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Male Bumblebees are Just as Smart as Female Worker Bees

First Posted: Nov 16, 2015 10:01 AM EST

It turns out that male bumblebees are just as smart as female worker bees, despite their reputation. Scientists have found that male bumblebees can distinguish between artificial flowers that contain food and others that don't.

Roles within a bee colony are tightly regulated with sterile female bees, known as worker bees, performing the labor within the colony. They collect and store food and feed the young. Male bumblebees, in contrast, are believed to have few aptitudes beyond mating and are thought to be slow-witted.

"Despite fundamental differences in the daily habits between male and female bees, this work illustrates that male bees can be clever shoppers in the flower supermarket even when their main interest is in mating," said Stephen Wolf, lead author of the new study, in a news release.

In this latest study, the researchers tested bees' ability to associate flower color with a food reward. Flower colors were changed after some time, and bees had to forget the previously learned cue and learn a new color.

So what did the researchers find? It turns out that both male and female bees could learn and re-learn which flowers had a food reward over f our sequential color changes. It turns out that male and worker bees are equally smart, though males are more interested in mating than with finding food.

"Since bumblebee males can't sting, they are a useful model to study insect learning behavior without the constant risk of painful encounters," said Lars Chittka, co-author of the new study.

The findings could have implications for future insect research on bumblebee intelligence.

The findings are published in the journal Animal Behavior.

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