Recently, a truly jaw-dropping video made its way on to the internet.
Taken by a worker in São Paulo, Brazil, it shows two bees working together to unscrew the cap on a bottle of Fanta. Behold...
The little Portuguese caption in the video, Trabalho em equipe é tudo, really says it all: "Teamwork is everything!"
But is that really everything? Or is there more than meets the eye? What are we seeing here?
The video has attracted a lot of attention, and it's easy to see why. It's two bees, and they're unscrewing a bottle cap! But the video does bring up some real questions about just what tasks bees have the intelligence to figure out.
We already know that social insects like ants, termites, and bees can perform impressive tasks as a group. Each insect in the group has a role to play, from soldier to nursery tender, farmer to gatherer. And whether it's leafcutter ants growing fungus to feed their young or bees 'dancing' to instruct others on where to find a food source, they collaborate and work together extremely well.
But for years, most insect experts have stated that these abilities are based on instinct—the animals are born knowing how to do these things. So just because a group of bees can communicate certain things, it doesn't mean that they can learn sign language or how to read maps.
They couldn't learn new tasks. Or so we thought...
In the last few years, more and more studies of bees have been trying to push the limits of their smarts. And the bees are performing very well.
In one 2017 study, bees proved that they could learn unfamiliar behaviour by observing one another as a group. In this case, they learned how to roll a ball together to a location to receive a reward. Despite failing many times, the insects stuck with it, improved their technique, and figured it out. Then, they were able to do it over and over again, quickly and efficiently.
Which brings us back to the bottle cap. Surely the bees could sense that their was something sweet and yummy inside—the nectar that they feed on in flowers is essentially just sugary water, much like this orange soda. But did the bees know what they were doing? Or did they just get lucky?
To be clear, this is just a viral video, not a scientific study. But when you think of the ball study and compare it to this video, it's easy to ask: Why wouldn't the bees have known what they were doing?
Here's hoping that someone does a study soon to find out!