A Sentience Article from All-Creatures.org

Bumble Bees Play With Balls and May Even Enjoy It

From Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
November 2022

If we call an activity "play" for mammals, is it also play and fun for bees?

bumblebees playing
Ball-rolling action. The nine panels show the sequence of a ball-rolling action over time lasting, in this instance, approximately 4 s (timestamps in red at top left). The bee (a) approaches the wooden colored ball while facing it, (b) touches the ball with her forelegs, (c) holds onto the ball using all of her legs, (d–h) rolls the ball past the yellow ball and (i) finally detaches from and leaves the ball. Source: "Do bumble bees play?," Open access, Creative Commons, CC BY 4.0


  • Research on bumble bees shows we can call object manipulation "play."
  • A taxonomic tree of play is much more expansive than previously thought.
  • Research into the minds of highly diverse animals shows widespread cognitive skills, emotional lives, and sentience.

Bees are amazing animals. Detailed studies show that they enjoy rich and deep social, cognitive, and emotional lives. They display dopamine-based positive emotions, get depressed, anxious, and pessimistic, are able to solve rather complex problems with which they're confronted, and their complex and enigmatic minds are hard at work both inside and outside of their hives.1

I've long been interested in the evolution and ecology of play behavior in various animals, especially canids (members of the "dog family")—what it looks like, what it's good for, and it is more common among younger members of a given species—and a recent study on bumble bees shows that object manipulation—specifically ball-rolling—fulfills criteria that researchers use to define object play.2 But do bees really play? Are they having fun when they roll balls here and there?

A rigorous study by Hiruni Samadi Galpayage Dona, who works at the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary University of London (UK), and her colleagues called "Do bumble bees play?" The detail with which this study was conducted sets a great example and a high bar for future studies in this and other areas of cognitive ethology.

The researchers asked the following three questions.

  1. Do bumble bees engage in play-like object manipulation?
  2. Does age influence engagement in ball-rolling activity?
  3. Can ball-rolling behavior act as an unconditioned stimulus?


Please read the ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE.

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