Feeding specialization and longer generation time are associated with relatively larger brains in bees.
© Yevhen Borysov/Getty
Bee species with specialist tastes have the biggest brains.
The brain sizes of most animals are determined by well-studied social and ecological pressures, but little is known about what shapes the intellectual organ of insects, despite evidence of their advanced cognitive abilities.
A team that included researchers from the Spanish National Research Council measured the brains of 385 bees from 93 different species. They then compared them with data on each species’ foraging behaviour, reproductive frequency and sociality (whether they live in colonies or fly solo).
After they adjusted for body size, the researchers found that bees that forage from one flower family have bigger brains — perhaps due to the extra challenge of finding their favourite food. The same was true for species that go through just one generation each year. Surprisingly, sociality had no effect.
The heightened importance of ecological pressures in bee brain size sheds new light on the evolution of insect brains.
- Proc. R. Soc. B 287, 20200762 (2020). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0762