Modulation of sucrose response thresholds in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.): Influence of genotype, feeding, and foraging experience

Tanya Pankiw, Keith D. Waddington, Robert E. Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


The perception of sugar is important to honey bees for making foraging decisions. We measured bees' perception by determining what concentration of sucrose touched to the antennae elicited the proboscis extension response (response threshold). A low response threshold (extension at low concentration) suggests a high perceptual value of sucrose, and vice versa. Perception of sucrose solutions differed between two artificially selected genotypic strains and was modulated by the bees' recent feeding experiences. Bees offered 10%, 30%, or 50% sucrose solutions in small cages overnight, and in large flight-cages or free-flying in the field for several days, had subsequent response thresholds positively correlated to the concentration offered. Empty bees, whether they were nectar, water or pollen foragers, dancers or non-dancers, had a significantly lower threshold than loaded bees. Crop volume affected response thresholds directly and independently of sucrose concentration. We interpret these findings as multiple mechanisms that operate in different time scales, modulating perception of sucrose. Changes occurred in the time scale of evolutionary processes as demonstrated by genotypic differences. Changes with foraging experience occur in hours or minutes while effects of crop filling are instantaneous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-301
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Honey bee
  • Neuroethology
  • Response thresholds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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