Bees’ Brains

Bees are in a class by themselves as pollinators, a role that requires a sophisticated mind, says one expert. Photograph: Alamy

Stories about bees in our pages are the proverbial bees knees, again, this time with some information on their sense of the world:

‘Bees are sentient’: inside the stunning brains of nature’s hardest workers

‘Fringe’ research suggests the insects that are essential to agriculture have emotions, dreams and even PTSD, raising complex ethical questions

When Stephen Buchmann finds a wayward bee on a window inside his Tucson, Arizona, home, he goes to great lengths to capture and release it unharmed. Using a container, he carefully traps the bee against the glass before walking to his garden and placing it on a flower to recuperate.

Buchmann’s kindness – he is a pollination ecologist who has studied bees for over 40 years – is about more than just returning the insect to its desert ecosystem. It’s also because Buchmann believes that bees have complex feelings, and he’s gathered the science to prove it.

This March, Buchmann released a book that unpacks just how varied and powerful a bee’s mind really is. The book, What a Bee Knows: Exploring the Thoughts, Memories and Personalities of Bees, draws from his own research and dozens of other studies to paint a remarkable picture of bee behavior and psychology. It argues that bees can demonstrate sophisticated emotions resembling optimism, frustration, playfulness and fear, traits more commonly associated with mammals. Experiments have shown bees can experience PTSD-like symptoms, recognize different human faces, process long-term memories while sleeping, and maybe even dream.

Buchmann is part of a small but growing group of scientists doing what he calls “fringe” research seeking to understand the full emotional capacity of bees. His research has radically changed the way he relates to the insects – not only does he now avoid killing them in his house, he has also significantly reduced lethal and insensitive treatment of specimens for his research.

“Two decades ago, I might have treated a bee differently,” Buchmann says…

Read the whole article here.

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