- By Emily McGarvey
- BBC News
Bumblebees learn to solve puzzles by watching their more experienced peers, scientists in Britain have found.
Experts from Queen Mary University of London trained bees to open a puzzle box containing a sugar reward.
These bees then passed on the knowledge to others in their colonies, the study found.
The researchers discovered that “social learning” may have had a greater impact on bumblebees’ behavior than previously imagined.
To carry out the study, the scientists created a puzzle box that could be opened by twisting a lid to access the sugar solution.
Pressing the red tab rotates the lid clockwise, while pressing the blue tab rotates it counter-clockwise.
The scientists trained “demonstrator” bees to use one of these methods to open the lid while the “observer” bees watched.
The researchers found that when the onlooker bees solved the puzzle, they chose the same method they saw 98% of the time, even after finding an alternative approach.
The study also found that bees with demonstrator opened more puzzle boxes than control bees.
This suggests that the bees learned the behavior socially rather than finding solutions, the researchers said.
Dr. Alice Bridges presided studyHe said bumblebees don’t seem to show “culture-like phenomena” in the wild.
“However, in our experiments, we observed the spread and maintenance of a behavioral ‘trend’ in groups of bumblebees – similar to those seen in animals and birds,” he said.
The behavior of social insects like these bumblebees is “some of the most complex on Earth,” he said.
In other experiments in which both “blue” and “red” bees were released into similar bee groups, onlooker bees initially learned to use both methods, but eventually developed a preference for one solution, which later dominated the colony.
According to the study, this shows how a behavioral trend can emerge within a bee population.
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 bees changing their preferences.