How’s this for buzzworthy? Bees are not only very intelligent, they can be taught to play a sport that looks like a mashup of soccer and basketball, rolling tiny yellow balls in exchange for food.
That’s according to research published Thursday in the journal “Science” by academics at the Queen Mary University of London.
While previous research has shown that bees are actually capable of performing complex cognitive tasks, contrary to popular belief, this most recent experiment sought to find out if the insects were capable of learning tasks dissimilar to ones they encounter in the wild, per Science Daily.
“We wanted to explore the cognitive limits of bumblebees by testing whether they could use a non-natural object in a task likely never encountered before by any individual in the evolutionary history of bees," Dr. Clint Perry, joint lead author of the paper, said.
The bees could, as demonstrated by footage of the insects rolling a small yellow ball towards the middle of a “playing” surface.
While researchers compared the bee’s activities to the sport of soccer, it also contains elements of basketball as bees maneuvered the ball towards a hole in the surface.
In order to train the bumblebees, the scientists first used a fake bee on a stick to move the ball. After watching this demonstration, every bee was able to repeat the task, and on subsequent trials were able to complete the task in a shorter amount of time.
In another experiment, the bees were divided into three groups, one of which was trained by other bees who had already mastered the task, one by the scientists using a magnet to move the ball and one which was given no instruction. The group that was taught by the more experienced bees had the highest success rate, a phenomenon that has been observed before among bumblebees, according to The Guardian.
“Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioral flexibility and only simple learning abilities,” project supervisor and co-author Lars Chittka said.
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