Bumblebees can solve puzzles by following other bees, study finds

Bumblebee flying over flowers
(Image credit: Robert Pickett/Getty Images)

A new study has found that bumblebees can solve puzzles by watching their peers. "These creatures are really quite incredible. They're really, really good at learning despite having these tiny, tiny brains," said Alice Bridges, a behavioral ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University.

In order to test this, researchers set up a box puzzle that could be solved via two methods and trained "demonstrator" bees to solve the puzzle in different ways, BBC reports. Designated "observer" bees then watched the "demonstrator" bees solve the puzzle. The results showed that, 98 percent of the time, the "observer" bee solved the puzzle using the same method as the bee it watched, even if the observer had discovered the second method. Bees that followed a demonstrator were also able to solve more puzzles than those that didn't.

Scientists have also posited that bees may have a culture like humans, with learned behaviors passed around in the bee colony, NPR writes. "In our experiments, we saw the spread and maintenance of a behavioral 'trend' in groups of bumblebees — similar to what has been seen in primates and birds," said Bridges. If that knowledge among animals lasts, "we might be prepared to call it a tradition," explained Andy Whiten, a cognitive ethologist at the University of St. Andrews. "And culture is made up of multiple traditions."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"All we have discovered about animal culture means that human culture, once thought unique," remarked Whiten, "did not emerge 'out of the blue' but has obviously built on deep evolutionary foundations."

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us