According to a new research, bumblebees are smarter than we may believe. In a move which surprised most, the bees revealed that they can play games. That is if you teach them how.
Insects are not considered amongst the most intelligent creatures out there. Some, or most, see them as a buzzing annoyance. Or perhaps a cute buzzer flying around. But a new research went to show that bumblebees are more than meets the eye.
This new study was carried out by Queen Mary University of London researchers. They were led by biologist Olli J. Loukola. Research results were released earlier this week. They were published in the Science journal.
Available online since February 24th, the paper was titled as follows. “Bumblebees show cognitive flexibility by improving on an observed complex behavior”.
To put it more simply, bumblebees are able to learn or imitate the behavior of others. And Loukola and her team went to prove this ability.
Previous tests have shown that bumblebees are capable of performing simple tasks. Or more exactly, they can learn to pull strings. But this study showed that they are able to do more than just that.
And set out to test them with a more complex task. The researchers wanted to see if the bumblebees are capable of performing such a task. Especially if they will not be directly rewarded for it.
As such, the scientists built a circular platform. This worked similarly to a golf course hole. But this small center hole was initially filled with a sugar-based solution. Then a scientist took to training the bees.
They were shown how to ‘putt’ the ball across the ‘green’. This skill was thought with help from a plastic bee. One which showed how the ball could be moved. Then, a bumblebee actually learned the trick. And its group came to follow its lead.
The researchers used this method on just one bee group. In total, they used three bee teams for the study. They were all subjected to the circular pattern test. One training method was the aforementioned one.
Another group received no training at all. They were directly presented with the ball in the hole. And the last bee team was also shown how to place the ball inside the hole. But without help from a plastic or trained bee. Instead, this ball was moved with help from a hidden magnet.
Following these initial trainings or lack of them, the bumblebees were left on their own. And the results differed in accordance with the training method. According to the researchers, the bees that had another bee example were the most successful.
These were also faster at solving the task on their own. And the bees that watched the magnetic demonstration were the next in line. The bumblebees left without a training were the least successful.
Then, the bees were put to further tests. These had three balls placed at different distances from the hole. The most successful bees went for the ball closest to the hole. And this group was also successful at playing the game when faced with another ball color.
Initially, the bees were trained with a yellow ball. But this last test had them play golf with a black ball. Nonetheless, the bees still knew what they were supposed to do.
And this proves quite a number of things. The bumblebees were not just imitating a behavior. They were actually capable of making generalizations. Ones which allowed them to solve the task in the easiest manner.
The fact that they also knew what to do when faced with the black ball is also important. It shows that they action was not based on an attraction for the ‘yellow round object’.
Loukola stated as follows. The bumblebees don’t simply copy a demonstrator. They can actually learn and improve their knowledge and action course on the matter. And this could be a very important fact.
One which could have actually helped them successfully forage in their changing natural environment.
Image Source: Wikimedia