Bumblebees Learn by Watching and Spread New Behaviors Across Colonies

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Since the beginning of time, people have known about the remarkable capacity of bumblebees to pollinate plants and make honey. Recent study, on the other hand, has thrown light on another extraordinary facet of their behavior, namely their ability to learn by watching others and to spread new behaviors across colonies.

Bumblebees can learn to solve a puzzle by observing more experienced bees, according to the findings of a study that was carried out by researchers at Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom and published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. This study also found that this behavioral preference can spread throughout the colony.

The researchers used a puzzle box that could be opened by twisting a lid in order to gain access to a sugar solution in order to evaluate six different colonies of bumblebees. By pressing one of two different colored tabs, the bees had the ability to rotate the lid in either the clockwise or anticlockwise direction. The researchers taught some of the bees to utilize one of these two treatments, and then they released these “demonstrator” bees into a foraging arena along with some bees that had not been trained. They filmed these bees for a period of six to twelve days.

Foraging bees with a demonstrator opened more puzzle boxes than control bees did, and they used the same puzzle solution that the demonstrator had been taught 98% of the time, which suggests that the bees learned the behavior socially rather than stumbling upon a solution on their own. The results of the study showed that foraging bees with a demonstrator opened more puzzle boxes than control bees did.

In experiments in which multiple demonstrators were each taught a different solution to the puzzle, untrained bees initially learned to use both methods to solve the puzzle. However, over the course of time, they randomly developed a preference for one solution over the other, which eventually became the solution that was used most frequently in that colony.

This is the first study to document the dissemination of multiple behavioral approaches to the same problem in bees, and it was done by this research team. The findings provide credence to the theory that social learning plays a significant role in the propagation of novel behaviors among bumblebee colonies, corroborating findings from studies on monkey and avian populations that were conducted before.

The researchers also came to the conclusion that social learning was an essential component to the correct acquisition of box opening. Some of the bees that participated in control diffusion tests in which there was no demonstration were able to open the puzzle boxes on their own, but they were substantially less proficient at doing so than the bees that had learnt the task in the presence of a demonstrator.

The findings of the study indicate that bumblebees have a significantly better capacity for learning than was previously supposed, and that this ability could have significant ramifications for the bees’ ability to survive and adapt in environments that are constantly changing.

For instance, if a colony of bumblebees comes across a new kind of flower that needs to be pollinated in a different way, the bees in the colony may be able to learn this new behavior by observing others in the colony and then passing it on to their conspecifics. In this scenario, the bees would then be able to pollinate the new flower. This might make it easier for the colony to adjust to changing conditions and continue to play an important function as a pollinator.

The study also underscores the significance of conserving bumblebee populations, which have been seeing a steady decline over the past few years as a result of the destruction of their natural habitat, the use of pesticides, and a number of other issues. If we gain a deeper knowledge of their cognitive capacities and patterns of behavior, we may be able to devise more effective conservation policies to protect them and assure their continued existence.

In conclusion, this research offers some very interesting new perspectives on the ways in which bumblebees learn and interact with one another. These insects are able to acquire new abilities and transmit them throughout their colonies because they observe one another and learn from one another. This exceptional capability for social learning may have significant ramifications for their ability to survive and adapt in an environment that is always changing.

Tiesha loves to share her passion for everything that’s beautiful in this world. Apart from writing on her beauty blog and running her own beauty channel on Youtube, she also enjoys traveling and photography. Tiesha covers various stories on the website.