Video: Bumblebees exhibit unique cognitive ability



February 28, 2017


February 28, 2017

Bumblebees have demonstrated a unique learning ability that has “never been seen before in insects,” according to a new study published in the journal Science.

The insects learned how to “score goals” by mimicking plastic bees guided by researchers. The bees were offered a reward once they rolled a tiny ball to a specific location, and they even taught their kin how to do the same.

“Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioral flexibility and only simple learning abilities,” project lead and Queen Mary professor Lars Chittka tells The Telegraph.

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, used a tool to emulate a bumblebee moving a ball into a circled area. One at a time, the live bees caught on and began rolling the balls to the center where they received a sugar water reward. And when given multiple balls, the bees always chose the one closest to the goal.

Once a bee learned the technique, the researchers introduced another bee. They found that the veteran bee would teach the new bee the trick. Authors of the study say this is the first time such cognitive ability has been seen in an insect.

“This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect,” says Dr. Olli Loukola, who also is from Queen Mary.

“It may be that bumblebees, along with many other animals, have the cognitive capabilities to solve such complex tasks, but will only do so if environmental pressures are applied to necessitate such behaviors,” Loukola continues.

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