A first-of-its-kind study suggests that bumblebees play with objects just for fun, as humans or dogs do.
According to peer-reviewed research conducted by a team at Queen Mary University of London and published in the journal Animal Behaviour, bumblebees seemed to spend time playing with wooden balls for enjoyment.
Researchers wrote in the paper, “We found that ball rolling did not contribute to immediate survival strategies, was intrinsically rewarding, differed from functional behaviour in form, was repeated but not stereotyped, and was initiated under stress-free conditions.”
This led to their belief that what they were witnessing was animal play.
HOW THE EXPERIMENTS WORKED
Researchers initially conducted numerous experiments involving bumblebees that were trained to roll balls for a food reward. In the earlier study, researchers noticed that the bees sometimes seemed to play with balls for no reason, even when there was no reward present.
They then tried a different experiment, during which researchers observed that bumblebees were finding several ways to detour around their food rewards, stopping to play with the wooden balls.
The study involved putting 45 bumblebees in an “arena” and giving them the options of travelling straight to a food area or detouring to reach wooden balls. Many of the bees chose the balls first, seemingly for no reason other than fun.
The bees chose the balls first, instead of food, between 1 and 117 times.
WHAT ELSE THEY DISCOVERED
In another observation, 42 bumblebees were given access to blue and yellow chambers and one of the coloured chambers contained balls inside.
Researchers then removed the wooden balls, and found that the bees chose the chamber that used to contain them, suggesting they may have expected to find the balls still inside.
The study also found that the younger bumblebees continued playing for more time than the older ones, and evidence suggested that bees may feel positive while playing with the object.
When it comes to differences between sexes, the study found that male bumblebees rolled the wooden balls for a longer duration than females.
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