Image from Wikimedia Commons
The world’s bumblebee population has famously been on the decline in the past few decades. This brings into question the adaptability of these insects, and a search for reasons why their numbers might be dropping so quickly. However, according to recent studies conducted at Queen Mary University in London, bumblebees are more adaptable than we give them credit for.
Perry conducted an experiment in which bumblebees were trained for move a small yellow ball to a designated area to retrieve sugar water. The bees were conditioned to recognize that the ball had to reach the target for sugar water to be received. The bees were split into three groups; one group watched an already trained bee push one of three balls to the target, another group watched a magnet under the platform pull the ball towards the target, and the last group viewed the ball already sitting on the target. The bees that viewed the demonstrations were then asked to perform the same task.
The first group of bees that watched a previously trained bee push the ball to the sugar water target initially imitated their example and pushed the ball in the direction that they saw best fit. However, a few trials in, these bees began to pull the ball towards the target while walking backwards, an idea the researchers were shocked by for its surprising novelty. Additionally, this group of bees, when confronted with both a black ball and a yellow ball, easily recognized that to retrieve the sugar water, the task could be completed with either ball, demonstrating more adaptiveness than the scientists thought possible.
The group of bees that watched the ball move by means of an “invisible” force- a magnet- were the least successful in accomplishing their task. However, when the group that had not seen any sort of demonstration attempted to earn the sugar water, many bees eventually found a solution for themselves, even though it took them slightly more time.
The results that these researchers obtained suggest that bumblebees have a much higher threshold for adaptability and innovation than we could have imagined. When we examine the number of brain cells that bumblebees have, however, the results make sense. As compared to the approximately 250,000 brain cells that the common fruit fly possesses, bumblebees have almost a million. Because of this information, researchers have done further study on the more advanced habits of these insects, including their habit of tail-shaking as a device to communicate the location of nectar to others. Scientists have also suggested the possibility that bumblebees might even have a small sense of awareness, an idea that there is no real way of proving.
Through their experiment, Queen Mary University’s researchers have provided more evidence that bumblebees are extremely adaptable and entirely capable of forming innovating solutions to promote their survival. So why are they going extinct? Wide research suggests that the bumblebee’s steadily decreasing population has more to do with environmental factors, such as infections and harmful nuances within a particular habitat, than with the bumblebees’ behavior itself.
The bumblebees’ fate is uncertain as of now, but hopefully, their relative intelligence wins out and we find them thriving again soon in the near future.
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- Morrell, Virginia. “Bumble Bees Are Surprisingly Innovative.” Science Mag. AAAS, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. <http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/bumble-bees-are-surprisingly-innovative>.
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