6.4. Aversive conditioning in free-flying bees

In addition to protocols that use harnessed bees or bees confined to a shuttle box, there is a technique in which free-flying bees receive aversive stimulation (instructions for building the device is available in Abramson, 1986). In the situation shown in Fig. 7, a bee is trained to visit a target. The target is modified in such a way as to administer electric shock when the bee is standing on the plate and extending its proboscis into a well containing high concentrated sucrose solution. The target can also be modified to either vibrate and/or administer an air puff. The unconditioned response to shock in the vast majority of bees is to fly off the target. A bee can also avoid the shock by retracting its proboscis from the well. When vibration or air puff precedes shock, the bee will learn to use these warning stimuli to avoid the shock. Bees can also learn to discriminate between the air puff and vibration when one of them is followed by shock and the other is not (Abramson and Bitterman, 1986a, b). Shock is also known to improve discrimination learning in free-flying bees (Avargues-Weber et al., 2010).

The free-flying technique is highly versatile. Studies on punishment and avoidance conditioning can easily be done. What cannot be done is escape conditioning. Bees will not readily land on a target which is electrified.

Fig. 7. Free-flying aversive conditioning situation for honey bees. A honey bee lands on a conductive plate and when the proboscis comes in contact with sucrose solution a shock can be delivered. The plate is attached to a vibrator that can provide a warning stimulus. A second warning stimulus is air puff which can be seen above the bee.

1293PN revised Fig 7