Intelligent bumblebees can learn to pull strings

This video says about itself:

Social learning and cultural transmission in bees

Footage shows a pair of bees (the seeded demonstrator and an observer) tested with the string pulling task in Colony 8. The red dot indicates the seeded demonstrator. The observer has not learned string pulling yet but has already been tested three times in paired foraging bouts. The demonstrator lands at the edge of the table, repositions herself in front of the string, and starts pulling immediately.

The observer is first attracted to the blue flower and lands on top of the table. The observer subsequently flies to the demonstrator, lands at her side, and walks to the nearby flower and string. She walks along the protruding string, reaches the table edge, and moves sideways. She notices the demonstrator and walks to her side, moving around her whilst the demonstrator is pulling, always in close contact.

The observer touches the string a few times but does not grasp it. The demonstrator eventually extracts the blue disk and steps onto it. The observer copies the demonstrator. They both slide the flower from under the table and obtain the reward.

Once the first pulled flower is depleted, the demonstrator moves to the nearest flower and pulls the string. The observer stays on the extracted flower for a short period, circling, probing the emptied inverted cap before noticing the demonstrator drinking from a second flower and joining her. In a similar way, once the second pulled flower is emptied, the demonstrator moves and pulls a third flower and the observer joins her. Her crop filled up, the demonstrator flies back to the colony.

From PLOS Biology:

Associative Mechanisms Allow for Social Learning and Cultural Transmission of String Pulling in an Insect

October 4, 2016


Social insects make elaborate use of simple mechanisms to achieve seemingly complex behavior and may thus provide a unique resource to discover the basic cognitive elements required for culture, i.e., group-specific behaviors that spread from “innovators” to others in the group via social learning. We first explored whether bumblebees can learn a nonnatural object manipulation task by using string pulling to access a reward that was presented out of reach. Only a small minority “innovated” and solved the task spontaneously, but most bees were able to learn to pull a string when trained in a stepwise manner.

In addition, naïve bees learnt the task by observing a trained demonstrator from a distance. Learning the behavior relied on a combination of simple associative mechanisms and trial-and-error learning and did not require “insight”: naïve bees failed a “coiled-string experiment,” in which they did not receive instant visual feedback of the target moving closer when tugging on the string.

In cultural diffusion experiments, the skill spread rapidly from a single knowledgeable individual to the majority of a colony’s foragers. We observed that there were several sequential sets (“generations”) of learners, so that previously naïve observers could first acquire the technique by interacting with skilled individuals and, subsequently, themselves become demonstrators for the next “generation” of learners, so that the longevity of the skill in the population could outlast the lives of informed foragers. This suggests that, so long as animals have a basic toolkit of associative and motor learning processes, the key ingredients for the cultural spread of unusual skills are already in place and do not require sophisticated cognition.

Author Summary

Social insects make use of simple mechanisms to achieve many seemingly complex behaviors and thus may be able to provide a unique resource for uncovering the basic cognitive elements required for culture. Here, we first show that bumblebees can be trained to pull a string to access a reward, but most could not learn on their own. Naïve bees learned how to pull strings by observing trained demonstrators from a distance.

Learning the behavior through observation relied on bees paying attention to both the string and the position of the trained demonstrator bee while pulling the string. We then tested whether bees could pass this information to others during a semi-natural situation involving several colonies. We found that once one bee knew how to string pull, over time, most of the foraging bees learned from the initially trained bee or from bees who had learned from the trained bee, even after the initial demonstrator was no longer available. These results suggest that learning a nonnatural task in bumblebees can spread culturally through populations.

These bumblebees were Bombus terrestris, large earth bumblebees.

Primitive signs of emotions spotted in sugar-buzzed bumblebees. After a treat, insects appeared to have rosier outlooks. By Emily Underwood, 2:00pm, September 29, 2016: here.

Birds, bees, butterflies, pollination in the USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

3 September 2016

We could not survive on earth without pollination. Relax and contemplate an hour of a pollination frenzy of bees and butterflies in a stand of freshly blooming Devil’s Walking Stick trees near the edge of a forest high in the Great Smoky Mountains. Despite the evil name, this rare native plant is an important source of nutrients for bees and butterflies in August and the birds go crazy for the ripe tasty purple berry fruit in September.

THE BEE THAT COULD “A team of researchers scours the wilds of northern Alaska for Bombus polaris, a big bee that has adapted to the cold and that can teach them more about the effects of climate change.” [NYT]

This video from the USA says about itself:

Devil’s Walking Stick trees (Aralia spinosa) provide a bounty of purple berries in early fall that is a feast for birds such as American Robins, Dark Eyed Juncos, Warblers and Eastern Towhees. You’ll hear many other birds calling in the background. This is a great native plant (Eastern U.S.) to develop in the yard for bird lovers especially at a transition from grass to forest.

Solitary bee hives in England

This video from England says about itself:

Solitary Bee Hives

9 May 2016

Solitary Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem.

This video demonstrates how to accommodate these Bees into your garden.

A range of products, including these hives can be found at our shop.

Garden bumblebee video

This 11 July 2016 video shows a garden bumblebee on heathland near Ede town in the Veluwe region in the Netherlands.

Bumblebees and flowers, new research

This video says about itself:

Researchers Figure Out How Bees Pick Up Messages Flowers Are Sending

31 May 2016

According to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol, bees’ hairs alert to them to the electromagnetic signals flowers are sending.

Bumblebees and flowers clearly have a very close relationship, but what has remained largely a mystery is how they communicate with one another. Though scientists have known for some time that blooms send electric signals, determining how the buzzing pollinators detect them has remained elusive.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol, it all comes down to the bees’ hairs. When the fuzzy little flyers are in the presence of flower signals, their hairs deflect and move at a quickened pace. Further study revealed the hairs appear to be the only floral alert signal recognized by the bee nervous system. Discovering this means of electroreception could aid in the understanding of other small creatures as well. Said one of the researchers, “A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”

From Bristol University in England:

Dancing hairs alert bees to floral electric fields

Press release issued: 30 May 2016

Tiny, vibrating hairs may explain how bumblebees sense and interpret the signals transmitted by flowers, according to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol.

Although it’s known that flowers communicate with pollinators by sending out electric signals, just how bees detects these fields has been a mystery – until now.

Using a laser to measure vibrations, researchers found that both the bees’ antenna and hairs deflect in response to an electric field, but the hairs move more rapidly and with overall greater displacements.

Researchers then looked at the bees’ nervous system, finding that only the hairs alerted the bees’ nervous system to this signal.

The findings, published in the international journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) today, suggest that electroreception in insects may be widespread.

Electroreception may arise from the bees’ hairs being lightweight and stiff, properties that confer a rigid, lever-like motion similar to acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae.

Dr Gregory Sutton, a Research Fellow in the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, led the research. He said: “We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair. A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”

Scientists are particularly interested in understanding how floral signals are perceived, received and acted upon by bees as they are critical pollinators of our crops.

Research into these relationships has revealed the co-evolution of flowers and their pollinators, and has led to the unravelling of this important network which keeps our planet green.

Electroreception is common in aquatic mammals. For example, sharks [not mammals] are equipped with sensitive, jelly-filled receptors that detect fluctuations in electric fields in seawater which helps them to home in on their prey.

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and The Royal Society.


Mechanosensory hairs in bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields’ by G. P. Sutton, D. Clarke, E. L. Morley, and D. Robert in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Bee and mites, video

This video shows a male red mason bee. He has many mites on his back. During mating, the mites will transfer to the female bee; in order to land in the nest, where they will eat waste.

Jelle Talsma in the Netherlands made this video.