Using sweet treats and months of patient coaching, scientists in England have taught a group of bumblebees how to play soccer.
The 18-month study at Queen Mary University of London saw scientists train 50 bees to move a small yellow ball to a circled location in order to score a goal and receive a sugary food reward.
The first group of bees then showed others in the colony how to play, with the second group impressing scientists by expanding the game.
“The bees solved the task in a different way than what was demonstrated, suggesting that observer bees did not simply copy what they saw, but improved on it,” said Olli J. Loukola, who co-led the study.
“This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect.”
Their sporting prowess follows a study last year where the scientists taught bees to pull strings to get food and then relay what they learned to others.
Co-author professor Lars Chittka said it had taken months to teach the first bees how to play football, but that the second group picked up the game from their colony peers within 30 minutes.
Chittka said further studies would follow to better understand how an insect with a brain the size of the head of a pin could learn so much.
“Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioral flexibility,” he said.