Smart animals: bees trained to pull strings for treat (Animals)

by dhw, Wednesday, October 05, 2016, 13:45 (236 days ago) @ David Turell

DAVID: The amazing part is the colony of bees learn by watching a trained bee. Now will it become an inherited instinct

Thank you for another absolutely superb article, vividly illustrating the reasoning powers of even tiny organisms. Yet again, we see how autonomously intelligent they are, some more than others (as in our human world). Then we see how they learn from one another: “60% of the untrained bees solved the problem after watching other bees do it, showing that these insects can learn socially.”

Then we learn how the learning spreads “culturally”: “…even though the trained innovator died after only about a third of the test bouts in one colony, string pulling continued to spread, underscoring the strength of this cultural transmission.”

The reasoning power was not even confined to the innovators: “a small minority of bees actually solved the task by themselves, without gradual training or observing a skilled bee.”

And in due course even the less intelligent ones could perform the task: “…we discovered that naïve individuals that would observe, from a distance, a skilled string-pulling bee, could subsequently solve the task by themselves."

The conclusion is devastatingly direct. Quite apart from the autonomous intelligence of individual bees, "this work shows that social learning and cultural transmission can occur with a cognitive toolkit far simpler than that of humans."

David, your comment that weaverbird nests are too complex for this methodology is a saddening assumption. What a shame that you cannot countenance the possibility that clever individuals might work things out for themselves, and others might learn from them. Bees, wasps, termites build nests of great complexity, but in spite of all the tests and observations of scientists who specialize in all these fields, proving over and over again how intelligent all these organisms are, you insist that the weaverbird is too dumb to have designed its own nest.

The admirable method of testing intelligence through setting problems, and then observing how organisms not only solve them but can also learn and copy from one another, echoes the equally mind-boggling example BBella gave us:

BBELLA: The footage depicts a strain of the gut bacterium E. coli evolving to be 1,000 times more resistant to an antibiotic in a matter of 11 days, starkly visualizing the speed with which diseases can adapt to the drugs we throw their way.

The researchers set the bacteria a problem analogous to that with which the bees were presented. They solved it, and even passed on the solution. Apparently bees prove their intelligence by solving a problem, but bacteria can only solve a problem if they are preprogrammed by God (although many obviously weren't because they died).

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