Bees – under a different lens

Bee portraits on flickr

In his first book, Rattling the Cage, [lawyer Steven] Wise completely dismissed the idea that insects might reason. I told him I knew of much evidence that honeybees and other insects reason. He requested references. The evidence I supplied included the following: When a honeybee colony requires a new hive site, honeybee scouts search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size. Each scout evaluates potential sites and reports back, dancing about the site that she most recommends. A honeybee scout may advertise one site over a period of days, but she repeatedly inspects her choice. She also examines sites proposed by others. If a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honeybee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. In other words, she’s capable of changing her mind and her “vote.” Eventually colony members reach a consensus.

More evidence: Researchers at Princeton University showed some captive honeybees food placed on a boat in the middle of a lake. When the honeybees were released to return to their nearby hive, they communicated the food’s location to their sisters. No bees set out to the food. Then the researchers moved the food to the lake’s far shore. Again they showed the location to captive honeybees. Again the bees flew back to their hive and told their sisters where to find the food. Guess what? This time many other bees promptly set out, flying over the lake to the food. Honeybees have a mental map of their environment. A water location, in the middle of a lake, didn’t make sense. But the new location–on land–was plausible. Honeybees assess the information they receive and believe or disbelieve depending on its plausibility. To his “amazement and horror,” Wise found such evidence compelling. He now credits honeybees with the ability to reason. […]

The ability to reason has survival value for insects just as it does for humans. […]” — Joan Dunayer (Animal Equality)

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