A study of what makes some bumblebees brighter than others could shed light on differences in human intelligence, scientists believe.
Researchers looked at the brains of bees trained to perform different tasks and found a link between nerve cell connections and cleverness.
Bees with more synaptic connections in a specific part of their brains associated with vision had better memories and learned faster than those with fewer connections.
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A study of what makes some bees brighter than others could shed light on differences in human intelligence, scientists believe
Dr Clint Perry, a member of the team from Queen Mary, University of London, said: ‘Our findings are the first to suggest a strong correlation between the number of neural connections in the brain and how well an individual does on a cognitive task.
‘However, at this stage we cannot show a causative link between the two.
‘Our results should provide new avenues for understanding the neural basis of cognition in all animals, including humans.’
The bees were taught to discriminate between 10 differently coloured artificial flowers, half of which contained tasty sugar water and half a bitter quinine solution.
Two days later the bees were tested on how well they remembered which colours were rewarding and which were not.
Then an imaging technique called confocal microscopy was used to look deep into the brains of the bees in areas known to be responsible for visual learning and memory.
Researchers looked at the brains of bees trained to perform different tasks and found a link between nerve cell connections and cleverness
They found that bees with a higher density of neural connections called synaptic complexes within the visual association brain region were better at remembering the colours.
Further experiments showed that bees which were quicker to learn – shown by taking fewer landings to find the right flowers – also had a higher density of synaptic complexes in the same brain region.
The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Queen Mary Phd student and lead author Li Li said: ‘For the first time, we have shown that visual learning can increase the density of nerve connections in this area of the brain and that an enriched environment, where bees are exposed to many colours without learning anything from them, can also affect the synaptic organisation in the brain.’
CLEVER BALL-PLAYING BEES
A different study by Queen Mary University of London found the insects, given a selection of balls, cleverly went for the closest even after watching demonstrator bees which always chose the furthest away.
Scientists placed bees on a platform.
Using either a live or plastic bee, they were shown how to move the ball into the trap door in the centre of the pitch.
The bees observed the technique and then copied it themselves.
Each time they pushed a ball into the trap door they were rewarded with sugar.