Lesson in six-legged soccer tests power of insect learning
Even tiny brains can learn strange and tricky stuff, especially by watching tiny experts.
Buff-tailed bumblebees got several chances to watch a trained bee roll a ball to a goal. These observers then quickly mastered the unusual task themselves when given a chance, researchers report in the Feb. 24 Science. And most of the newcomers even improved on the goal-sinking by taking a shortcut demo-bees hadn’t used, says behavioral ecologist Olli Loukola at Queen Mary University of London.
Learning abilities of animals without big vertebrate brains often get severely underestimated, Loukola says. “The idea that small brains constrain insects is kind of wrong, or old-fashioned.”
He and colleagues had previously challenged bees to learn, in stages, the not very beelike skill of pulling a string to reveal a hidden flower. Bees