Living With Complexity



For Bees, retrieving nectar from flowers can be a challenge. Some plants have obstacles in place to limit nectar rewards to a few good pollinator species. Such obstacles present challenges to pollinators. Bumblebees are good at solving relatively simple challenges. How good are bees at solving more complex challenges? Can bees learn to solve more complex challenges by building on learning to solve simple challenges? These questions were addressed in a study by Hamida Mirwan & Peter G. Kevan. They created tubes with sugar rewards (artificial flowers) and trained bees to the flowers. Then they created a series of challenges of varying complexity. The bees were required to perform simple tasks such as moving a lid or a ball to access the reward. Interestingly, individual bees found different ways to accomplish the same task. One individual might use its legs, and another its mouthparts to accomplish the same task. Tasks were made more complex by requiring the bee to move the lid in only one direction or to lift it. The results of the study demonstrated that bees with experience and success performing simple tasks were more likely to successfully complete the complex tasks than naive bees that had no experience with the simple tasks. This suggests that bees can learn from simple tasks and apply that learning to solve more complex tasks. Bees can learn to do complex tasks by first solving related by simpler tasks.

*Hamida B. Mirwan & Peter G. Kevan/ 2014. Problem solving by worker bumblebees Bombus impatiens. Anim Cogn (2014) 17:1053–1061.
DOI 10.1007/s10071-014-0737-0

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Living With Complexity

  1. anastaciast says:

    Query: do you think it is easier for bumblebees to learn to solve problems since they are not a hive bee? Have any studies been done with hive bees? Perhaps they are slower to learn because of the hive mind?

  2. jjneal says:

    Honey bees probably have similar capacity. I suspect they used bumblebees because it was easier to do the experiment.

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