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Art Woods, Marty Martin
Which animals are conscious, and how can we tell? Does it matter? Although many people think of insects as simple organisms that react in preprogrammed ways to their environments, scientists know increasingly that insect have subtle and complex forms of behavior and learning. But are they conscious?
On this episode, we talk with Lars Chittka, a biologist at Queen Mary University of London who studies the evolution of sensory systems and cognition in insects. Lars studies how bumblebees and other insects solve complex problems, and his results show unequivocally that they are incredibly flexible and creative. They clearly are not organic robots.
In Lars’s experiments, bees learn how to roll balls onto targets by watching other bees, they secure rewards by using tools, and they even plan for the future and store representations of objects in their minds. This last trait many scientists thought was restricted just to vertebrates.
You can check out some videos of Lars’ research here: Hints of tool use, culture seen in bumblebees, Ball-rolling bees reveal complex learning, Bumblebees learn to roll balls for reward, and Radar-track bees' flight in 3 dimensions
Length of Episode
37 minutes, 50 seconds
Digital File Format
Woods, Art and Martin, Marty, "Episode 046: Smarthropods: Cognition in Insects" (2020). BigBiology Podcasts. 47.