Many animals enjoy playing, often just because they enjoy it. Pet owners know this applies to cats, dogs, and even rodents, and scientists have observed the same playful behavior in some species of fish, frogs, lizards, and birds. But what about insects? Do they have mental faculties and lifestyles complex enough to allow play?
New research recently published in the journal animal behavior Posted, Bumblebees seem to love playing with wooden balls without learning the behavior or getting anything in return: they seem to enjoy doing it.
“It shows that bees are more than just little robots that only respond to certain stimuli (…) and that they do things because they enjoy them,” said lead author Samadi Galpayage Dona, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London.
The results of the new research are another indication that bees may be more complex creatures than previously thought. If they are really playing just for fun, it raises a number of important questions about the emotional lives of these animals, including whether they have self-awareness.
Subspecies of bees Bombus Terrestris Audax It is the most common species of bumblebee in Europe. They are spotted in parks and gardens and are often used to pollinate greenhouse plants. But scientists now know that these mysterious and noisy insects are highly social creatures with amazing cognitive abilities. In 2017, a study by scientists at Queen Mary University of London found that bumblebees can learn to “play soccer” with small wooden balls and even score “goals” for a reward.
But during the study, the academics realized that some bumblebees on the outskirts of the study seemed to enjoy playing with wooden balls, without any apparent incentive or prospect of a reward. To test whether bumblebees really do this for fun, Galpayage Dona conducted a number of experiments. During one of these, 45 bees were placed in a ‘playground’ connected by a track to a separate feeding area, with eighteen colored balls on either side of the track. Bumblebees can walk straight to the feeding spot without any hindrances, but if they want to, they can do something with yellow, purple or wood-colored balls. The experiment lasted for eighteen days, during which the bees walked up and down the track for three hours a day. On one side of the track, the balls were glued to the bottom, and on the other they were loose.
Bumblebees (distinguished by age and gender) seemed to prefer the side of the track where the moving balls were and did a lot of things with them. Several times they rolled the balls with their bodies across the court. Some bees did it only once, others did it 44 times in one day, and one bee rolled a ball 117 times over the course of the experiment.
The fact that the bees keep returning to the balls and beginning to roll them “suggests that they are enjoying some form of pleasure from this activity,” Galbayaj Donna says, stressing that there is evidence that such behaviors as “play” can be understood, as data collected links With previous research on playful behavior in animals. Male bees seem to play with balls longer than female bees, a pattern that has also been observed during similar research into playing behavior in vertebrates. It also turned out that bumblebees younger than three days old rolled more balls than bumblebees older than ten days. This is also related to previous research into play behavior in other animal species.
“The fact that younger specimens play more often may be related to their preparation for the adult life they will live,” said Elizabeth Franklin, a behavioral ecologist at Cornwall College in Newquay who studies social insects but was not involved in the new study.
According to scientific standards co-created by Gordon Burghart, an ethicist at the University of Tennessee, play should be voluntary, spontaneous, or enjoyable in and of itself. Play activity is a behavior that does not have a direct and obvious function, such as gathering food, seeking shelter, or mating.
According to Burghardt, who was not involved in the new study, the study describes some of the “best experiences” regarding play behavior in animals, all of whose data and parameters have been carefully tested. In this way, it was ensured that rolling the wooden ball never found food. The nectar and pollen that the bees need can be found in the other room without any problem, without the insects having to play with balls. In their ball handling, the bees never used their proboscis or nose to find the sweet reward, nor did they attempt to bite the balls. More importantly, they also came back one or even two different days after foraging to roll the balls. (In the wild, bees have been observed to discard flowers that have run out of nectar.)