Birds Do It, Bees Do It: A Behavior Called Play

Play appears to be a universal behavior, present not only in our species but also humbler creatures such as birds and bees. In a new study, researchers observed bumble bees rolling wooden balls for seemingly no other reason than fun (watch the video clip below).

When animals repeatedly engage in behavior that does not provide them with food, shelter or another immediate benefit, researchers consider the behavior play. Play with inanimate objects is widely observed in animals, although most examples come from mammals and birds, with no record of the behavior in insects until now, providing evidence on the prevalence of play among a wide range of animal species.

Animal play is one piece of the puzzle when determining whether a group of animals is sentient—whether its members have inner feelings and experiences. Scientists consider mammals, birds, and increasingly cephalopods and fish to be sentient beings. “Eventually, this can tell us something more about whether [insects] are sentient,” says Samadi Galpayage, a graduate student in Lars Chittka’s Lab at Queen Mary University of London and lead author of the new study which is published in the journal, Animal Behavior [1].

Further study:

Hiruni Samadi Galpayage Dona et al (2022), “Do Bumble Bees Play?”, Animal Behaviour, published online October 19, 2022.


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