First proven game of insects: bees roll balls on the ground

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of entomologists has unveiled a new study showing how insects play with marbles even in the absence of rewards. According to them, this is the first of its kind evidence of play behavior in insects.

In previous experiments where bees were taught to score goals with wooden balls for treats, scientists at Queen Mary University of London noticed something unexpected: Some bees voluntarily rolled balls outside of the experiment without any stimulus.

The fact that they did this of their own free will led the researchers to think that they may have enjoyed it, much like a dog playing with a fluffy toy.

To test this idea, groups of bumblebees were placed in an arena where they had free access to a feeder and a wooden ball area.

And they actually started rolling these balls voluntarily, which indicates that they received some kind of reward for their non-food behavior.

In another round of the experiment, the bees were given access to a pair of colored chambers, one containing marbles and the other completely empty.

Then the balls were removed, but the bees still preferred the chamber, where they spent time with wooden balls.

It was found that young bees rolled balls more than old ones, and males rolled them longer than females.

But satisfying the criteria for play behavior was not as easy as removing the sugar reward, as there are other reasons why bees might be addicted to marbles.

However, according to the idea set forth by evolutionary biologist Gordon Burghardt, play behavior should be repetitive, not one-time, and it should not be a response to stress.

There were no signs of stress or mating-like behavior when encountering the marbles, and the behaviors themselves differed from object manipulation seen when handling flowers and stinging when the bees were in an agitated state.

Scientists report that ball rolling meets behavioral criteria for play similar to those recorded in other animal species, and believe that that the results obtained are the first evidence of play behavior with objects in insects.

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