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article imageStealing is something that can be learned, even if you're a bumblebee

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     May 2, 2008 in Science
Gnawing on a flower in order to get to its nectar could be considered theft. Bumblebees teach each other how to do that, but not by looking at each other directly, according to two British researchers.
Insects such as bees and bumblebees transport pollen from one flower to another, and get paid for this work in nectar. Many flowers are very deep, which means that the visitors have to go far inside in order to get to the nectar. Not all of them like to do that. Some miscreants bite a small hole in the flower's neck and slurp the nectar out of there without pollen contact. According to Ellouise Leadbeater and Lars Chittka in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, bees and bumblebees can learn this type of behaviour.
They first tried to find out if the bumblebees start gnawing little holes after they had seen perforated flowers. That was indeed the case. When they encountered a flower with a little hole, they first sucked the nectar out of there. After that, approximately 7 in 10 bumblebees started to gnaw their own holes, in the right spots, in order to steal nectar.
Later on, they tried to find out if a bumblebee would learn this behaviour from simply observing other bumblebees, but this was not the case. They only learn from the theft traces of others, they don't learn by watching what the others do.
More about Bumblebee, Bees, Nature, Leadbetter chittka
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