The proboscis extension reflex to evaluate learning and memory in honeybees (Apis mellifera): some caveats

Naturwissenschaften. 2012 Sep;99(9):677-86. doi: 10.1007/s00114-012-0955-8. Epub 2012 Aug 7.


The proboscis extension reflex (PER) is widely used in a classical conditioning (Pavlovian) context to evaluate learning and memory of a variety of insect species. The literature is particularly prodigious for honeybees (Apis mellifera) with more than a thousand publications. Imagination appears to be the only limit to the types of challenges to which researchers subject honeybees, including all the sensory modalities and a broad diversity of environmental treatments. Accordingly, some remarkable insights have been achieved using PER. However, there are several challenges to evaluating the PER literature that warrant a careful and thorough review. We assess here variation in methods that makes interpretation of studies, even those researching the same question, tenuous. We suggest that the numerous variables that might influence experimental outcomes from PER be thoroughly detailed by researchers. Moreover, the influence of individual variables on results needs to carefully evaluated, as well as among two or more variables. Our intent is to encourage investigation of the influence of numerous variables on PER results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Learning*
  • Memory*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Seasons
  • Time Factors