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Research Teaches Bumblebees New Tricks

By wochit 06 October 2016

We’ve all seen the videos demonstrating how intelligent crows can be, using multiple tools in order to recover a piece of tasty food. Well, it turns out bumblebees are also intelligent and can be taught to carry out new tasks and acquire new skills. But not only that, once they’ve learned a new skill they go on to teach other bees! The research has been carried out by a team at Queen Mary University of London. They placed food at the center of a blue disc meant to represent a flower, which was then placed under a clear barrier. Each disc has a string attached and the bees had to learn to pull the string in order to get the food from beneath the barrier. From a group of 40 bees 23 managed to learn the process. Then bees who hadn’t been trained were added into the mix. 60% of those who observed the trained bees also managed to learn the process and recover the food themselves. So not only are bees intelligent, they can also pass on their knowledge. In a real-world setting it wouldn’t take long before a whole hive of bees learned a new skill only a few had initially picked up. The research team class this process as “culture spread.” It’s clear that humans aren’t the only ones that can learn new skills and then pass on this new knowledge to other people. Other mammals and even insects can do the same thing, making them more able to adjust to a changing environment as long as it doesn’t change too quickly. The next question to answer is: how do they do it? That will apparently require understanding how a bee’s brain processes work, so we could be waiting some time to find out.