Exploring the Inner Lives of Bugs

Exploring the Inner Lives of Bugs

The debate about whether non-humans experience emotions has been more or less settled in one area – mammals. Science as well as pet owners agree that dogs and cats do experience emotional states, from jealousy to anger to sadness. This isn’t much of a leap for anyone who’s spent time with a pet. Many bird owners would agree that they see behaviors linked to specific feeling states in their feathered friends.

But what about bugs – do they feel? Scientists have attempted to get at this question by observing insect behavior. One recent experiment involved putting a group of honeybees through a vortex – a type of mixing machine – to simulate a badger attack on the hive. The bees who were vortexed were then compared to a control group in how they responded to getting either a sweet treat or avoiding a bitter food.

The mixed-up bees reacted to the bitter taste (which carried an unpleasant smell) rather than going after the sweet nectar. Unshaken bees were more resilient and chose the treat. The conclusion – that the downtrodden bees were simply irritated – is where the measure of emotion becomes difficult. Scientists were also able to measure levels of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin to confirm, in fact, that the bees were in different “moods.”

Other studies, showing that emotions can be passed from one individual to another, would seem to argue that insects are no different from mammals in how they perceive, and share, the good times and the bad.

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