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How Smart Are Bumblebees?

We often wonder about how smart certain non-human animals are, including bumblebees. There are numerous creatures whose intelligence is on full display and has been observed and analyzed to a very significant degree. 

We see dogs get talked about quite a bit. Dogs respond to commands and recognize patterns and exhibit quite a bit of emotional intelligence too. Working dogs specifically are especially proficient.

Border Collie’s the most popular and recognizable sheep dogs are exceptionally intelligent creatures and thrive in an environment where their abilities are put to use. Other notoriously clever animals are crows, elephants, chimpanzees and dolphins.

And in all of these cases, we can quite easily see the intelligence in action by watching these creatures go about their normal lives. What’s not quite so obvious, is just how smart certain insects are.

Intelligent Bees

Many people don’t realize this, but bumblebees are smart, intelligent creatures in their own right. There are numerous different examples of their behaviour as a species which proves this. 

The thing about bumblebees is that a lot of people don’t really think of them in a very positive light. People think bees and they just think about the fact that they sting people. In truth, that’s a pretty rare occurrence.

A bee is not going to sting you unless you provoke it and bumblebees are a very important part of our ecosystem. Most animals are, but without bumblebees especially, a lot of our crops would suffer from the lack of pollination.

And right now, the world’s bumblebee population is in serious danger. If this goes further, it could be catastrophic. We need to alter our perspective on our bumblebee allies and give them the credit they deserve. 

Let’s start by taking a look at how smart bumblebees are, shall we? Here’s a few examples of that:

Puzzle-Solving

The ability to solve puzzles is something you don’t see often outside of humans. But bumblebees have been observed doing so. And what’s more impressive about it, is that they appear to be able to learn this from other bees 

In this study, bumblebees were shown a fake bee moving a ball into the centre of a platform and then being rewarded for it. The real bumblebees then used that knowledge to replicate the process and get rewards of their own.

What’s very interesting is that the bumblebees also shows that they had the mental capacity to improve on these puzzle-solving techniques. Even if the false bee would select the ball furthest from them, the real ones would just recognize the value of the ball and pick a closer one.

This is a pretty impressive display of innovation and no doubt comes in useful for bumblebees while they’re pollinating.

Navigation

It’s no secret that a navigation system would be very important for bees. They need to find their way around and get from their hives to the various different plants, but the way they do this is quite interesting.

This study placed bumblebees in a position where they had a number of different plants to forage with a certain amount of time to forage.

At first, the bees all ended up taking complex routes as they felt out the locations of the flowers and the distances. Over time things got pretty fascinating. The amount of time they took gradually decreased as the bees became familiar with their surroundings.

They began to understand where each plant was and what the best route to take would be to get their job done as quickly as possible. Even more interesting was how they would try out different, less obvious routes to try and determine what the most efficient approach.

It’s really no different to how humans solve problems. We adapt and adjust our process to maximise our efficiency. 

Basic Math

Now this particular skill hasn’t exactly been observed as something that bumblebees can learn on their own, that’s smart. But it’s been proven that a bee’s brain is capable of learning simple math with a little bit of coaching.

The bees in this study were offered a scenario where instead of addition and subtraction symbols, they were shown coloured squares which represented those two mathematical functions.

Bees would see two squares of a certain colour at the beginning of a maze. However, at the end they saw a different number of squares with one colour for addition and another for subtraction. Through the same trial and error process we discussed earlier they would try to determine which was which and were rewarded for getting it right.

A large percentage of the bees tested were able to understand the concept. They then put it into practice afterwards with a different scenario which wasn’t part of the original test. While nothing massive, it’s evidence of a basic understanding of some simple sums. 

So these are complex creatures, who serve a very important purpose and their cognitive abilities which they use to serve this purpose are impressive. A creature this useful and intelligent should be respected.

Now I understand that in some cases, bees can be a little bit invasive. And if you are in a position where it’s necessary for you to get rid of them from your personal situation, make sure that you do it safely and avoid doing any damage.

In general, this would more apply to honey bees as bumblebees tend not to solve many problems but if you do need them gone then be nice about it!

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