We’ve all heard expressions like ‘a swarm of angry bees.’
But do bees or other insects actually experience something like emotions?
According to a recent Scientific American article, it sure looks like they do!
The article begins, “If you have never watched bees carefully, you are missing out. Look closely as they gently curl and uncoil their mouthparts around food, and you will sense that they are not just eating but enjoying their meal. Watch a bit more, and the hesitant flicks and sags of their antennae seem to convey some kind of emotion. Do those twitches signal annoyance? Or something like enthusiasm?”
Recent studies by Melissa Bateson and her colleagues at Newcastle University in England have rekindled the debate over these issues by showing that honeybees may experience something akin to moods.
Using simple behavioral tests, Bateson’s team showed that honeybees under stress tend to be pessimistic. Other tests have demonstrated that monkeys, dogs and starlings all tend to react similarly under duress and likewise see the proverbial glass as half empty.
For now, however, we cannot conclude anything more sweeping about the emotional life of a bee. Bateson and her co-authors leave us with an intriguing plea for consistency, however, one that nudges us to think clearly about how we regard the minds and emotions of all creatures. “It is logically inconsistent,” Bateson and her colleagues say, to deduce that dogs and other similar animals express emotions “but to deny the same conclusion in the case of honeybees.”
Although this finding does not — and cannot — prove that bees experience human-like emotions, it does give pause. We should take seriously the possibility that insects, too, have emotions.
So let’s not tick off those bees, shall we? They may actually be angry at you!