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“Bumblebees Demonstrate Collective Intelligence Comparable to Humans, Challenging Notions of Brain Size”

Bumblebees, those tiny insects with their seed-sized brains, have recently surprised scientists with their level of collective intelligence. In a series of experiments, bumblebees of the species Bombus terrestris demonstrated the ability to teach other bees how to solve a two-step puzzle box, a skill that was previously thought to be unique to humans.

The researchers, based in the United Kingdom and United States, trained the “demonstrator” bees to solve the puzzle and then rewarded them after each step. They then introduced a naive bee to the puzzle, which would not have been able to solve it on its own. However, the naive bee was able to learn the solution from the demonstrator bee, showcasing the bumblebees’ capacity for social learning.

This finding challenges the notion that socially learned behaviors, which cannot be innovated through individual trial and error, are exclusive to humans. It highlights the presence of socially transmitted behaviors in animal societies, such as the viral songs among sparrows, evolving dialects and traditions of whales, regional hunting strategies of orcas, and learned tool tricks of apes, crows, and dolphins.

The ability of bumblebees to demonstrate collective intelligence is particularly remarkable considering their brain size. Bumblebees have brains that are barely 0.0005 percent the size of a chimpanzee’s brain. This discovery casts doubt on the idea of human exceptionalism and emphasizes the importance of recognizing intelligence and learning abilities in other species.

While it is clear that animals cannot replicate complex human inventions or engage in activities such as reading articles on animal intelligence, bumblebees and chimpanzees challenge the belief that humans are the only species capable of learning from each other. Bumblebees, in their own small way, contribute to breaking down the barriers between humans and animals when it comes to intelligence.

Recent experiments have shown that bumblebees can learn from each other, use tools, count to zero, and even perform basic mathematical equations. In one experiment, colonies of bumblebees were exposed to a two-step puzzle for extended periods without any human assistance. Despite having up to a third of their lifetime foraging time to work on the puzzle, the bees were unable to figure out how to access the sugary reward. It took a human to show them the solution, and once one bee learned it, they were able to teach others.

Similar experiments have been conducted on chimpanzees, further demonstrating the sharing of ideas that are difficult to learn alone. These findings suggest that if there were exceptional innovators in bee or chimp societies, their ideas could potentially shape animal culture and be passed down through generations.

The study also challenges the notion that certain behaviors, such as the honey waggle dance performed by bees to communicate information about food sources, are purely instinctive. It appears that social influences play a role in shaping these behaviors.

Overall, the collective intelligence displayed by bumblebees challenges traditional ideas about brain size and human exceptionalism. It suggests that the ability to learn from others and transmit knowledge socially should be considered alongside other explanations for human cognition and culture. The study opens up new avenues for understanding intelligence and learning in the animal kingdom.

The research was published in the journal Nature, further solidifying the significance of these findings in the scientific community. As we continue to explore the depths of animal intelligence, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is much more to learn from our fellow creatures on this planet.


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