Scientists at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) have trained the humble bumble bee to score goals, using a mini-ball, revealing the insects’ ‘unprecedented’ cognitive abilities. The research puts an end to the notion that having a small brain constrains insects to only simple learning.
The QMUL research required bees to move a ball to a specified location in order to obtain a food reward. The insects were first trained to understand the correct location of the ball on a platform. Then, to obtain their reward, the bees had to move a displaced ball to the specified location.
To learn the technique, the bees were trained under one of three conditions: some observed a previously trained bee move the ball to gain its reward; others received a ‘ghost’ demonstration using a magnet hidden underneath the bees’ platform to move the ball. A third group received no demonstration.
Those bees which observed the technique from a live or model demonstrator learned to complete the task more efficiently than those who observed the ‘ghost’ demonstration and those who received no demonstration at all. Importantly, the bees did not just copy what they saw but improved on the technique as well.
Building on this research, a new youth football coaching qualification could be launched to include modules based on insect psychology. The proposed Level Bee qualification remains under wraps while the syllabuzz is being finalised.