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Bees on cocaine: The facts

Mr Snowman wants some honey, baby

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

News has emerged of the latest threat to nature: drug-addled bees, hopped up on crack by crazed scientists. Some bee experts believe that cocaine could have "as devastating an effect on honey bee society as it does on human society".

The scientists in question are Andrew Barron of Macquarie University in Australia and Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois, and some fellow bee and narcotics experts. The men, for reasons that seemed good to them at the time, got some bees hooked on cocaine and then turned them out to find some sugar.

According to the boffins, cocaine turns good bees - productive members of the hive - into untrustworthy scumbags. The cocaine-addled insects would routinely exaggerate the quality of sugar or pollen they had found, lying to their fellow hive members through the medium of "waggle dancing", the standard method of describing one's work among bees.

But the bees' dance remained accurate in terms of where the food was, according to Robinson. The insect drug-slaves maintained a certain level of dignity.

"It's not like they're gyrating wildly on the dance floor out of control," he said. "This is a patterned response. It gives distance information, location information. That information is intact."

It also seems that honey bees experience withdrawal symptoms much as humans do when Mr Snowman suddenly cuts off his supply of treats. Bees who had their cocaine taken away hit the skids rapidly, losing even the ability to tell lemon and vanilla apart. (This is a sign of a bee who has really lost it, apparently.)

The scientists believe that their work indicates the presence of a reward system in the bee brain, something never shown so far. They also think that more bee study will have relevance to the problems of human addiction.

Full details will be published on Boxing Day in the Journal of Experimental Biology (Reference: Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour. J Exp Biol 212, 163-168). ®

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