Bumblebees Are Better Problem Solvers Than We Thought

Bumblebees Are Better Problem Solvers Than We Thought
Bees have the brainpower for complex problem-solving, even if they never have to use it in the wild.

Bumblebees have even more brainpower than we give them credit for.

Researchers trained bees to move a ball to a target in exchange for a sugar-water treat. And when untrained bees watched their companions do it, they picked up the skill, too.

They even improved on what they learned. Untrained bees didn't just copy the behavior they saw. They found the closest ball available and moved that one because it was the most efficient way to get their sugar-water payoff.

This experiment is the most advanced problem an invertebrate has ever solved. It's impressive, even by bee standards.

We know some of them can already communicate information, like when they dance to share the direction and distance to flowers. We know they can count to at least four.

And we've even taught them new skills like this before. Last year, researchers trained bumblebees to pull a string for their sugar water reward, and other bees could learn the trick by observing.

But complex ball-rolling problem-solving isn't something a bee would ever naturally do, and that's why researchers say this is such an impressive cognitive feat. Bees need to know where to go to find flowers, but playing bee football wouldn't give them any kind of survival advantage.