Scientists have known for awhile that honeybees’ antennae pick up different sensory cues. But a new research study explains how bees use their antennae to navigate different social situations. When forced to interact with only their left antennas, they have trouble communicating, because bees tend to greet each other by predominantly using their right antennae. When bees interact solely with their right antennas, they approach each other and begin interacting more quickly, and relate more positively to each other, for example, extending their tongue or proboscis. So to avoid a scuffle, a wayward bee will stay to a stranger’s left, because she will preferentially use her right antenna to distinguish between friend and foe. When they interact with only their left antennae, they are more likely to respond negatively, arching their bodies into a c-shape so that their stingers and mandibles are pointed at the other bees.
This study is especially interesting, because it suggests that bee brains are wired asymmetrically–meaning that the left and right sides of the body do different things–much like human brains. Twenty years ago, asymmetry was previously thought to be a purely human phenomenon, associated with language and higher mental functions. But recent research has shown this asymmetry is present in many different animals from mammals to reptiles to fish, and now honeybees.