Behind the Bee Brain

A bee’s brain weighs in at just 0.0002% of a human’s, so why is it worth our time to study it?

Because bees are much, much smarter, both individually and as a hive, than their little brains let on. The bee brain only contains about a million neurons, while humans have about 100 billion. Somehow, bees are capable of complex reasoning and storing memories over miles and miles of flight, and recent research has begun to show that little bee brains might be the key to understanding our own.

In recent studies, scientists showed that bees are able to understand abstract relationships. Bees were given a clue before being given a choice between two paths. In repeated trials, bees were able to use the clues to figure out if the reward was above or below, the same or different, or to the left or right. That’s remarkable for any animal to figure out, but especially for an insect, which generally have smaller, less-developed brains than mammals.

One explanation for bees’ outsize intelligence is their tendency to live in highly organized, eusocial hives. This means that they have to be able to make decisions for the well-being of the hive as a group. Because bees don’t live all that long, they can’t pass on the locations of pollen-packed flowers or nearby dangers to the next generation. Every individual, from worker bees to the queen, has to have the smarts to figure most things out on their own. This allows a hive to thrive even as large portions of its population die off every year.

All these brainy scout bees are better at finding their favorite local pollen sources and then reporting their findings back to the hive with the aptly named “waggle dance.” Working together, bees are able to pick up the massive amounts of pollen and nectar needed to create local honey – all without human guidance. It takes a lot of skill for a travelling beekeeper to position their bees in right spot to pollinate, but it’s still up to each bee to find and pick a flower they like.

Is all this bee brilliance getting your brain buzzing? Put that big brain of yours to work and help us protect our pollinators. Or, help out by checking our wide variety of local honeys made in the USA by brainy bees – and even brainier keepers – across the country. We’re thankful for our bee geniuses and all the pure, raw & unfiltered honey they produce.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about bees, email us at beekeeping@riceshoney.com.