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Brainy bees?

Scientists underestimate the thinking and learning ability of creatures yet again.


Published: 21 March 2017 (GMT+10)

Recently, a study demonstrated the ability of certain bumblebees to pull strings attached to disks from under plastic covers to get a food reward.1 Of course, we already know that bees are incredible navigators that can find the perfect flower for their needs. But what was more remarkable about this study was that this learned behaviour or ‘new knowledge’ was quickly passed on to other members of the colony. Who knew that the lowly bumblebee could learn from other bees just by watching them!?

Entomologists have long debated whether insects have the capacity to think. And, of course, their nervous systems are quite different. Unlike humans and animals, insects do not have pain receptors (nociceptors) to transfer what we would think of as important information to their tiny brains. The consensus for many years was that insect behaviour is simply hard-wired due to millions of years of evolution and selection. The ability of these bees to solve problems clearly indicates otherwise.

Scuba-diving spider

Scuba-diving spiders

Here is another marvellous example of the thinking ability of ‘lesser’ creatures that were thought to only act out of instinct. Some spiders (arachnids) can capture a bubble of air using the hairy filaments of their legs and some silk.2 They then use the trapped air bubble to breathe underwater in order to capture prey. When first discovered, it was thought that this practice would only allow them to last 20 minutes or so. But these spiders have now been observed living underwater for up to a full day. They not only capture prey underwater but eat it there, too. The underwater environment is a totally unnatural place for creatures that require air to breathe. Yet, somehow, they reasoned there was a food source underwater and figured out a way to capture it. How such behaviour is passed on remains a mystery.

Flesh-eating chimps

Of course, we should not be surprised when mammals display learned behaviour. However, it would be fair to say that anthropologists were shocked when a video arose of groups of chimpanzees working together to corral much smaller colobus monkeys up into trees where other chimps were waiting to prey on them. Our thoughts of cute, cuddly, banana-eating chimps soon changed when we saw horrific images of them smashing the skulls of other primates to get at their brains. When asked why the chimps developed this supposedly unusual behaviour, most anthropologists reason that it is because they like the taste of meat!3 Of course, most humans can relate to that, yet Genesis 1:29–30 clearly indicates that humans (and primates like chimps) were originally created vegetarian. This discovery of this astounding behaviour means that chimpanzee are no longer solely regarded as herbivores but omnivores.

It’s another case of scientific assumptions being proven wrong, whether based upon evolutionary precepts or otherwise. Such abilities are often underestimated because no credit is given to the fact that a Creator has endowed many living things with gifts such as the ability to problem-solve.

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Further Reading

References and notes

  1. O’Hare, R., Brainy bees learn how to pull strings to get food, and then teach the rest of their colony to do the same,, October 2016. Return to text.
  2. Bryner, J., Scuba Spiders: Diving Arachnids Can Breathe Underwater,, June 2011. Return to text.
  3. Predators–Meat Eating Chimps,, accessed March 2017. Return to text.

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