"Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways it impairs motor functioning along with learning and memory processing," said Julie Mustard, a study co-author and a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at Ohio State University.
Researchers gave honey bees various levels of ethanol, the intoxicating agent in liquor, and monitored the ensuing behavioral effects of the drink specifically how much time the bees spent flying, walking, standing still, grooming and flat on their backs, so drunk they couldn't stand up. The researchers also measured the level of ethanol in the bees' hemolymph the circulatory fluid of insects that's akin to blood.
Not surprisingly, increasing ethanol consumption meant bees spent less time flying, walking and grooming, and more time upside down. The appearance of inebriation occured sooner for bees that were given a larger dose of ethanol. Also, blood ethanol levels increased with time and the amount of ethanol consumed.
This study is preliminary the researchers simply wanted to see what effects ethanol had on honey bee behavior. In the future, however, they hope to use honey bees as a model for learning more about how chronic alcohol use affects humans, particularly at the molecular level.
"The honey bee nervous system is similar to that of vertebrates," said Geraldine Wright, a study co-author and a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at Ohio State.
Mustard concurred. "On the molecular level, the brains of honey bees and humans work the same. Knowing how chronic alcohol use affects genes and proteins in the honey bee brain may help us eventually understand how alcoholism affects memory and behavior in humans, as well as the molecular basis of addiction."