream containing the odor which is pumped through a tube, a servomotor rotating the outlet of the tube in front of the honey bee, and a sound and light signal indicating the time point for presenting the unconditioned stimulus.
This instructable shows how to build such an apparatus.”


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