Bees are fascinating creatures and it appears they have just added another string to their bow.

The Queen Mary University of London carried out experiments in which bees learnt to pull on strings to access the food attached to them. Not only this, they then taught other bees in their colony to do the same.

Small Brains, but Brainy Bees

The brains of bees may be small, but bees have proved themselves to be one of the brainier insects by solving a problem set for them in an experiment led by researchers.

A group of bees were placed in an enclosure where food was separated off from them by a transparent screen. Plastic discs with food in the middle, to resemble flowers, were attached to strings and the strings were placed underneath the plastic screen.

Left to their own devices, the bees learnt to pull on the strings with their legs and feet to bring the food underneath the screen.

Cultural Spread Amongst Bees

Not only did the study prove that bees are intelligent enough to solve the problem put in front of them, but it also showed researchers that ‘cultural spread’ is possible amongst bees; something originally thought to be exclusive to humans.

Cultural spread, or cultural transmission, is where animals are able to pass on knowledge and skills they have learnt to others around them, which can then go as far as being passed down through generations.

After showing the ability to obtain to food by pulling on the strings, another group of bees from the colony was introduced to observe what their counterparts had learnt. It then become clear to researchers that they were able to learn the new skill by observing the first group of bees.

The next stage of the experiment was to allow these trained bees back into their entire colony. The result was that the new knowledge and skill was passed onto to almost the entire colony.

Bees are One of a Kind

Seeing the positive results from the experiment, researchers have found bees to one of kind, with this being the first instance of invertebrates learning and then passing on such a technical manoeuvre.

This project comes after the license plate experiment was conducted earlier in the summer, where bees were given tiny license plates in a bid to track their behaviour and how frequently they would return to certain places.

Lars Chittka, one of the supervisors on the string project, said the aim of the team is ultimately to decipher brain processes in bees’ learning and teaching skills, making the point of how incredible it is that bees can manage this type of cognitive task with such small brains and nervous systems.

Author: This article was written by Dean Mannion, Senior Pest Control Technician for Top Dog Pest Control who provide London bees nest removal services. 

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