According to researchers at the Queen Mary University of London, bumblebees have unprecedented learning capabilities so much that they can be trained to score goals using tiny balls.
The study suggests that a species whose way of life requires higher levels of learning capabilities could learn relatively new behavior if there was pressure from the ecosystem. From previous research, bumblebees can solve cognitive problems like how bumblebees could pull on a string to access a sugar water reward.
Furthermore, watching this feat helps the other bees to figure out and learn how to do it as well, and the skill will spread across the colony even after the string puller has long gone. However, pulling a string to get a sugar water rewards is similar to the natural foraging tendencies of the bees.
According to Professor Lars Chittka, this dismisses the notion that insects have restricted behavioral capabilities because of the constraints of their tiny brains which give them primitive learning capabilities.
The joint lead author, Dr. Clint Perry, mentioned that the main aim of the research was to investigate the cognitive limits of bumblebees through testing if the bee could use a non-natural material in an activity which has most likely never been experienced in the history of their colonies.
In the experiment, the bees were required to transport a ball to a specific location and get a reward of food for it. To start off, the researchers trained the insects to know the exact location of the ball. Subsequently, for them to receive the reward they needed to move the ball to the specified area.
The bumblebees were trained using one of three situations: to observe the trained bee and get a reward, to observe a ghost demonstration where the ball was dragged to the specified area using a magnet and lastly to find the ball with the reward at the center of the model.
Those bees that observed their trained counterparts learned the activity a lot more efficiently compared to the others. According to Dr. Olli J. Loukula, a joint lead author, the bees solved the problem in a different way than what they observed which suggested that observer bees don’t replicate tasks but improve and make it more efficiently which goes to show their brilliant cognitive flexibility.
While conducting the demonstrations, the researched moved to place three yellow balls at different distances from the middle. The “demonstrator bees” usually moved the ball that is furthest to the center using the same spatial location as they had been trained in conditions that rendered the two closer ball immobile.
The untrained bees were allowed to watch a trained bee perform the activity in this manner three times. Later on, the untrained bees were put to the test in the absence of the demonstrator bees. The untrained bees moved the nearest ball instead of the furthest one which the demonstrator bee was moving.
Moreover, in another demonstration, the untrained bees moved a different colored ball than the one which was previously encountered. Dr. Loukola added that there is a possibility that bumblebees and other animal have the cognitive flexibility to learn and solve intricate activities. However, this is only under ecological pressures.
Well, this study makes you wonder what else bumblebees can learn but on the downside what happens when bees learn this task and rely on it instead of their natural foraging behavior.