Smarter than a Bee? Think again!

Bees are my favorite critters. But, you already know that.

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Bees are truly admirable critters. First, they are social critters. They live in colonies, in a regulated society. Like human beings, they too have specialists on jobs.  A well populated bee colony has about 60,000 bees. When threatened, they make a formidable army. Anyone who has been chased by bees can vouch for that!

Second, bees communicate precise information, just like humans. They are able to convey specific address and location of the food source by ‘bee dance.’ I totally love the bee dance part.

We assume that bugs survive on instinct, not on intelligence. A recent study shows that bees are also great learners and thinkers. Cognitive scientist, Lars Chittka, performed four elegant experiments to show how bees learn new skills and how the information is passed on to other bees.

In the first experiment, bees had to reach out for sugar water in an artificial blue flower. A string was attached to the provide access to the sugar water. When bees pulled the string, it opened the flower and the bees could get sugar water. The researchers trained 40 bees, but only 33 were successful learning this task.

It is however possible that the skill of pulling a string was more wide spread in nature. Untrained bees had to be tested. Only 2 out of the 110 bees were able to solve the task without any prior training.

The researcher now let the untrained bees to observe the trained bees retrieve sugar water. The untrained bees were behind a clear plastic wall and the trained bees performed the trick. When the untrained bees were tested again, 66 bees could now pull the string. Just by watching!

When the trained bees were placed in colonies, other worker bees quickly learned the technique. The colony retained the knowledge and younger bees were also trained in the skill.

Now, think about how many of us have followed our elders to learn something. We pick up new skills or behaviors by watching people. We pass on what we learn to youngsters. Traditions and celebrations are passed on from one generation to next. All this made me think that there is a lot of bee in me after all!

Please excuse me, I must get beezzzy!

Read the original scientific paper here