Bumblebees Can Learn Socially

They are not as simple as they seem. They are able to learn complex, multi-step tasks, even if they cannot solve them on their own. Bumblebees can learn socially, according to a new study published in Nature.

It’s a level of cognitive sophistication never seen before. It challenges the long-held belief that such advanced social learning is unique to humans. And it hints at the presence of key elements of cumulative culture in these insects.

Bumblebees can learn socially, which is a big surprise.
Bumblebees can learn socially, which is a big surprise.

teacher bees

Queen Mary University of London is leading the research. He designed a two-step puzzle box. It required the bumblebees to perform two different actions in sequence to access a sweet reward at the end. Training the bees to do this was no easy task. The bees had to be helped by adding an additional reward along the way. This temporary reward was eventually withdrawn. The bees had to open the entire box before receiving their prize.

Individual bees struggled to solve the puzzle by starting from scratch. But those who were allowed to observe a trained “demonstrator” bee easily learned the entire sequence. even the first step, and they only got a reward at the end.

This study demonstrates that bumblebees possess a level of social learning that was previously thought to be unique to humans. They acquire behaviors that are beyond their individual cognitive abilities.

They can solve problems by observing how others do it.
They can solve problems by observing how others do it.

Cognitive wonder

The researchers said it’s a statement: «This is an extremely difficult task for bees. They had to learn two steps to get the reward. They learned the entire sequence from social observation of these trained bees. Bumblebees can learn socially. This challenges the traditional view that only humans can do it.

This research opens new avenues for understanding animal intelligence and the evolution of social learning. It challenges many old assumptions. It is the path to further exploration of the cognitive wonders hidden in the insect world. It hints at the exciting possibility of cumulative culture among seemingly simple creatures, the authors note.

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