A quick note this Sunday morning about bumblebee intelligence that I saw on Earthsky.org based on a recent paper in PLOS Biology. Scientists trained a bumblebee to pull a string in order to gain access to sugar water, then had other bumblebees watch to see if they learned the skill (most did), put those bumblebees in new hives to see if the skill would be transmitted and it was. An insect version of cultural transmission. Now the scientists have the delightful job of figuring out how the bumblebee with its simpler nervous system manages that achievement.
In my simplified thinking, life has two main aspects that I have discussed before and that evolution continues to rhapsodize on. The first and original aspect I call SWP for ‘Solving World Problems’ because all life must figure out how to gain sustenance from the world. Evolutionary history concerns in large measure how different organisms solve this problem in their different niches. Learning to pull a string is, then, like finding an unknown flower and figuring out how to harvest what is needed. The second aspect I call CR for ‘Conspecific Relations’ because all life must produce the next generation and then with the advent of sexual reproduction some billions of years ago, must also figure out how to find the best mate and then raise the most vital family. Cultural transmission is a great way to improve skills while waiting for genetic evolution to increase adaptive abilities. So, bumblebees show they are good at both just like us and the rest of the animate world.
Coming soon: Dogs and lateralization. Travel on.