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Friday, January 06, 2023

Do Insects Play with Toys?

Mimicry learnings to be had?

Are these bumble bees playing with toys?

First example of insects seemingly having fun with objects adds to evidence for emotions

27 OCT 2022  11:00 Ambyerik Stokstad

Playtime isn’t just for children. Lab-kept bumble bees roll small wooden balls around for no apparent purpose other than fun, a new study reveals. The finding supports evidence that bees experience pleasure, researchers say, highlighting the importance of protecting them in the wild and treating them well when they’re kept in hives.

“It is super cool,” says Elizabeth Tibbetts, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who was not involved. “We usually think about insects as being so different that they lack sophisticated behaviors.” But not everyone is convinced the behavior is in fact play.

In animals, play helps the brain develop: Fox cubs pretend-fight to learn social skills, for example, and dolphins and whales jump and spin even without predators around. A study in 2006 described behavior in young wasps (Polistes dominula) that looked like play fighting, but whether other insects play hasn’t received much research attention.


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Lars Chittka, a behavioral ecologist at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and author of the recent book The Mind of a Bee, and colleagues stumbled upon the new evidence by accident. The team was studying how bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) learn complex behaviors from their comrades by training the insects to move wooden balls to specific locations. (If a bee moved a ball to the right place, it got a sugary treat.) The researchers noticed that some bees moved the balls even when no reward was offered. “They just seem to like going back to them and fiddling with them and rolling all over the place,” Chittka says.

Samadi Galpayage, then a master’s student at QMUL, was fascinated by the bees' many behaviors. “I couldn't help falling in love with them,” she says. “I stayed on to do a Ph.D. to learn more.”

Galpayage set up what was essentially a single-story apartment for the bees. At one end was the nest, which had a single entryway to a recreation center. The far end of the rec room connected to a cafeteria with an all-you-can-eat supply of pollen and sugar water. ... ' 

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