WATCH: Finnish researchers reveal bumblebees’ social intelligence with Lego experiments

Researchers in Finland explored the cognitive capabilities of bumblebees by training them to interact with Lego bricks, revealing intriguing insights into their collaborative behavior. The bees didn’t construct intricate Lego structures, but their interactions with the bricks highlighted their ability to respond to their partners’ actions, indicating a level of social intelligence.

Olli Loukola, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Oulu, led the study, which was published on May 1 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Loukola noted that the bees adjusted their movements based on their partners’ actions, showcasing unexpected social coordination. These findings could impact fields like robotics and agriculture, where understanding bee behavior might lead to innovations.

James Dorey, a biological scientist from the University of Wollongong, praised the study for demonstrating bees’ complex learning abilities and cooperative behaviors, traditionally associated with more cognitively advanced animals. The Finnish researchers trained one group of bees to work in pairs and another to act alone while moving styrofoam and Lego blocks. Observations revealed that paired bees preferred to wait for their partners before completing tasks, unlike solitary bees.

The study builds on previous research suggesting bees’ capability for collaboration. In another task, bees had to simultaneously touch a door to access nectar, and they showed similar cooperative behavior. Loukola emphasized that bumblebees exhibit cognitive flexibility and actively coordinate with partners, a significant finding in understanding insect cooperation.

This research adds to the growing evidence of bees’ intelligence, with previous studies showing honeybees’ understanding of abstract concepts like zero and tool use for defense. Dorey believes such insights could be applied in agriculture, where training bees to respond to specific cues could enhance crop pollination. The study highlights the importance of recognizing and protecting the cognitive abilities of these essential insects.