Goal-scoring bumblebees prove insect brains are awesome


Dec 18, 2010
"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 joint lead author Clint Perry.

The bees were divided into three groups to learn to move the farthest ball of three into a small indentation in the center of the field.

The first group observed a fellow bee that had previously been trained to move the ball with a dummy demonstrator, receiving a food reward. The second group was trained by a "ghost," a magnet that moved the ball to the goal. The third group didn't receive a demonstration of the task -- the ball was already set up in the goal, with a reward, and the bees had to connect the dots that the ball in the center meant receiving a reward.

The bees that were trained by another bee or the demonstrator learned more efficiently than the other two groups. And they went one better, too. Instead of grabbing the farthest ball, the bees grabbed the closest ball, reducing the amount of work required.

"The bees solved the task in a different way than what was demonstrated, suggesting that observer bees did not simply copy what they saw, but improved on it," said joint lead author Olli J. Loukola. "This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect."

It's a big win for insect intelligence.

"Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioral flexibility and only simple learning abilities," co-author Lars Chittka said.



Old Timer
Jun 27, 2010
Wow, that's fascinating! Thanks for sharing! I'll have to show those video clips to my students this summer.

So why is it bees can learn to do simple tasks like that, but I still can't train my son to put his dirty socks in the laundry hamper??? o_O