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following the buzz

Bumblebees can solve puzzles by following other bees, study finds

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."

"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."