Honey bees have the reputation of being the Einsteins of the insect world. They have shown remarkable abilities of memory, learning and communications. The more we study them, the more we are amazed at their capabilities.
Honey bees are not the only smart ones, other bees have given us signs of their aptitudes and bumble bees may not be far behind from honey bees in their capacity to remember things important to them and to learn new things when necessary.
The brainy bumblebee
The brain of a bumblebee is smaller than the proverbial head of a pin; amazingly enough that small amount of gray matter is capable of remarkable feats of memory and learning. That industrious collector of nectar and pollen needs all this brain power to optimize its efforts when collecting such valuable resources. Let us see what it is capable of doing:
She (because it is always a she) can learn how to open flowers of different shapes, can remember such a task when confronted with more flowers of the same kind and can also remember the location of abundant resources such as shrubs with numerous blossoms or clumps of small plants which bloom simultaneously.
How does she do it? How do we know about her learning abilities? Here is what we know. When faced with a new flower, especially one as complicated as a turtlehead or an impatiens, she puzzles about it for a few minutes. She can smell the nectar and knows that it is there somewhere but she finds it hard to reach. After a few tries she begins to get the hang of it and gets her whole, plump, little body inside the flower, sticks her long tongue as far as needed and: success. The second and third flower of the same kind that she visits take less time; by the time she has visited more than ten she has become a pro and goes about her business with remarkable efficiency. Another type of flowers that tests its abilities are those that require buzz pollination (read: Bumble bees as pollinators)
Another proof of her brain power is her capacity to memorize the best business locations, in other words, the bushes or clusters of plants with abundant flowers and plenty of valuable resources. It probably uses a combination of clues to recognize the area: landmarks, the position of the sun, smells, perhaps even the magnetic field of the earth. Bumble bees are not alone in the insect world to perform these deeds. Many other bees and also butterflies and moths have shown these skills. All these little creatures are capable of developing a daily route; they even can memorize the timing of blooming, morning or afternoon and show up right on schedule.