Science

Researchers field their 'bee' team in football experiment

Researchers field their 'bee' team in football experiment

The bees that watched the trained bee pushing the ball into the hole were better at learning what to do than the bees who watched the ball move on its own.

Queen Mary University of London biologist Olli J. Loukola and his colleagues wanted to find out more about how bee intelligence works. After about five days of training, the bees started to drag the ball to the center of the platform on their own.

Previous research suggested that bees could solve a range of hard tasks but, in this case, scientists trained the bees to score goals in return for food and it was discovered that they learned more efficiently by watching previously-trained bees and they could even improve the technique of the original demonstrators.

The bees quickly learned what to do to get the reward, according to the researcher. For example, the bees can learn to slide or lift caps, then subsequently push balls of escalating weight to access the reward.

This suggests that the bees weren't merely copying others' behavior. They can even use tools: Scientists have shown that the insects can learn to pull a string-and so get a sugary reward-by watching another bee perform the task. The results demonstrate the capacity of bees to learn how to solve a complex, goal-directed problem, and even improve upon the original process - a capability long-known possible in humans, primates, marine mammals and birds, and here extended to invertebrates. "Understanding that bees and different insects have more complex cognitive abilities can allow us to appreciate them more".

Their sporting prowess follows a study previous year where the scientists taught bees to pull strings to get food and then relay what they learned to others.

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The bees learned to score goals in different ways, but the bees who learned how to do it from already-trained bees learned the fastest. It was always the furthest ball away from the center, as the first insect was trained under the conditions that the closer balls were immobile.

Researchers trained bumblebees to move a yellow ball to a specific region.

The study hints that bees can use this problem-solving skill to deal with changes to their environment, including a change of food sources.

Furthering testing the insects' abilities, the team provided each demonstrator bee with three balls, with two glued in place while one was positioned farthest from the goal and rolling freely.

The bees also displayed inventiveness when deciding which ball to move. He says that people tend to look for simple explanations when small-brained animals do something, but consider the same thing a complex phenomenon when it's done by vertebrates.

"The old-fashioned view is if an animal has a small brain, it's not intelligent or smart", says Loukola. "That's probably because it is so incredibly hard to imagine how bees experience the world, and if you want to give them tasks they can succeed at, that is key".


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