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Bee Ball

February 27, 2017

Scientists teach bees how to move a tiny ball to test their cognitive abilities.

Transcript

Bee Lab Queen Mary University of London

A bumbelebee moves a tiny ball. (Queen Mary University of London)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Can bees play ball?  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bumblebees might be the most unlikely sports enthusiasts you can possibly think of, but Queen Mary University of London researchers have taught them to play ball. Neuroethologist Clint Perry says the bees learned to move a tiny ball to the center of a bee-sized arena in exchange for a sweet reward. He and his team report in Science magazine that the key to successful learning was to watch other bees do it first.

CLINT PERRY (Queen Mary University of London):

Every one of bees that saw the other bee do it, picked it up rather well.

HIRSHON:

But he adds that the bees went beyond what the first bees did, picking up the ball that was closest to the target to save time.

PERRY:

And this shows that they weren’t simply copying what they observed in the demo; so all of this shows an unprecedented level of behavioral flexibility.

HIRSHON:

Perry says the study is a reminder that it doesn’t always take a big brain like ours to solve complex tasks. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard