Date: February 23, 2017
Source: Queen Mary University of London
Bumblebees can be trained to score goals using a mini-ball, revealing unprecedented learning abilities, according to scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
Their study, published in the journal Science, suggests that species whose lifestyle demands advanced learning abilities could learn entirely new behaviours if there is ecological pressure.
Project supervisor and co-author Professor Lars Chittka from QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioural flexibility and only simple learning abilities."
Previous research has shown that bumblebees could solve a range of cognitive tasks, but these have so far resembled tasks similar to the bees' natural foraging routines, such as pulling strings to obtain food.
This study examines bees' behavioral flexibility to carry out tasks that are not naturally encountered by the insects.
"We wanted to explore the cognitive limits of bumblebees by testing whether they could use a non-natural object in a task likely never encountered before by any individual in the evolutionary history of bees," said Dr Clint Perry, joint lead author and also from QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
The experiment required the bees to move a ball to a specified location to obtain a reward of food. The insects were first trained to know the correct location of the ball on a platform. Subsequently, to obtain their reward, the bees had to move a displaced ball to the specified location.