, in particular, were long thought to be simple, reflexive creatures with hardwired instinctual behaviors. No more. Consider the amazing capabilities of the honeybee, Apis mellifera.
Martin Giurfa of the University of Toulouse in France and Mandyam Srinivasan and Shaowu Zhang, both at the Australian National University in Canberra, trained free-flying bees, using sugar water as a reward, in a variety of complex learning tasks. The neuroethologists taught the bees to fly in and out of tall cylinders with one entryway and two exit holes. Each bee had to choose one of two exits to leave the cylinder and to continue her flight. (In bee colonies, males are a small minority and do only one thing—and that only during the virginal flight of the colony’s queen.)
These cylinders were staggered into mazes with multiple levels of “Y” branch points that the bees encountered before reaching the desired feeder station. In one set of experiments, the scientists trained bees to track a trail of colored marks, as in a scavenger hunt. The bees could then follow—more or less—the same strategy in a completely unfamiliar maze. Amazingly enough, bees can use color in an abstract manner, turning right, for instance, when the branch point is colored blue and left when it is colored green. Individual animals developed quite sophisticated strategies, such as the right-turn rule, that always led to the goal, though not necessarily by the shortest route...
Bees are highly adaptive and sophisticated creatures with a bit fewer than one million neurons, which are interconnected in ways that are beyond our current understanding, jammed into less than one cubic millimeter of brain tissue. The neural density in the bee’s brain is about 10 times higher than that in a mammalian cerebral cortex, which most of us take to be the pinnacle of evolution on this planet."