New Study Shows Bees Learn From One Another

Bumble bees are smarter than previously thought.


Study, Wildlife
Bumblebees are very intelligent.

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It has long been known that bees live in large, and highly complex societies. But Bumblebees may be smarter than previously thought. Bees may even have culture!

New research from the scientists at the Queen Mary University of London, UK, that was published  in  the March 2023 issue of PLOS Biology, shows that bees can learn how to problem-solve from one another.

Learning complex behavior
The new study has shown that bees can learn to solve even complex behaviors through cooperation. In order to test their theories researchers designed a fairly simple puzzle for bees to solve. A bee was placed in a petri-dish like box that could either be opened by pushing a red tab or blue tab and then would receive a sugary treat for their efforts, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The bee was then re-released back to its colony. Amazingly enough, the bees in colonies that are home to those bees who learned to open the puzzle using the red tab all used the red tab to open the puzzle, while the bees in the“blue colony all used the blue tab. 

Dr. Alice Bridges, a behavioral ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University, and a lead on the study, told NPR, “These creatures are really quite incredible. They're really, really good at learning despite having these tiny, tiny brains.”

This is evidence that bee colonies are social creatures and that information and solutions can be passed from one bee to another. In other words, bees have culture.

“We were taught that a lot of insect behavior was kind of hardwired,” Jessica Ware, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History who didn’t contribute to the study, said. “And what this paper does is kind of turn that on its head. I mean, who knows what grasshoppers are capable of doing—or the lowly cockroach.”

Culture is made up of multiple traditions
The idea that animals have cultures is not new, reported Scientific American. Cultural behaviors have been found in primates and birds. However, what makes this study so exciting is that it is an indication that even invertebrates share traditions, and possibly also create cultures.

This evidence of culture comes from the fact that animals can learn from one another important skills like navigation and ways to find food.

“If what they learn lasts for a long time," Dr Andrew Whiten, a professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of St. Andrews told NPR.  “then we might be prepared to call it a tradition. And culture is made up of multiple traditions.” 

Regardless of how one defines culture the discovery that bumblebees share information is an astonishing testament to the complexity of the natural world. Even the smallest insect is a part of a much larger ecosystem and is as much a part of the natural order of things as is humanity 

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