A bee’s brain is smaller than that of a human, yet it can memorize the colours of flowers, calculate distances, and provide adequate sight. If the brain of a bee can complete complex tasks, similar to the human brain, this leads into the question of how do bees learn? A strange question for a small creature may be able to recognize the fascinating capabilities of their small brains and help understand different psychological conditions in humans.
The recent study on bees’ brains has been able to redefine the understanding of intelligence by being able to uncover that they learn through communication and social cues. Studies on bees have also been helpful in the medical world by showing the deep evolutionary conservation of autism-related genes. Lastly, studies have been able to explain the evolution of consciousness.
Therefore, through the recent research on bees, we have substantial knowledge of the similarities of the human and bee brain, which allows us to make evolutionary connections in behaviour, and genes. Although humans learn through social cues and communication, bees also possess the ability to learn from other bees. For example, a study with a group of naïve and informative bees shows how this works.
A group of naïve bees does not participate in the learning phase, while the informative group does. The learning stage for bees in the informative group consists of the presence of 12 flowers in an enclosed space with only four containing sucrose, and dead ‘demonstrator’ bees pinned in a foraging position to these flowers. After the learning stage for the informative group, both groups are placed in the area where all 12 of the flowers contained only water, and demonstrators are pinned to four arbitrarily chosen flowers (Leadbeater, 2008).
What is the behaviour in bees that have never had the opportunity to learn about social cues? Naive bees showed a preference for occupied flowers, although there was no sucrose, which was significantly higher than chance expectations; however, the preference for occupied flowers was higher in the bees who participated in the learning phase (Leadbeater, 2008). Just like humans, bees learn through experience. By seeing other bees on flowers, it shows the bee the quality of the flower, despite there only containing water (Reina et al., 2018). This visual communication is vital.
Moreover, naturally, language is a crucial factor in human success. Intelligence is required for both these things, so does this mean bees, with a minuscule brain, are intelligent? One attempt, from the American Psychological Association Task Force on Intelligence, defines it as the ability “to adapt efficiently to the environment and to learn from experience.”. Therefore, recent research on bees helps link evolutionary intelligence between humans and bees, which allows the scientific community to understand furthermore about the way humans learn. Moreover, the study on bees allows us to gain information in the medical field.
More specifically, autism-related genes in humans. A study done to test the responsiveness of bees in social situations shows a potential overlap in the genome of bees and humans. A group of responsive and unresponsive, more antisocial, bees are tested. Unresponsive bees are exposed individually to a queen larva, which results in showing underperformance, even though this test provided each bee with a stronger social stimulus than it would receive in a group (Shpigler et al.
, 2017). To confirm these results, a study of their genome must be conducted. The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) database is divided into sets of genes that vary in the confidence level with which they are related to autism spectrum disorder. When comparing the bee database of the essential gene list (DEG) to the highest confidence SFARI sets for autism spectrum disorder, the overlap was statistically significant (Shpigler et al., 2017). The results of the said test revealed an overlap between unresponsive honey bees’ gene profile and genes closely associated with autism in humans (Shpigler et al.
, 2017). Researchers also discovered that there’s no overlap between genes linked to depression, schizophrenia or other mental conditions. Despite the physical differences of humans and bees, there are close similarities with regards to social responsiveness, which suggests that this trait could arise from convergent evolution. Lastly, studies on bees have been able to show the evolution of consciousness. For example, a study conducted to test a bee’s consciousness is performed.
A colour disk is set up at the entrance of a maze which serves as a cue so that the bee sees it before entering. Once within the maze, the bee has to choose the arm displaying the color that matches the color at the entrance. Bees perform this task well. They are even able to adapt to a situation they have never previously encountered. Once they are trained with colors, they understand the concept and can now follow a trail of vertical stripes, if a disk with vertical gratings is left at the entrance of the maze. These experiments tell us that bees have learned an abstract relation, and task-relevant information, which is associated with conscious processing (Koch, 2012).
Furthermore, a theory by Giulio Tononi, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, advocates for a sophisticated theory that links information to consciousness. He introduces a way to measure consciousness in the unit of ? (phi). The larger the phi, the higher quality of conscious existence that organism has. Any organism whose functional connectivity yields higher than a zero has some knowledge of their existence, including the brains of bees (Koch, 2012). Just because bees are small insects does not mean that they cannot have states of awareness.
Since they do have states of awareness, they can gain information, which allows us to see how humans may have evolved from a bee’s consciousness, into a higher state of consciousness containting conscious thought, self-consciousness, and ego. Therefore, the information gained from research on bees is essential to humans as it helps us learn about our connection to bees, and what behaviours humans may have evolved from them. Firstly, by finding the way bees communicate with each other through social cues, we gain insight on the similarities between the way humans and bees communicate. Bees are more likely to be attracted to flowers with more bees on it, communicating visually with actions that it is a high-quality flower, similar to humans where we may verbally communicate to another person. In general, it says a lot about other animals. Social cues allow animals to be discerning about when to respond to others’ behaviour (Leadbeater, 2008).
Furthermore, when comparing the bee genome to that of a human, it gives insight into how we may have evolved from a bee, as there is an overlap in the autism gene. Comparative genomics thus can determine rigorously whether behavioral similarities between humans and distantly related species reflect common mechanisms, proving helpful to the scientific community, thus providing a means to further research bees. Lastly, assessing a bee’s consciousness not only shows how intelligent a small creature can be, but it also shows how they process information and points out the similarities of how our consciousness evolved from a bee, seeing how we developed conscious thought. To conclude, through the recent research on bees, we have substantial knowledge of the similarities of the human and bee brain, which allows us to make evolutionary connections in behaviour, and genes.