The bees they are extraordinary creatures. Not only do they pollinate our crops and produce delicious honey, they are also fiercely loyal to their queen. They can count, also. And change their behavior when necessary. Now, it seems, we can add another skill to the growing list of bee abilities: play.
According to a new study published in Animal Behavior, bees (specifically bumblebees) love to play with toys. In the experiment, the researchers of the Queen Mary University of London they set up a container that allowed the bees to move from their nest to a feeding area.
At the end of the container was a small ball that the bees could push. The researchers found that the bumblebees they examined were more likely to play ball when bored. Not only that: they preferred to play with balls of the same color as their species.
This study is the first to show that bees, like other animals, like to play. The findings suggest that bees may have complex emotions and that they are not as simple as we think.
Bees and toys: a few more details
Along the way, as mentioned, the bees could choose to go through a separate section with a series of wooden balls. For 18 days, the scientists observed how the bees "went to great lengths to repeatedly roll the wooden balls. Although there was no apparent incentive to do so."
This finding suggests that, like humans, insects also interact with inanimate objects as a form of play. Also, similar to people, the younger bumblebees seemed to be more playful than the adult ones.
The researchers found that bees could learn to associate a particular color with a particular smell and that they could remember this association for up to 24 hours. "This is the first time we have demonstrated that insects can remember an abstract concept", says Lars Chittka, professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London, who led the study. "It shows that their tiny brains are capable of sophisticated cognition."
The findings could have huge implications for how we think about the intelligence of other animals.
If we can show that insects can understand abstract concepts, this could change the way we think about the cognitive abilities of animals in general.
The study on "playful" bumblebees was published in the journal Science (I link it here).