A little help from their friends
September 11, 2023 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Bees are capable of social learning to solve new problems. Social species of bees show the ability to learn from each other. In fact, a bee that's new to a particular pollen-retrieving problem, for example, will learn faster from an experienced fellow bee than it will on its own.

Social learning among many species of non-human animals is well-documented and has gained a lot of research interest recently, as fans of crows can attest.

The phenomenon is not unique to creatures we humans consider "smart" or big-brained: bees do it too. One of the leaders of research into problem-solving and learning among social AND solitary bee species is Lars Chittka, who has been observing all kinds of bee species for years. At Chittka's lab in the UK, his team continues to devise experiments and observe how their little charges grapple with the world around them and handle all kinds of new situations.

And we can learn from Chittka's research. In his recent book The Mind Of A Bee, published last year, Chittka reviews recent research on bee learning and behavior, and makes the case that bees have distinct personalities, can recognize flowers and human faces, exhibit basic emotions, count, use simple tools, solve problems, and learn by observing others. And he argues that bees are conscious and sapient.

Nope, I'm not affiliated with Chittka in any way. But I was deeply inspired by his book and would like more folks to read it!
posted by rabia.elizabeth (4 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
People who think that bees aren't smart are not paying attention to the bees. Bee ballet is clearly the dance of geniuses.

The bees in my garden know who I am for sure and it's wild. My favorite thing to do in the morning this time of year is to go stare at all the bees sleeping in the zinnias and cosmos. This year I really realized how awesome it is that I can reach into a cloud of multiple types of bees and cut flowers as they drink from them and they don't mind at all. If you told me a decade ago that I would feel comfortable reaching my paw into the swarm I would have laughed but now the bees have welcomed me.

I have a little "free florist" stand where I put out the fresh cut bouquets and the bees have figured out that those cut flowers are not for them so they leave them alone.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:16 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]

I love bees, despite having a phobia of flying insects due to some childhood trauma involving wasps. Also, RobinofFrocksley, for some reason your comment gave me some delightful Ghibli vibes, thank you!
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 8:39 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]

OK, seriously... is there a MeTa discussion in which it is decreed that everyone should post about the same subject for a while?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:22 PM on September 12

OK, seriously... is there a MeTa discussion in which it is decreed that everyone should post about the same subject for a while?

i feel like there might bee
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 7:29 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]

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