Bumblebees capable of learning feats for treats

Researchers have said that bumblebees, despite having tiny brains, are capable of some remarkable learning feats, especially when they might get a tasty reward.

ANI| Last Updated: Mar 19, 2014, 21:25 PM IST

Washington: Researchers have said that bumblebees, despite having tiny brains, are capable of some remarkable learning feats, especially when they might get a tasty reward.

PhD student Hamida Mirwan and Prof. Peter Kevan, School of Environmental Sciences, are studying bees` ability to learn by themselves and from each other.

In a study, the researchers found bees learned by watching and communicating with other bees, a process called social learning.
Mirwan made artificial flowers requiring the bees to walk on the underside of a disk to get a sugar syrup reward. These experienced bees foraged on the artificial flowers for several days until they became accustomed to feeding at them.

To see whether other bees could learn from the experienced foragers, Mirwan confined inexperienced bees in a mesh container near the artificial flowers where they could observe the experienced bees. When the naive bees were allowed to forage on the artificial flowers, they took just 70 seconds to get the reward.

Control bees that had not observed the experienced bees could not access the syrup.

"Social learning in animals usually involves one individual observing and imitating another, although other kinds of communication can also be involved," said Mirwan.
"They could try for up to 30 minutes, but most gave up before then."

In a final test, Mirwan placed experienced bees in a hive with naive bees. When the naive bees were allowed to forage on the artificial flowers, they gained the syrup in just 3.5 minutes.

The study has been published in journal Psyche.