Science, Now + Beyond

5 facts you need to know about bees

Turns out one of nature's tiniest creatures might actually *bee* one of the most interesting.

Honestly, I’ve always been deathly afraid of bees.

Even though I know deep down that most bees are harmless unless they feel threatened, I can often be seen on my campus awkwardly dodging away from the swarms of bees that conglomerate near the classroom buildings. However, with all the talk recently about the importance of bees, I thought that I would give these little insects another shot, and it turns out that bees are pretty cool, interesting creatures. 

1. Their brains change whenever they switch jobs

[Image Description: A man pats his head and says "thanks, brain", via]
[Image Description: A man pats his head and says “thanks, brain”, via]
As honeybees age, the jobs that they take on within their colony changes.

Over time, the bees go from performing tasks like nursing to foraging and protecting the colony. Researchers discovered that peptide substances in the brains changed around the same time as the bee’s roles in their colonies change, meaning that brain chemistry in bees is related to their age and labor divisions. 

2. They can use basic “tools” to solve tasks

[Image Description: A woman holds up power tools, via]
[Image Description: A woman holds up power tools, via]
Scientists at Queens University of London set up a challenge for the bees they were researching on. They placed flowers containing sugar water under a table, and made sure that the only way the bees could access the sugar water was if they used a string to pull the flowers from the table. Once some of the bees learned how to use the string, they also were able to teach other bees in their colonies how to use the string to get the sugar water.

Many scientists have often assumed that only larger-brained animals can learn how to use tools and skills outside of their natural habitats, but the studies on bees are challenging those misconceptions.

3. Bumblebees can provide their own air conditioning

[Image Description: A man sweating profusely, via]
[Image Description: A man sweating profusely, via]
If bumblebees get overheated, they can actually die. So if they notice that their nests are getting a little too stuffy, worker bees will go to the entrance of their nests and flap all the hot air out of the nest. Essentially, the worker bees will take on the role of personal A/C unit until the nest goes back to the temperature it needs to be.

Living somewhere as warm as I do, I wish flapping my arms would have the same cooling effect.

4. They’re complex problem-solvers

[Image Description: Trevor Noah of The Daily Show saying "problem solved", via]
[Image Description: Trevor Noah of The Daily Show saying “problem solved”, via]
In another study conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University in London, bees were tasked with retrieving sugar water by pushing balls onto a target.

Given three different balls, all placed at different locations from the target, bees eventually discovered that they could move the balls closer to the target to retrieve the sugar water faster. Even when the researchers replaced the original yellow ball with a different colored one, the bees still released they needed to move the ball to the target to get their reward.

This shows that bees have the ability to understand and problem-solve, and researchers think this might be useful as bees adapt to human-made environmental changes.

5. They might experience emotions, just like humans

[Image Description: Sadness from Disney's Inside Out crying, via]
[Image Description: Sadness from Disney’s Inside Out crying, via]
In one test, researchers trained bees to associate a blue colored flower with the receiving of sugar water. Each time the bees would drink from a blue flower, they’d receive the sugar water; meanwhile, drinking from a similarly placed green flower would result in the bees drinking regular, unsweetened water. The researchers then placed a blue-green flower in the mix. They gave a group of the bees being studied sugar water and gave another group no sugar water. The bees who had the sugar water were more willing to fly to and drink from the unknown flower, showing that the bees with the sugar water might have been more optimistic about the chance for more sugar water.

This is similar to how sugary treats also improve humans’ moods.

Although these creatures often can inspire fear, they should inspire awe as well – bees are capable of doing a lot more than stinging.