Bees Get Some Respect

October 3, 2016

As beekeepers, we were heartened to learn that federal law now protects seven species of bees from Hawaii. Amazingly, this is the first time in history that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has added an insect to the endangered species list.

This endangered species listing will help promote efforts to protect these native bees. These initiatives include providing incentives to build artificial nest boxes that keep ants out and locating the boxes in areas where bees can reestablish their population. The listing will also encourage the conservation of their remaining natural habitat. It’s a great step forward in reversing the decline of these important pollinators!

In other bee-related news, scientists have discovered some incredible insights into how bees learn. Their findings suggest that bees are not only capable of learning new behavior, but can teach that behavior to other bees. We have long known that animals like primates can teach others of their kind how to wash vegetables in water or to hunt for termites using branches fashioned into brushes, for example.

Bees Eating Honey

Scientists taught bees how to perform a “coiled-string test,” which is similar to tests used previously in animal cognition research and is a behavior that they would not normally perform in the wild. It involved pulling a small disc coated with a sugary substance and attached to a string out from under an obstruction. The bees that learned this skill were able to teach others in their hive and then these newly-instructed bees were able to then show additional bees. The researchers concluded that “Cultural transmission does not require the high cognitive sophistication specific to humans, nor is it a distinctive feature of humans.”

As beekeepers, we think that these findings are really cool and as humans, we are humbled, as we clearly are not the only species on this planet capable of learning and sharing that knowledge with others. This is just one more reason why bees deserve our respect. So when you enjoy honey from Bee America, you can rest assured that it comes from very smart bees!