Understanding How Bees Learn

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Contact Info: powelljc1@udmercy.edu

Can honeybees determine a rule from a pattern?


This was the summer research project that ReBUILDetroit scholars Alex Rogers from University of Detroit Mercy and Shyra Northington from Marygrove College investigated with their Marygrove mentor, Dr. Karen Doyle.


“We created a maze that had three choices for them to choose a turn,” said Rogers.  “The patterns changed from right-left-right to left-right-left every day.”

“At first the bees had a left turn bias,” said Northington.  “They started to learn to turn right more.”

When asked about their research experience, Northington said, “Science is messy.  It might not go how you think it would but there’s a way around everything.”

Nearly 70 posters were presented during the 2nd annual ReBUILDetroit Summer Research Poster Session at Wayne State University on July 19.

The undergraduate poster session was the culmination of the 8-week Summer Research Experience for scholars in cohorts 2015 and 2016.

Title:  Examining Rule Abstraction in Honeybees Through Use of a T-Maze


Past research has shown that honeybees demonstrate the ability to complete complex tasks such as mazes and differentiating between different colors or numbers despite only having approximately 1 million brain neurons and no brain cortex (Menzel, 2012). The purpose of this experiment is to examine whether or not a honeybee performs rule abstraction. Researchers created a 3-choice T-maze with an alternating right or left turn pattern to assess whether honeybees use rule abstraction to learn to navigate the maze. Bees are allowed to choose continuously in the maze until they make a correct choice. This experiment will provide evidence to help researchers determine whether a brain cortex is required for an animal to use rule abstraction when solving a pattern. Preliminary data may show evidence of this rule abstraction.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.