Can insects have culture? Puzzle-solving bumblebees show it’s possible

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A new study found that bumblebees can learn to solve puzzles from each other — suggesting that even invertebrate animals may have a capacity for what we call culture.

A new study in PLOS Biology finds that bumblebees can learn to solve puzzles from each other — suggesting that even invertebrate animals may have a capacity for culture.

, a cognitive ethologist who studies wild animal minds at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This learning can range from navigating a migratory route to using a tool to access a particular food.”If what they learn lasts for a long time,” says Whiten,”then we might be prepared to call it a tradition. And culture is made up of multiple traditions.”

These behaviors tend to be passed down from one generation to the next. It’s the same thing with humans. Some of us learn from more experienced individuals how to make matzo ball soup or dance the merengue, and then we pass that down to our children.

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Bumblebees acquire alternative puzzle-box solutions via social learningThe astonishing behavioral repertoires of social insects have been thought largely innate, but this study shows that populations of bumblebees are capable of acquiring and maintaining arbitrary variants of a complex, novel, non-natural foraging behavior, and can maintain these as ‘behavioral traditions.’

Bumblebees can teach each other how to open a puzzle boxTeach one bumblebee to open a box for a sugary reward and the knowledge will spread through the colony, which shows that these insects maintain a kind of minimal culture I wouldn’t call it ‘minimal’ at all, this is ‘high memetic culture’! Simply because cultural transmission may lack a symbolic component does not negate its complexity (at times the inverse in fact, utilitarianism symbolism). Incredible Hymenoptera. Minimal culture?! Some of the bees learning how to open those boxes will never even see one. They are theoretical box openers pursuing knowledge for its own sake. 🙂 In a respected scientific publication (or its social media arm), a culture of illustrating an article about a particular animal with a picture of that particular animal would be nice!

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