Goal! Ball-rolling bees score big science wins

Bumblebees in a lab recently channeled their inner Lionel Messi by learning to move a tiny ball across a platform and into a target “goal.”

But they weren’t in training for the insect World Cup; scientists were testing the bees’ learning capabilities, by training them to perform tasks unlike any that a bee would normally confront in its natural habitat.

Though bee brains may appear relatively simple when compared with mammalian brains, the experiments, described in a new study, show that these clever insects are capable of more complex learning than scientists previously suspected. [Bees Learn to Roll Balls, Earn Rewards | Video ]

The researchers’ previous work with bumblebees showed that they could be trained to pull strings and move levers to get rewards, and that they could learn by watching other bumblebees do it first. These findings suggested that the bees might be capable of learning more complicated tasks, study co-author Olli Loukola, a behavioral ecologist with the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, told Live Science in an email.

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