Bumblebees Learn by Observation, Study Finds

Bumblebees can learn new behaviors by observing their peers, research from Queen Mary University of London shows.

The study, carried out by Dr Alice Bridges, put “observer” bees next to “demonstrator” bees solving a puzzle for a sucrose reward.

It found that “observer” bees overwhelmingly and repeatedly chose to use the same method that they had seen demonstrated to solve the puzzle, even after discovering the alternative option.

This preference for the taught option was maintained by whole colonies of bees, with a mean of 98.6 percent of box openings made using the taught method.

Bridges said the research indicates that bumblebees can show culture-like phenomena in their populations.

“Bumblebees – and, indeed, invertebrates in general – aren’t known to show culture-like phenomena in the wild," Bridges said. “However, in our experiments, we saw the spread and maintenance of a behavioural ‘trend’ in groups of bumblebees – similar to what has been seen in primates and birds.”

Bridges said the research suggested that “social learning may have had a greater influence on the evolution of this behaviour than previously imagined.”

Footage taken as part of the research shows observer bees copying demonstrated behavior to solve a puzzle. Credit: Dr Alice Bridges, Queen Mary University of London via Storyful