Bumblebees are associated with a life of work rather than play, but researchers first noticed that insects play with balls for fun, just like humans and dogs.
A team of UK scientists have watched bees interact with inanimate objects as a form of play and say the findings add to mounting evidence that their brains are more complex than previously imagined.
Bees are “a million miles away from the mindless and insensitive creatures traditionally thought to be,” said Lars Chitka, professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
She added: “There are a lot of animals that play just for fun, but most examples come from young mammals and birds. This research provides a strong indication that insect brains are much more developed than we might imagine.”
the findings, Published in the Journal of Animal Behavior, based on a series of experiments in which it was found that bees repeatedly spin balls when given the option, although there is no clear incentive to do so. Younger bees were found to roll more balls than older bees, while adult males rolled longer than their female counterparts.
The researchers designed an experimental arena where 45 bees were given the choice of either walking an undisturbed path to get a treat or going to areas with wooden balls.
According to the researchers, individual bees rolled the balls between one and 117 times over the course of the experiment, and the repetitive behavior that suggested rolling the ball was rewarding, the team said.
In further tests, 42 other bees were allowed access to two colored chambers, one of which contained wooden balls. The experts said that when the balls were later removed, the bees showed a preference for the color of the room previously associated with the balls, proving that the bees were moving the balls for no greater purpose than play.
In the paper, the scientists wrote: “We found that rolling the ball does not contribute to immediate survival strategies [and] It was rewarding in essence.”
“It is certainly fascinating, at times fun, to watch bumblebees display something like play,” said Samadi Galbaidge, a doctoral student at QMUL, and first author of the study. “It shows, once again, that despite the small size of their brains, they More than just small robotic beings.”
The latest study builds on previous research by Chittka, which showed that bees can be taught to score a goal in exchange for a sugary food reward.
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