Scientists teach bumble bees to roll a ball
A new experiment has revealed for the first time just how remarkably innovative bees can actually be.
The study, which was carried out by behavioral ecologist Olli Loukola and colleagues at Queen Mary University of London, involved having the bees solve complex problems to receive a sugar reward.
Previous research had shown that bees were capable of adapting their natural behavior to solve a problem such as pulling a piece of string, so in this case the scientists wanted to see if the insects could learn to do something completely alien to them - a task that they would never do in the wild.
To this end, the researchers produced a simple puzzle that required the bees to roll a small yellow ball in to a circle in order to receive a reward.
Incredibly, the bees picked up the basics of the task straight away and proved highly effective at rolling the ball to the target circle. On top of that, the insects even came up with their own more efficient way of solving the problem by pushing the ball backwards rather than forwards.
When the researchers changed the color of the ball the bees still pushed it in to the circle, thus indicating that they understood the fundamental principle of what they had to do.
"It suggests that bees may be able to respond quickly to novel problems that arise in their environment," said evolutionary biologist Daniel Papaj from the University of Arizona.