by Natalie Parletta
Heck yeah I'll move this ball
means I'll get some sugar.
they can perform
transfers of information
Bees have a lot going on in their
with less than a
million neurons compared to the 86 billion that
humans boast, they can achieve an impressive array of tasks from
basic maths to
connecting numbers and symbols...
Now scientists have shown
they can perform a complex cognitive feat thought to be unique to
humans and a select group of animals such as apes, rats and
about an object from one sense to another...
This ability, termed "Cross-Modal
Object Recognition", is what helps us find things in the
dark, like fumbling around in a cluttered handbag for a set of keys.
We can store visual
information about the keys and transfer this knowledge to how they
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London, UK, and
Macquarie University in Australia, have shown that bumblebees
genus Bombus) can also find things
in the dark that they've only seen before.
As described in the journal Science (Bumble
Bees display Cross-Modal Object Recognition between Visual and
Tactile Senses), the bees were trained to find sugar
water in a cube or sphere and a bitter quinine solution in the other
shape using only vision (in a light room where they couldn't touch
the outside of the objects) or touch (in a completely dark room).
A bee learns to find sugar water
spheres but not cubes.
When those bees trained in the light were tested in a dark room,
they hung around the object that had previously rewarded them with
sugar water, evidencing a transfer of visual information to tactile
They also achieved this task the other way around:
after learning to
find the rewarding shape in the dark, they preferred that one
when tested in the light.
Importantly, the shapes
and testing area were cleaned after the training so the bees
couldn't use smell or chemical cues to detect those that had
previously contained the reward.
As a control, the researchers ran the same experiment in the dark
room, but the bees couldn't touch the shapes.
Later, when tested in the light, the bees showed no shape
preference, confirming they had indeed previously transferred
information from tactile to visual senses.
"This suggests that
similar to humans and other large-brained animals,
insects integrate information
from multiple senses into a complete, globally accessible,
gestalt perception of the world around them," the authors write.
It doesn't mean bees
experience the world in the same way as us, says lead author Cwyn
"but it does show
there is more going on in their heads than we have ever given
them credit for".
Senior author Lars
Chittka notes that although it's well established that bees can
remember the shape of flowers, this doesn't necessarily demonstrate
a smartphone can
recognize your face, for instance...
"Our new work
indicates that something is going on inside the mind of bees
that is wholly different from a machine - that bees can
conjure up mental images of shapes."
How the bees do it isn't
entirely clear, note Gerhard von der Emde, from the
University of Bonn, Germany, and Theresa Burt de Perera, from
the University of Oxford, UK, in an accompanying commentary, but
they are similarly impressed.
recognition... is a highly complex cognitive capacity that was
thought to be limited to vertebrates.
"Solvi et al. show that this capability exists in an insect
brain, which contains a small fraction of the numbers of neurons
in vertebrate brains."
Looking at the bigger
picture, Solvi's work is driven by a curiosity about how the brain
generates complex cognitions like,
"By investigating the
cognitive capacities of very small brains," she says, "we may be
able to shed significant light on how our brains produce the
things we feel make us so special."