Do bees have brains?
The short answer is:
Yes – bees have brains. All types of bees have brains (honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and all other solitary bee species).
We'll answer this question in more detail about the brains of bees, but first...
In an adult bee there are seven ganglia which are collections of nerves which lie along the mid-line of the body: two in the head, two in the thorax, and three in the abdomen. It is the two in the head that we need to concentrate on now. Why? Because one of them is actually referred to as ‘the brain’.
The ganglion referred to as the brain in bees is formed by the merger of three embryonic lobes – that is to say, when the bee larva is developing, there are three ganglia that merge to form the one brain ganglion of the adult.
Nerves from the brain go to three important anatomical locations: the eyes; the antennae; the mouth parts.
Research has suggested that amongst bumble bees (which have a significant size variation) the larger specimens are more efficient foragers and better learners than smaller specimens of the same species.
However, this does not necessarily mean that a large bumble bee is more intelligent than say, an adult worker honey bee.
You can read more about this, plus more information about where honey bees, bumble bees and leafcutters are ranked on my page How Big Is A Bee Brain?
Bees may be small, but they are like other animals in that they are still complex creatures made up of a number of different tissues that all perform their own specialised function, but are all integrated to ensure the normal functioning of the entire body.
As in larger animals, the efficient functioning of the body of bees is managed by the nervous system. However, the bee nervous system is anatomically quite different from that of ‘higher’ animals such as humans.
In humans, the nervous system consists of the brain (a large collection of nerves), which is situated in the head, and the nerves that run from it: the spinal cord, which passes down the spinal column), and the peripheral nerves – some of which branch off the spinal cord.
In bees, however, the arrangement is a different one, as explained above. The nervous system of bees is much simpler, consisting of a series of small collections of nerves (these are known as ganglia, as referred to above). The ganglia lie along the mid-line of the body. Each ganglion is connected to the next by two cords – the commissures. There are nerve branches that go to the other parts of the body.
In effect, the ganglia are like the human brain, with the commissures and nerve branches being like the spinal cord and peripheral nerves in humans. Clearly, in humans, all the functions of the brain are gathered into one location – the brain in the head; whereas in bees, some of the ‘brain functions’ that would operate from the head in humans, are separated into different locations within the body.
Therefore, of the seven ganglia in the adult bee body, two are in the head (as previously stated), two in the thorax, and three are in the abdomen.
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