The Kid Should See This

Can bumblebees learn like humans?

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Bumblebees display remarkable intelligence in both their natural habitats and under experimental conditions. In an Oxford study, researchers learned that “bumblebees optimise their foraging behaviour in a way which suggests they are constantly evaluating not just the quality of nectar reward they are collecting, but also the time it takes to collect it.” In a Queen Mary University of London study, bumblebees taught each other how to pull a string for a reward, passing the information through four degrees of social separation.

If these fuzzy buzzers can learn how to solve a human-made puzzle through exposure to a companion with more experience, could they have the capacity for culture?

bumblebees pulling strings
In this case, culture is defined by when new behaviors “are socially learned and persist within a population over time.”

A team of Queen Mary researchers decided to test this with a setup that inexperienced bees weren’t able to solve on their own, but could solve when they were paired with a trained demonstrator. From this Nature video featuring researcher Alice Bridges:

“We designed a puzzle box for the bees that they had to open in order to get a reward. So the reward we put it on a yellow target that was covered by a transparent lid. In order to rotate this lid around so that they could get to the reward they first had to move a blue tab by pushing it out of the way of a red tab which then they could push against and rotate the lid around the central axis and get their reward.”

the first step - blue target

“The key element is the first part of the behavior, so pushing the blue tab is unrewarded, they don’t get any reward for doing that, they have to wait until after they’ve pushed the red tab as well.”

Note that they’re also pushing the blue tab away from their visible reward, a step that can seem counterproductive to the goal.

Watch as the bumblebees work through the puzzles. Could their learned responses evolve into more refined or instinctive behaviors over a longer period of time? And how do these observed abilities challenge our conventional understanding of intelligence and culture within the animal kingdom?

bumblebees pushing targets
Watch these handpicked videos next:
β€’Β Can bumblebees teach each other to pull a string?
β€’Β Do animals have their own cultures?
β€’Β How is whalesong like pop music? (And why?)
β€’Β Elephant mom wisdom and sparrow songs: Is culture common in the animal world?
β€’Β Goffin’s cockatoos try to create tools to reach a treat
β€’Β Octopus vs Mark Rober’s Underwater Maze
β€’ A raccoon demonstrates her problem solving skills
β€’Β The ultimate problem solvers? A wild crow solves a puzzle in 8 parts

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