- By Emily McGarvey
- BBC News
British scientists have found that bumblebees learn to solve puzzles by watching their more experienced peers.
Experts from Queen Mary University of London trained a group of bees to open a puzzle box containing a sugar reward.
The study found that these bees then passed on the knowledge to others in their colony.
The researchers discovered that “social learning” may have had a greater influence on bee behavior than previously thought.
To conduct the study, the scientists created a puzzle box that could be opened by rotating a lid to access the sugar solution.
The cap can be rotated clockwise by pressing a red tab, while pressing a blue tab can rotate it counterclockwise.
The scientists trained “pretend” bees to use one of these methods to open the lid while observing the “observer” bees.
When the observer bees tackled the puzzle, the researchers found that they chose the same method they had seen 98% of the time, even after discovering the alternative method.
The study also found that bees with a demonstrator opened more puzzle boxes than control bees.
The researchers said this indicates that the bees learned the behavior socially rather than figuring out the solution themselves.
Dr. Alice Bridges, who led the studyBumblebees were not known to display “cultation-like phenomena” in the wild.
“However, in our experiments, we have seen a behavioral ‘trend’ prevalent and maintained in populations of bees – similar to what has been seen in primates and birds,” she said.
The behavior of social insects like this bee, she said, was “some of the most complex on the planet.”
In other experiments where both “blue” and “red” experimental bees were released into the same bee groups, the control bees initially learned to use both methods, but eventually developed a preference for one solution, which then dominated in that colony.
This shows how a behavioral trend can emerge within a bee population, according to the study.
In this case, the researchers said, any changes in foraging behavior may be due to experienced bees retiring from foraging and new learners emerging, rather than the bees changing their preferences.
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