Bee Team: Bumblebees Can Cooperate To Push LEGO Bricks, According to Science

Bees actually wait for help to arrive before trying to muscle a toy brick around.
Bees wait for back-up to arrive.
Bees wait for back-up to arrive. / pskeltonphoto/Moment via Getty Images

Bees are one of nature’s most effective collaborators, constantly working for the betterment of the hive. But the extent of their ability to work in tandem is perhaps more significant than originally thought. In a strange environment, bees can learn teamwork to conquer obstacles. Even LEGO bricks.

In new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (presumably no pun intended), scientists at the University of Oulu in Finland corralled bumblebees to observe how they tackled challenges that required cooperation to obtain a reward—in this case, nectar. Pairs of bees were presented with two obstacles. In one test, a LEGO brick had to be pushed forward to retrieve the nectar underneath. In the second, bees had to push a door in a bee-sized corridor at the same time to get to their treat.

The researchers started by having the bees move Styrofoam blocks; once the insects comprehended that moving the lightweight obstacle was key to getting the nectar, a hollowed-out LEGO brick was used.

The bees were trained both as teams and as single participants, the latter being the control group. In teams, bees without a partner tended to take longer to begin pushing an obstacle than the control bees, demonstrating an understanding that a partner was needed to complete the task successfully.

In the case of the door, bees would even turn around and return to their starting point. Upon seeing their teammate arrive, they would reverse direction and begin heading back toward the door.

You can see the bees in action below:

“The study’s findings challenge conventional notions of insects, and the ability to work together towards a common goal is present even in the miniature brain of bumblebees,” lead researcher and associate professor, Dr Olli Loukola, said in a statement. “Our findings show for the first time that bumblebees can learn to solve novel cooperative tasks outside the hive. But the coolest part of this work is that it clearly demonstrates that bumblebee cooperation is socially influenced, and not just driven by individual efforts.”

Plenty of animals have demonstrated collaboration, including dolphins, but it’s not as easily documented in creatures with what the Oulu paper dubbed a “miniature brain," which is a bit of a backhanded compliment.

The researchers were quick to caution that further investigation is needed to determine the extent of how social factors influence bees. Still, waiting for bee back-up to power through a LEGO piece is compelling evidence that they know the value of teamwork.

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