Bumble bees may have small brains, but that doesn’t mean they’re not inventive. A new study shows that the insects can innovate to solve complex problems, quickly figuring out a better way to get a sugar reward. Such mental flexibility may help bees overcome human-caused changes to their environment.
“It’s a cool study, and both the authors and the bees deserve credit for their innovativeness,” says Dhruba Naug, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
Bumble bees have already proven themselves remarkable animals. They possess complex navigational skills, rudimentary culture, and emotions. They can even use tools: Scientists have shown that the insects can learn to pull a string—and so get a sugary reward—by watching another bee perform the task. Although bees don’t pull strings in the wild, they do sometimes pull or push aside flower petals and parts that may resemble strings.