Bees Tooling Around

For years we've given them names like worker bees, even carpenter bees. Only now do we realize how apt these names truly are.

You can now add bees to the rarefied list of tool-using animals, which already includes primates, crows, octopods, otters, porpoises, and more. A fascinating set of experiments has revealed that bees can be taught to use tools, even though they don't use them in the wild.

Gives a whole new meaning to the birds and the bees. Coming next century, the tools we teach them to use are sex toys.

But were the bees just blindly imitating what they saw other insects do? To answer that question, Loukola put the trained bees in new kinds of situations. When offered a choice between three balls, the bees always chose to move the one that was closest to the center—even though they'd been trained in a situation where the two closest balls were glued down, and only the farthest ball could be moved. They also chose to use black balls, despite being trained on yellow ones. "The bees did not simply copy the behavior of the demonstrator but rather improved on the observed behavior by using a more optimal route," Loukola and his colleagues wrote in a recent paper in Science.

If you want to have  a rough day, go to a random high school's algebra class and show the kids an example of how to solve a simple quadratic equation. See if they can apply those rules a similarly straight forward but distinctly different equation. Cry your yourself to sleep.