Bumblebees can learn from each other

Social learning, in which individuals of the same species learn new behaviors from each other, is thought to be relatively rare within the animal kingdom, and only the most intelligent of social creatures has mastered it. But as new research was published in PLoS Biology It turns out that bees may buck this conventional wisdom.

We know that chimpanzees are capable of social learning. they Crafting ‘investigation’ tools From branches to hunting tasty termites from holes in tree trunks, and teaching their young to do the same. Furthermore, some dolphins use pass and so called behavior Bombing, where they chase fish into the empty shells of giant gastropods, then bring the shells to the surface where they drain the water and shake the fish in their open mouths. (Didn’t their mothers ever teach them not to play with their food?)

While bees are a species Bombus terrestris Not quite capable of such advanced eating techniques, a team of scientists from various institutions in the United Kingdom managed to teach a few brain bees to solve a basic puzzle to get a sugary reward. They then released these acquired morsels into their colonies, where the behavior spread.

social education

The puzzle that the researchers taught their “pretend” bees to solve was very basic: “[It consisted of] Boxes can be opened by rotating a transparent lid around a central axis by either pushing the red tab clockwise or the blue tab counterclockwise,” they describe.

Once the pretend bumblebees became quite adept at opening the lids and reaching for the sugar candy underneath, the researchers released them into colonies with hundreds of individuals, with a number of puzzle boxes scattered throughout their packaging. In two different experiments — lasting six and 12 days, respectively — the researchers watched other bees inside the colonies learn to open the lid and get the sugar inside. Moreover, some demonstrators were trained to push red tongues while others were trained to push blue tongues, and they were released into separate colonies. Other bees that picked up on the behavior followed the color preferences of their demonstrations.

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At the same time, bumblebees in control colonies that lacked “pretend” bumblebees struggled to solve puzzles.

“The results … provide strong evidence that social learning supports the transmission of novel foraging behaviors in bees,” the researchers wrote.

Interestingly, a few bees in control colonies figured out the mysteries themselves, including a somewhat ingenious bee, dubbed “y12,” which single-handedly opened the boxes 216 times during the experiment, gorging itself completely on the sugar solution.

basis for culture?

Scientists who have studied social learning in other species argue that ability forms the basis of culture, “broadly defined as the sum of a population’s behavioral traditions, which in turn are defined as socially learned behaviors that persist within a population over time and/or generations,” the researchers explain.

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So could bumblebees have a primitive culture? The authors say this is unlikely.

The age of the individual terrestris Within a short period of time, the workers, and the colonies collapse before winter. If no workers survive after annual colonies decline at the end of the season, the foraging traditions must be lost with them. Thus, it seems unlikely terrestris It would build cultures that span biological generations in the wild, but the findings reported here support the idea that the cognitive capacities for this to occur are well in place.”

However, other socially intelligent insects, including honeybees, live in colonies that last for years. So it is possible that they have something like culture in their communities.

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