The bees were not only able to learn the skill but go on to teach the skill to other bees in their colony.
We don’t tend to consider bees as being highly intelligent especially when we’re trying to swot them away on a hot summer’s day. But scientists from the UK have managed to prove just how clever they are by training bumblebees to pull strings in order to get food. Not only that but then go off and teach the trick to other bees in their colony.
The team of researchers from Queen Mary University in London took an experiment that is typically used to test primates and birds. The idea that learning and teaching is just confines to humans is fast becoming fiction now that many other species of animals and insects are portraying the ability to absorb and utilize knowledge despite having small brains.
The team trained 23 bees out of a group of 40, to pull strings with their legs and feet. To do this they attached discs with food at the center to pieces of string, positioning them under a transparent screen. Once the bees detected the food, they learned from the researchers that they had to pull the string in order to reach the food.
Another group of bees then watched the bees carry out the task and astonishingly 60 percent were able to understand what was needed in order to get to the food. Once back in the colony, the trained bees were able to pass on the skill to others.
While this is astonishingly clever for a bee, the team are primarily interested in how bees are able to do this while possessing such tiny brains and how their brain processes work.
“How can they do it with such small brains, and how can their miniature nervous systems manage such a diversity of behaviors and cognitive tasks?” stated Prof. Lars Chittka who supervised the study.
Details of the study were published in the journal PLoS Biology.