The Intelligent Bee

by Allie Wilkinson on November 11, 2008

I’ve never given any thought to bee intelligence before.  I have given thought to their  health, but that is because of my interest in colony collapse disorder.  (Read my original post to learn more).  Dr. Nigel Raine of Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, as well as Akram Alghamdi, Ezio Rosato and Eamonn Mallon from the University of Leicester have given thought to both topics.  They tested the learning performance and immune responses of bumblebees from 12 colonies in order to examine the correlation between intelligence and the ability to fight infection.


The results?  The scientists were surprised to learn that there is a positive correlation between the ability of the colony’s workers to learn and the strength of their immune responses.  ”Bees from fast learning colonies are not only the best nectar collectors, but also better able to fight infections.  These colonies are probably much better equipped to thrive under difficult conditions,” said Dr. Raine.

Not only can bumblebees learn from scientists what color flowers will give the largest nectar rewards, but research by the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute found that honey bees can count up to four.  Their study measured the bee’s ability to count landmarks on the way to sugar-water incentives.

While we are on the topic of bees, let’s follow up with those British bee-lovers.  British scientist Francis Ratnieks, of the University of Sussex, hopes to reverse the decline of bees by breeding “cleaner bees” to protect the hives from potentially devastating diseases, such as Israeli acute paralysis virus.  Colonies already have these “hygienic” bees, but in small numbers.  Ratnieks believes that by breeding larger quantities of these cleaner bees that they will protect hives from parasites such as the varroa mite, a potential factor in colony collapse disorder.  These bees remove dead or dying pupae and larvae from hives, and would be able to detect illness or parasite infection, and remove the offending individuals from the hive.  Perhaps they should be called “protector bees”.

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