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Bumblebees playing soccer – an example of behavioral flexibility and social learning in insects

Have you ever seen bumblebees playing soccer? In a recent study done by Loukola et al. [1], bumblebees were taught to transfer a ball in marked location and bees were rewarded after a successful performance. The aim of this study was not only to enjoy some nice playtime with bees but also to observe behavioral flexibility and social learning. Social learning is a phenomenon in which a new behavior is learned by the observation and imitation of others, whereas behavioral flexibility is considered to reflect one’s ability to change a pattern of behavior and create novel solutions to a problem. These features are thought to be common in mammals and birds, but are not well understood in insects.

By observing how bumblebees learned to play soccer, it was found that social learning is the best way for bees to learn the game [1].  Bees were not only copying the demonstrated ball transport method but also, were able to improve upon learned methods and develop more a convenient approach[1]. This kind of behavioral flexibility has not been noted before in insects, although behavior and cognition of insects has been widely studied [2,3]. But back to our first question; if you have not seen how a bee plays soccer, check out the videos from the supplementary material of Loukola et al. (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6327/833), or see collected clips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToZDCo51c_I

- JR 


[1] Loukola OJ, Perry CJ, Coscos L, Chittka L. Bumblebees show cognitive flexibility by improving on an observed complex behavior. Science. 2017, 355(6327):833-836. doi: 10.1126/science.aag2360.

[2] Chittka L, Niven J. Are bigger brains better? Curr Biol. 2009, 19(21):R995-R1008. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.08.023.

[3] Giurfa M. Cognition with few neurons: higher-order learning in insects. Trends Neurosci. 2013, 36(5):285-94. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2012.12.011

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