Bumble Bees play Ball and score Goals

Did you know that bumble bees play ball? A new study at the Queen Mary University in London, UK showed that bumble bees don´t just work, – they also enjoy recreation time playing ball! The unprecedented discovery revealed that bumble bees may play to experience what humans call ´positive feelings´.

The researchers placed 45 bumble bees into an arena where they were presented with 2 paths to get to food. The first path had no obstructions leading straight to the food. The second path led to an area with wooden balls. They observed that over the experiment the bees rolled the ball between 1 to 117 times. This led to the assumption that bees actually ´enjoy´ playing as there were not given a reward to do so.

Younger Bees play more than older Ones

The researchers also observed that younger bees rolled more balls than older ones. This suggests, that similar to humans, younger children or bumble bees are more playful. They also observed that male bees rolled the balls longer than their female bumble bees.

The teams findings were further confirmed when they performed another experiment without offering any rewards to the bees. For this, they used 42 bees that were not used in the previous experiment and gave them access to two colored chambers, one with moveable balls while the other chamber was empty. Later, the team removed the balls from the second chamber. They gave the bees the option to chose either chamber. They observed that they preferred the chamber that previously contained the balls. Given that the bees were not subjected to stress during the experiment nor offered an incentive, the researchers concluded that bumble bees play ball as ´enjoyment´. The finding was supported considering that playing ball served no other purpose, such as obtaining food, cleaning, mating or as a survival strategy. 

Bumble Bees can be trained to score goals

The team continued their experiments to prove that bumble bees can even be trained to score goals. For this experiment, the team offered a sugary reward for rolling a ball to a target to some of the bees, but even when they took the reward away, the bees kept on rolling the ball. Their action was spontaneous and voluntary. This type of play behavior resembles that of other animals.

PhD student and team leader of the study, Samadi Galpayage, said,

“It is certainly mind-blowing, at times amusing, to watch bumble bees show something like play. They approach and manipulate these ‘toys’ again and again. It goes to show, once more, that despite their little size and tiny brains, they are more than small robotic beings. They may actually experience some kind of positive emotional states, even if rudimentary, like other larger fluffy, or not so fluffy, animals do. This sort of finding has implications to our understanding of sentience and welfare of insects and will, hopefully, encourage us to respect and protect life on Earth ever more.”

Professor of Sensory and Behavioral Ecology and author of the recent book ´The Mind of a Bee´, Prof. Lars Chittka, added,

“This research provides a strong indication that insect minds are far more sophisticated than we might imagine. There are lots of animals who play just for the purposes of enjoyment, but most examples come from young mammals and birds. We are producing ever-increasing amounts of evidence backing up the need to do all we can to protect insects that are a million miles from the mindless, unfeeling creatures they are traditionally believed to be.”

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