New Scientist reports: It’s a hole in one! Bumblebees have learned to push a ball into a hole to get a reward, stretching what was thought possible for small-brained creatures.
Plenty of previous studies have shown that bees are no bumbling fools, but these have generally involved activities that are somewhat similar to their natural foraging behaviour.
For example, bees were able to learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t too alien to them.
So while these tasks might seem complex, they don’t really show a deeper level of learning, says Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London, an author of that study.
Loukola and his team decided the next challenge was whether bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to the reward.
They built a circular platform with a small hole in the centre filled with sugar solution, into which bees had to move a ball to get a reward. A researcher showed them how to do this by using a plastic bee on a stick to push the ball.
The researchers then took three groups of other bees and trained them in different ways. One group observed a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward.
The bees then did the task themselves. Those that had watched other bees do it were most successful and took less time than those in the other groups to solve the task. Bees given the magnetic demonstration were also more successful than those not given one. [Continue reading…]