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Scientists stunned to learn that bees can also pass on their knowledge to peers just like humans

The latest discovery by scientists challenges the long-held view that the trait of sharing knowledge is unique to humans.

Scientists stunned to learn that bees can also pass on their knowledge to peers just like humans
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels I Photo by Pixabay

Bumblebees are crucial to nature because they help with pollination. These tiny fuzzy insects have distinctive features like pile-covered bodies and bold colors, which help them ward off predators. They have a lifespan of one year, so unlike honeybees, they don't make and store honey for the winter. As per a recent report by Nature, scientists were surprised to find out that bumblebees learn some behaviors from their peers at a level of complexity previously thought to be unique to humans and our ancestors.

Representational Image Source - Pexels I Photo by Meo
Representational Image Source - Pexels I Photo by Meo

This study was conducted by Nature to answer two questions: First, could humans train bees to do a complicated task? Second, could bees pass on this knowledge? For this, they designed a two-step puzzle box. The first step involved removing a blue tab. With the blue tab removed, the bee could move forward to the next step by pushing the red tab around to get to the yellow target, where the reward (sucrose solution) was kept.

Image source: YouTube | NPG Press
Image source: YouTube | NPG Press


As much as it sounds incredible, this experiment had its share of obstacles in the early stages. Initially, the experimenters failed to train demonstrator bees to perform the unrewarded first step without providing a temporary reward linked to this action. However, this experiment slowly succeeded after a bunch of untrained bees learned to open the two-step box without needing a reward after the first step.


Apart from this experiment, there has been evidence that sheds light on the fact that similar to humans, animals can exhibit a cumulative nature with sequential behaviors building on previous ones. Dr. Lars Chittka, a professor of sensory and behavioral ecology, explained the process through his analogy: "Imagine you dropped some children on a deserted island, they might with a bit of luck survive. But they would never know how to read or to write because this requires learning from previous generations."


The experiment brought out fruitful results. It provided evidence for bumblebees having the capability of social learning, and possibly cultural transmission. For centuries, we have believed that humans are distinguished from other species due to our ability to think critically and build complex things. However, researchers from this experiment pointed out that humans are not the only species that can facilitate social learning. Even bumblebees have their share of this unique trait.

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