Bumblebees learn to solve puzzles

Bumblebees have been found to solve puzzles by watching their more experienced peers, say scientists in the UK.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London trained a set of bees to open a puzzle box containing a sugar reward. These bees then passed on the knowledge to others in their colonies, the study found.

A variety of experiments were set up to establish this. I will just describe one of them.

The scientists created a puzzle box that could be opened by rotating a lid to access a sugar solution. The lid could be rotated clockwise by pushing a red tab, while pushing a blue tab could rotate it anti-clockwise. Either way accessed the sugar solution.

The scientists then trained “demonstrator” bees to use just one of these methods to open the lid. After “observer” bees were allowed to watch the demonstrator bees in action, the observer bees chose the same method as the demonstrator bees used, 98% of the time.

In other words, bees are capable of watching and learning from other bees, and changing their behavior.

This was confirmed by the control group of bees, which lacked a demonstrator. Here, some bees managed to open the puzzle boxes, but did so far fewer times than those who benefitted from seeing another bee do it first.

In fact, the average number of boxes opened in a day by the observer bees with a demonstrator was 28 boxes a day, whereas it was only 1 box per day for the control colony.

This “social learning” could explain the evolutionary origin of many of the complex behaviors seen among social insects. What we think of now as “instinctive” may have been socially learnt originally.

Professor Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at Queen Mary University of London and author of the book ‘The Mind of a Bee’, said: “The fact that bees can watch and learn, and then make a habit of that behaviour, adds to the ever-growing body of evidence that they are far smarter creatures than a lot of people give them credit for.

“Our research shows that new innovations can spread like social media memes through insect colonies, indicating that they can respond to wholly new environmental challenges much faster than by evolutionary changes, which would take many generations to manifest.”

In short, bees never cease to amaze!

Photos © Denzil Walton


  1. Thank you for sharing this! They are beautiful, needed & are actually cute (too me). This is amazing! There’s a couple people I will send this to. I’ve said to some that I have been outwitted by spiders more times than I’d like to admit. I have a “bug glass” & postcard that I use to take insects outside, the stingers and biters too. During some futile catch & release attempts I’ve seen their intelligences and I’m not kidding, also some quick reasoning skills! I could tell hilarious stories, but my comment shouldn’t be longer than this wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the positivism Dawn. Yes, I think it’s always amazing that when scientists, naturalists, photographers take time to observe nature, then we realize the cleverness of even the smaller creatures around us. You should collect your stories! I could even post one or two on this blog.


      • Agreed, it is good we are among those who encapsulate observances, tests, studies, and photos in the ways that they do. It is unfortunate – it seems the majority of people who take precious time to observe such wonders are people such as these. There are many others certainly missing out on wonders of varying amazement all around them. Surely, I’ve missed some.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well I with this challenge I am certainly realizing how many beautiful and mysterious natural sights are out there just waiting to be discovered and photographed!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s