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Psychic Animals and Football-Playing Bees

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Working in the field of animal behaviour means that around World Cup season it’s hard to avoid being sent links to so-called ‘psychic’ animals that predict the outcome of matches, such as Paul the octopus, Leon the porcupine and Anton the tamarin.

However, while these animals may have made predictions useful to people placing bets on the outcome of matches, none of these animals actually had the opportunity to play football for themselves. So, this World Cup, me and my fellow scientists in the bee lab decided to let our bumblees have a kick about. The results of this experiment are below.

Clearly, my bees aren’t psychic, but I think they can still tell us something. What these bees show us is, firstly, they are very driven to collect pollen. The ‘football’ in this video is just a small pompom bought from a craft store, covered in pollen, and as you can see the two worker bees are going totally mad for it. And this makes sense – pollen is the main source of protein for bees, so even though they need nectar all the time (like a hummingbird) to keep going, pollen is also very important for them. It’s also what they use to feed their larvae (babies), so yes, pretty important.

Secondly, bees are relatively flexible in their behaviour in that they can cope with foraging in quite diverse environments. What do I mean by this? Well, I think we can safely say that in the wild a bee would never be collecting pollen off a minature football off a somewhat shoddily-build pitch with a collection of dead nestmates looking on. However, bees are extremely good at dealing with foraging in diverse environments, something that comes from a being a generalist forager who collects nectar and pollen off hundreds or more different types of flowers.

If you’d like to see my bees play in some upcoming sporting events feel free to give suggestions!

Felicity Muth About the Author: Felicity Muth is an early-career researcher with a PhD in animal cognition. Follow on Twitter @notbadscience.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. hkraznodar 5:29 pm 07/25/2014

    Now if only human footballers played in front of the unburied dead…

    Link to this

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