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Learning Behaviors For Behaviors Experience A Similar Way To Humans

New innovations can spread like social media memes through insect colonies as bumblebees learn to solve problems.

Bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other, just like humans.

Behavioral preferences of more experienced peers than spreads through the colony.

A bumblebee on top of a plant. Bumblebees have learning pattern viewing their environment must like humans do. MATTHIAS ZOMER/SWNS TALKER

It shows that the pollinators are even more intelligent than suspected with implications for conservation efforts.

The phenomenon was only thought to exist in bigger animals – such as primates and birds.

Lead author Dr. Alice Bridges said: “Bumblebees – and, indeed, invertebrates in general – aren’t known to show culture-like phenomena in the wild.

“However, in our experiments, we saw the spread and maintenance of a behavioral ‘trend’ in groups of bumblebees – similar to what has been seen in primates and birds.

“The behavioral repertoires of social insects like these bumblebees are some of the most intricate on the planet, yet most of this is still thought to be instinctive.

“Our research suggests social learning may have had a greater influence on the evolution of this behavior than previously imagined.”

Her team at London’s Queen Mary University carried out a series of experiments on six colonies using a puzzle box.

It could be opened by rotating a lid clockwise or anticlockwise to access a sugary treat by pushing one of two different colored tabs.

Bees were trained to use one of these two solutions and then released into a foraging arena alongside untrained individuals.

They were filmed over a period of six to 12 days.

Those with a ‘demonstrator’ opened more boxes than ‘controls’ – using the same technique 98.6 percent of the time.

It suggests that they learned rather than stumbling across it themselves.

Where demonstrators were each taught a different method, untrained bees initially picked up both.

Over time, they randomly opted for one or the other, which then came to dominate in that colony.

The study is the first to document the spread of different approaches to solving the same problem in bees.

It provides strong evidence social learning is important for the survival of colonies. It also plays a vital role in primate and bird communities.

Dr. Bridges said: “These results in bumblebees, which are tiny-brained invertebrates, echo those previously found using similar experiments in primates and birds – which were used to demonstrate the capacity of those species for culture.”

The findings, published in the journal PLOS Biology, show observing and imitating the behavior of others may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought.

Social animals like primates are skilled at it. Previous work has identified it in individual bees.

But it remained unclear whether these new behaviors would then spread through the colony.

Co-author Professor Lars Chittka said: “The fact bees can watch and learn, and then make a habit of that behavior, adds to the ever-growing body of evidence they are far smarter creatures than a lot of people give them credit for.

“We tend to overlook the ‘alien civilizations’ formed by bees, ants and wasps on our planet – because they are small-bodied and their societies and architectural constructions seem governed by instinct at first glance.

“Our research shows, however, that new innovations can spread like social media memes through insect colonies, indicating they can respond to wholly new environmental challenges much faster than by evolutionary changes, which would take many generations to manifest.”

Prof Chittka has been studying bees for 30 years and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on their sensory systems and cognition.

A bumblebee on a plant making observations. It remains unclear whether these new behaviors would then spread through the colony. JONAS VON WERNE/SWNS TALKER

In his seminal book, The Mind of a Bee, he argues they need our protection, not just because they are useful for crop pollination and biodiversity, but because they may be sentient beings – and humans have an ethical obligation to ensure their survival.

He added: “Our work and that of other labs has shown that bees are really highly intelligent individuals. That they can count, recognize images of human faces and learn simple tool use and abstract concepts.”

He thinks bees have emotions, can plan and imagine things and can recognize themselves as unique entities distinct from other bees.

Bees produce over a third of our food. They are being wiped out by climate change, pesticides and diseases – reducing our ability to grow crops.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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