Honey bees communicate the location and desirability of valuable forage sites to their nestmates through an elaborate, symbolic "dance language." The dance language is a uniquely complex communication system in invertebrates, and the neural mechanisms that generate dances are largely unknown. Here we show that treatments with controlled doses of the biogenic amine neuromodulator octopamine selectively increased the reporting of resource value in dances by forager bees. Oral and topical octopamine treatments modulated aspects of dances related to resource profitability in a dose-dependent manner. Dances for pollen and sucrose responded similarly to octopamine treatment, and these effects were eliminated by treatment with the octopamine antagonist mianserin. We propose that octopamine modulates the representation of floral rewards in dances by changing the processing of reward in the honey bee brain. Octopamine is known to modulate appetitive behavior in a range of solitary insects; the role of octopamine in dance provides an example of how neural substrates can be adapted for new behavioral innovations in the process of social evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1703-1707
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 30 2007


  • Apis mellifera
  • Biogenic amine
  • Foraging
  • Reward
  • Social behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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