How Smart are Honey Bees?
Bees have tiny brains. Still, they are very intelligent. Scientists at Queen Mary University of London did an experiment with bees. It shows that bees can learn something new to gain a reward. Then they can then teach other bees to do the same. And that’s not all they can do.
The study was recently published in the journal Science. Olli Loukola was one of the scientists who worked on the study. He said that the bees did not just copy what they saw. They actually improved on what they were learning. “This is of course amazing for small-brained insects,” he said. He added that it is even hard for humans to improve on something they learned by copying others.
For the experiment, the bees had to move a yellow ball into the center of a platform. First, the scientists showed the bees how to do it. When the ball got to the center, the scientists added sugar water to reward the subjects.
The bees learned that the rewards came when the ball was put in the right place. After more trials, the bugs began to move the balls by themselves.
The team then put the trained bees on a platform with bees that were not trained. After watching the trained bees once, the untrained bees learned how to do it too. They didn’t just copy the behavior, though. The new bees also improved on the action: They chose balls closer to themselves, even if the demonstrator bee picked a ball that was farther away.
All brains – in bees and people – have neurons. The neurons let you think. Scientist Reese Halter says bees are “highly intelligent creatures,” even though they have far fewer neurons than humans.
Halter explained that bees talk to each other with their bodies. They butt heads, bump into each other and they even dance.
Lars Chittka is a scientist who runs the lab where the research took place. He authored a study in 2009 on the brain networks of bees called “Are Bigger Brains Better?” The paper concluded that even small brains can be very powerful. Researchers in his lab have also shown that bees are smart enough to pull fake flowers out of narrow slots by strings in order to get the sugar in them.
Loukola, the scientist who worked on the study, said scientists used to think that the smaller the brain, the less intelligent the animal. But this study proves that is not true.
Other research supports the idea of bee intelligence. A 2014 study found that bees could learn more difficult tasks to get sugar. For example, bees can learn to slide or lift caps, then push balls get the reward. The balls weighed more each time. When the researchers put the bees who knew how to solve the puzzle in a hive with bees who didn’t, they somehow went on to teach the other bees.
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