Bumblebees show cognitive flexibility by improving on an observed complex behavior

Olli J. Loukola*, Clint J. Perry, Louie Coscos, Lars Chittka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Citations (Scopus)


We explored bees' behavioral flexibility in a task that required transporting a small ball to a defined location to gain a reward. Bees were pretrained to know the correct location of the ball. Subsequently, to obtain a reward, bees had to move a displaced ball to the defined location. Bees that observed demonstration of the technique from a live or model demonstrator learned the task more efficiently than did bees observing a "ghost" demonstration (ball moved via magnet) or without demonstration. Instead of copying demonstrators moving balls over long distances, observers solved the task more efficiently, using the ball positioned closest to the target, even if it was of a different color than the one previously observed. Such unprecedented cognitive flexibility hints that entirely novel behaviors could emerge relatively swiftly in species whose lifestyle demands advanced learning abilities, should relevant ecological pressures arise.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA34
Pages (from-to)833-836
Number of pages4
Issue number6327
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


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