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Bumblebee Brains

Bees have brains that demonstrate social learning...

Most gardeners appreciate the important part that bees play in gardens, but we don’t think much about whether or not bees have brains.

However, bees have nearly a million brain cells compared to fruit flies who only have 250,000. Honeybees are famous for the way they wiggle their tails to communicate to each other where the good nectar is located so others can fly directly to it.

Some researchers in London have recently even trained bumblebees to pull a string to obtain a treat of sugar water. Loukola and Perry trained their laboratory bumblebees to push little balls to the center of a platform—something that no bee ever does in nature. Those laboratory bees were pre-trained to expect a treat in the center of the platform, and they learned this best by watching fellow bees perform the act. Ten out of ten bees observed and then imitated the action on their first try. This kind of social learning, the researchers noted, is usually only seen in monkeys who have much bigger brains.

One expert in this area, Ralph Adophs, observed that at this point in time the limits of bee cognition are entirely unknown. However, the study described above underscores the fact that bees seem to demonstrate social learning.

Reference: Gorma, James, “The Power of the Bumblebee Brain,” (The New York Times, D6, February 28, 2017).

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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