Bee boffins prove sesame-seed brain is all you need to play football (well, that explains a lot)

The bee-autiful game


Video The humble bumblebee can be taught how to play soccer, even though its brain is only around the size of a sesame seed.

Previous studies into apoid behavior have revealed a surprisingly complex world. The fuzzy creatures can find their way home despite flying miles away to collect nectar; memorize and recognize objects; and communicate with their pals through the waggle dance.

A paper in Science reveals that the insects can also learn to manipulate tools – a sign of complex cognition skills seen in animals such as humans, primates, octopuses and birds.

Professor Lars Chittka, co-author of the paper and bee researcher from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said: "Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioral flexibility and only simple learning abilities."

Researchers trained bumblebees to move a yellow ball to a specific region. Every time they scored a goal, they were rewarded with a sugary treat.

Youtube Video

To learn how to play footie, the bees were taught with three different methods. One group learned by observing real and plastic bees complete the task. Another group watched the ball being guided to the center with a hidden magnet. A third group received no demonstration, but discovered a ball and the reward already in the goal.

Bees learned best when they were taught by other bees. It took longer for them to realize how to win sweet snacks when watching the ball being rolled with a magnet or when they weren't taught at all.

The nectar-loving insects didn't just copy what they saw, but understood the task well enough to know how to take shortcuts.

First, the bees watched another buddy move the ball into the goal. It was always the furthest ball away from the center, as the first insect was trained under the conditions that the closer balls were immobile.

But the watcher bees did not know this. When it was their turn to kick the ball, they chose the closest ball even though it was a different color they hadn't seen before.

"The bees solved the task in a different way than what was demonstrated, suggesting that observer bees did not simply copy what they saw, but improved on it. This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect," said Dr Olli J Loukola, co-author of the paper and researcher at QMUL. Rolling a ball isn't something bees are accustomed to, but the experiments show the stripy invertebrates can adapt and learn new skills.

"It may be that bumblebees, along with many other animals, have the cognitive capabilities to solve such complex tasks, but will only do so if environmental pressures are applied to necessitate such behaviors," Loukola added.

The robust learning abilities in bumblebees hinted it could adopt new behavior quickly, "should relevant ecological pressures arise," the paper concluded. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Walmart accused of turning blind eye to transfer fraud totaling millions of dollars
    Store giant brands watchdog's lawsuit 'factually misguided, legally flawed'

    The FTC has sued Walmart, claiming it turned a blind eye to fraudsters using its money transfer services to con folks out of "hundreds of millions of dollars."

    In a lawsuit [PDF] filed Tuesday, the US regulator claimed the superstore giant is "well aware" of telemarketing fraudsters and other scammers convincing victims to part with their hard-earned cash via its services, with the money being funneled to domestic and international crime rings.

    Walmart is accused of allowing these fraudulent money transfers to continue, failing to warn people to be on their guard, and failing to adopt policies and train employees on how to prevent these types of hustles.

    Continue reading
  • HPE unveils Arm-based ProLiant server for cloud-native workloads
    Looks like it went with Ampere – which means a certain Reg writer lost a bet

    Arm has a champion in the shape of HPE, which has added a server powered by the British chip designer's CPU cores to its ProLiant portfolio, aimed at cloud-native workloads for service providers and enterprise customers alike.

    Announced at the IT titan's Discover 2022 conference in Las Vegas, the HPE ProLiant RL300 Gen11 server is the first in a series of such systems powered by Ampere's Altra and Altra Max processors, which feature up to 80 and 128 Arm-designed Neoverse cores, respectively.

    The system is set to be available during Q3 2022, so sometime in the next three months, and is basically an enterprise-grade ProLiant server – but with an Arm CPU at its core instead of the more usual Intel Xeon or AMD Epyc X86 chips.

    Continue reading
  • US weather forecasters power up latest supercomputers to keep you out of the rain
    NOAA makes it rain for HPE, AMD

    Predicting the weather is a notoriously tricky enterprise, but that’s never held back America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After more than two years of development, the agency brought a pair of supercomputers online this week that it says will enable more accurate forecast models.

    Developed and maintained by General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) under an eight-year contract, the Cactus and Dogwood supers — named after the fauna native to the machines' homes in Phoenix, Arizona, and Manassas, Virginia, respectively — will support larger, higher-resolution models than previously possible. The cost to build, house, and support and operate these machines, now operational, will cost $150 million over the next five years, we understand.

    “People are looking for the best possible weather forecast information that they can get,” Brian Gross, director of the Environmental Modeling Center for the National Weather Service, told The Register.

    Continue reading
  • Google said to be taking steps to keep political campaign emails out of Gmail spam bin
    Just after Big Tech comes under fire for left and right-leaning message filters

    Google has reportedly asked the US Federal Election Commission for its blessing to exempt political campaign solicitations from spam filtering.

    The elections watchdog declined to confirm receiving the supposed Google filing, obtained by Axios, though a spokesperson said the FEC can be expected to publish an advisory opinion upon review if Google made such a submission.

    Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If the web giant's alleged plan gets approved, political campaign emails that aren't deemed malicious or illegal will arrive in Gmail users' inboxes with a notice asking recipients to approve continued delivery.

    Continue reading
  • China is trolling rare-earth miners online and the Pentagon isn't happy
    Beijing-linked Dragonbridge flames biz building Texas plant for Uncle Sam

    The US Department of Defense said it's investigating Chinese disinformation campaigns against rare earth mining and processing companies — including one targeting Lynas Rare Earths, which has a $30 million contract with the Pentagon to build a plant in Texas.

    Earlier today, Mandiant published research that analyzed a Beijing-linked influence operation, dubbed Dragonbridge, that used thousands of fake accounts across dozens of social media platforms, including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, to spread misinformation about rare earth companies seeking to expand production in the US to the detriment of China, which wants to maintain its global dominance in that industry. 

    "The Department of Defense is aware of the recent disinformation campaign, first reported by Mandiant, against Lynas Rare Earth Ltd., a rare earth element firm seeking to establish production capacity in the United States and partner nations, as well as other rare earth mining companies," according to a statement by Uncle Sam. "The department has engaged the relevant interagency stakeholders and partner nations to assist in reviewing the matter.

    Continue reading
  • California's attempt to protect kids online could end adults' internet anonymity
    Websites may be forced to verify ages of visitors unless changes made

    California lawmakers met in Sacramento today to discuss, among other things, proposed legislation to protect children online. The bill, AB2273, known as The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, would require websites to verify the ages of visitors.

    Critics of the legislation contend this requirement threatens the privacy of adults and the ability to use the internet anonymously, in California and likely elsewhere, because of the role the Golden State's tech companies play on the internet.

    "First, the bill pretextually claims to protect children, but it will change the Internet for everyone," said Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law professor, in a blog post. "In order to determine who is a child, websites and apps will have to authenticate the age of ALL consumers before they can use the service. No one wants this."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022